I once visited the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, California; it was a side-trip on our family pilgrimage to “the happiest place on earth.” Somehow it seemed appropriate that the extraordinary glass edifice built by the Gospel of Jesus Christ filtered through the power of positive thinking should be located a few blocks from Disneyland.
But it seems that even the church of the “Hour of Power” has fallen on hard times. The Crystal Cathedral is not surviving the economic recession quite as well as its Disney neighbour. The megachurch is facing a $55 million deficit. It has experienced a 27% drop in revenue over the last two years. In response they have laid off 140 staff, dropped TV broadcasts in certain markets and canceled the Easter pageant. The trustees have now filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The religious blogger for beliefnet in a post called “‘Stained’ Glass at the Crystal Cathedral,” today ponders the implications of the Crystal Cathedral’s dramatic decline.
In some ways the plight of the Crystal Cathedral exemplifies the status of what some call the “Christendom” expression of Christianity. All over the western world signs of “post-Christendom” are glaringly evident. In small town America, many church buildings are just half full at best on Sunday morning. In urban centers hundreds of Christian churches are converting to daycare centers or restaurants… or mosques. The massive, ancient cathedrals of Europe are mostly vacant at traditional times of worship. The signs of a decaying tradition are too stark to miss.
But… even while Christendom fades, a new season of faith is rising. New forms of Christian faith are taking root in the very shadows of the declining edifice of an old order. Coffee shop churches, fellowships in homes and college dorms and yes, even on line are opening new forms of and fashions for followers of Jesus to gather, worship, seek and learn and serve in the name of their Lord.
There is no question that a tectonic shift is taking place in the religious world. The blogger at http://www.beliefnet.com/seems to be of the opinion that, in the light of the end of Christendom, we in the religious enterprise are going to have to re-think the way we do church.
The suggestion seems to be that, in the face of economic decline and an incredible diversification in spiritual affiliations, and secularization of contemporary culture, churches may need to rethink the way we do church. We may need to start to think in terms of small and flexible when it comes to embodying our communal expressions of faith. It may be that the era of Crystal Cathedrals has come to an end. Perhaps the way forward looks more like “Coffee shop churches, fellowships in homes and college dorms and yes, even on line” ways of gathering for worship, fellowship and nurture in following Christ.
There may be more than purely economic reasons for churches to ponder the possibility that small may indeed be beautiful. Increasingly, a new generation of followers of Jesus are aware that how we build and where we meet have an impact upon the environment God has entrusted to our care. Young people want to bike or walk to church. They are not interested energy-consuming edifices.
They want to eat “the zero-mile diet,” and develop green spaces rather than parking spaces.
As the demands and speed of life continue to increase at an alarming rate, people are looking for smaller more sustainable ways of being. People have less time and less inclination to dedicate themselves to the care and nurture of large edifices in which to gather big crowds. They crave an alternative to the impersonal economic machines that seem to dominate so much of our lives. They want the intimacy of a neighbourhood. They want places where they can be known by name and valued as an individual person rather than a productive cog in a large machine.
It may be that the shift in our culture is offering the church a profound opportunity to return to our true values and rediscover our true identity.