How Robert Schuller Shaped Your Ministry

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Today’s guest blog was penned by Warren Bird for Leadership Network. Dr. Bird serves as Director of Research and Intellectual Capital Development at Leadership Network. An ordained minister with background as both a pastor and seminary professor, he is an award-winning author or co-author of 27 books for ministry leaders. 

“Possibility thinker” and pioneering pastor Robert H. Schuller died April 2, 2015, at age 88. Bold, creative, charismatic and controversial, his life and legacy drew immediate major coverage in both the mainstream press and evangelical stalwarts like Christianity Today.

What most people don’t realize is how much Schuller influenced today’s church, not just the megachurch movement, but churches of all sizes and styles. Few congregations today offer church services in drive-in theaters, where Schuller started, nor do many build architectural wonders like Schuller’s inspirational Crystal Cathedral, yet Schuller’s impact is significant and widespread. As Leadership journal pointed out back in 1997, Schuller was the first in the modern era to:

• Call his denominational church a “community church,” since he felt most seekers didn’t understand or relate to a denominational label.

• Rename a sermon as a “message.”

One of Schuller’s many innovations was a “come in the family car” worship service — that also had seating inside.

• Use a nontraditional setting for church worship—in his case, a drive-in theater, followed by a drive-in church.

• Conduct door-to-door research, asking, “Why don’t you go to church?” and “What do you want in a church?” (which Schuller describes in his book, Your Church Has Real Possibilities).

• Use marketing strategies to reach nonchurched people (he did so about the time George Barna was born).

• Train pastors in leadership (Institute for Successful Church Leadership, 1969, later named the Robert H. Schuller Institute for Successful Church Leadership).

• Televise a weekly church service, the “Hour of Power,” starting in 1970 and not missing a week for decades, a program which conducted many format experiments such as interviews with high-visibility guests.

Few are the pastors who, knowingly or not, haven’t wrestled with the approaches Schuller used—and then to accept, adapt or reject them. As Schuller’s grandson Bobby (Robert V. Schuller), who is today pastoring the successor to the Crystal Cathedral said, “He reached out to wounded, broken people who were afraid of the church experience. It was the beginning of the seeker-sensitive movement.” Indeed the church’s mission was represented by Schuller’s oft-repeated mantra, “Find a need and fill it, find a hurt and heal it.”

Schuller encouraged church leaders to figure out new ways to better integrate mission into their evangelism. He said, “Don’t imitate; innovate. An amazing amount of energy in Christian ministries is repeating what has already been done.”

Click here to read the entire article.

Your partner in ministry,

Nelson

P.S. –  I invite you to catch an interview with Warren Bird on his newest book, Next: Pastoral Succession That Works, this month as part of the Renegade Pastors Network. Listen to current Equipping Call Interviews and access the full archive of author interviews. Plus you can read a feature story on Robert Schuller as part of my Church Growth Champions series. Right now you can take a 60-day test drive of the network for just $1.00 and start accessing these recordings and materials immediately in your private members hub. Just click here to learn more and get started today!

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About Nelson Searcy

Nelson Searcy is an experienced church planter, coach and church growth strategist, working with churches in over 45 denominations. Nelson is also the Founding and Lead Pastor of The Journey Church, with locations across New York City and in San Francisco and Boca Raton, FL. He first developed the Assimilation System 10 years ago at the Journey Church and has since implemented and improved these strategies with over 3,000 churches across all sizes and denominations. He started coaching pastors in 2006 and has personally coached over 2100+ senior pastors, helping them break common growth barriers like 125, 250, 500, 1000 and beyond, all while maintaining personal life and ministry balance. As founder of Church Leader Insights and the Renegade Pastors Network, he has trained more than 50,000 church leaders (3,000+ church planters). He is the author of over 85 church growth resources and 17+ books, including Fusion: Turning First-Time Guests Into Fully-Engaged Members of Your Church and The Renegade Pastor: Abandoning Average in Your Life and Ministry. His continued mission is to help church leaders around the world cooperate with God in creating healthy, thriving churches. Nelson is married to Kelley and together they have one son, Alexander.

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