Things are not all gloom and doom at the big glass church at 12141 Lewis Street in Garden Grove, California. There is a very positive Crystal Cathedral story bubbling under the headlines, but you’d be more accurate in describing it as a Catedral de Cristal story. The church’s Hispanic service, pastored by Argentinian Dante Gebel, has grown from 300 to 3,000 with no signs of stopping. The pastor is seen on television in 70 countries and has 800,000 ‘likes’ on his Facebook page.
The service happens at 1:00 PM, after English language worshipers have left the service that forms the basis of the Hour of Power telecast. As the Los Angeles Times describes it, in an article appropriately titled, “A Tale of Two Ministries;” while older patrons of the English services have resisted attempts to make the service more contemporary in a failed attempt to attract a younger demographic;
Nobody complains about the music at the Spanish service. It is pulsing and loud, driven by bass and drums, and it sets a tone: From the outset, the crowd is on its feet, swaying and singing, arms and eyes raised heavenward. Even the ushers dance in the aisles.
The Times article describes something that more resembles the early days of Garden Grove Community Church:
The success of the service reflects the increasingly Latino demographics of central Orange County. But like Schuller in his prime, Gebel casts a wider net, drawing regular visitors from Bakersfield to Tijuana. He hopes to add a second service this summer, and few doubt his ability to fill it.
His goal: 10,000 people a week by January.
Like Schuller and his daughter, Gebel focuses his sermons on motivational topics, but his style is otherwise very different. His Christianity is far more mystical and overtly spiritual, his sermons deeply rooted in the Bible. It is not uncommon to see people collapse in an ecstatic trance after Gebel has laid hands on them.
Numerically, the Spanish-language service is already the dominant one. The article engages the obvious question:
[Cathedral lead pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman] asked if she’d give up one of her two Sunday morning services so that Gebel could expand, she said it would be difficult, because the “Hour of Power” depends on two tapings. But she didn’t rule it out. Much speculation rests on whether the church might do that, in effect recognizing that its future has a Spanish accent.
For Gebel, his focus is on preaching to his own congregation, though he certainly enjoys the ambience of the building where he gets to do that:
“I haven’t been called to save the Crystal Cathedral, so that isn’t my goal,” he said in an interview in his office on the cathedral grounds. He thinks about just one thing, he said: “Preaching to the Hispanic people.”
He likens the cathedral, with its soaring, light-filled vault, to a borrowed tuxedo. “I would say the same thing here as in Bolivia or Argentina,” he said, “but here, I have a better suit.”
The big glass church may ultimately have a different future than anyone presently envisions.