Op Ed Article – Cathedral Oligarchy and the coming Second Hijacking

by: Dorrie Linnette – June 20, 2011    –   Dorrie is a disappointed Hour of Power viewer

Great editorial Penrod, and thank you so much for creating this web site! I love watching the video clips you have posted. I am not a local CC congregation member because I live too far away, but I have been an HOP viewer for years and am greatly saddened by watching a once-excellent service denigrate to such a consistently mediocre one.

To take your corporate viewpoint one step further, it's easy to see that Sheila, by taking over the CC Ministries/HOP leadership, is making the classic "new CEO" move to put her own stamp on the corporation. Sometimes the new CEO makes good improvements, and sometimes not, especially when taking the reins of an established organization. Many business schools examine case studies of these famous corporate blunders--look at what happened to Apple when John Sculley took over from Steve Jobs back in the 1980s, for example.

I suspect Robert A. also tried to put his own stamp on CCM/HOP when he took over from Robert H., although the details of that falling out haven't been made public (perhaps those of you in the congregation might have a better idea of what actually happened there). It's also likely that Sheila (and the rest of the board) feels quite justified in doing something drastically different with the service, given the rapidly dropping numbers in the financials, the church membership, and HOP viewership. Unfortunately, "experts" outside the church have also pointed to the "need" to do something different. See the following recent NPR article:  From the last part of the article:

"Scott Thumma, who teaches at the Hartford Seminary and is an expert on megachurches, says he isn't shocked by the disclosure of this church's recent financial troubles. 'The Crystal Cathedral has been having trouble for several years, and I figured it would be only a matter of time before it had to change its financial structure,' he said. And it's not just the money: Thumma says changing its style of worship and broadening the demographics — not only of Schuller's congregation but the staff that serves it — is critical. 'Culture and society and worship styles have changed, but because his brand, in essence, was defined by TV for decades, it was very difficult to shift away from that,' he said. 'Change is good,' one saying goes. Another says 'change is hard.' And for the Crystal Cathedral to survive its current crisis, many observers believe it's going to be both."


And from this Associated Press article from last October (Holland Sentinel) "But those who have watched the church’s fortunes decline believe Schuller — and later his children — failed to do much to attract younger people. Newer evangelical leaders like Rick Warren and Bill Hybels began offering hip worship services and an emphasis on social activism and the latest technology. Schuller got left behind, [Scott] Thumma said. Schuller and family 'stayed with the organ when everyone had gone to the rock ’n’ roll band. He stayed with the robes when everyone else was reinventing themselves as bishops. In a time when most megachurches are going multisite and to smaller venues, he kept building bigger buildings,' Thumma said."


And from the same article:


“I look at the ’Hour of Power,’ and when the camera pans to the audience, it’s gray-haired people,” said Kurt Fredrickson, assistant professor of pastoral ministry at the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.

And also:

[Spokesman John] Charles acknowledged the church could have reacted faster to changes in worship styles, but said: 'There’s always a fine line we have to walk. We want to gain new members and we want to keep the older members, but some members say, ‘I want it to stay exactly the way it is.”’

I don't happen to agree with these analyses, which place the blame for declining revenues and membership on the  worship  style,  nor  do  I  agree  with the  CCM/HOP

 


analysis that continues to place all the blame on "the great recession." Both may be part of the problem, but none of these articles or experts has mentioned that CCM/HOP no longer has a dynamic, telegenic head pastor. While I think Sheila has tried hard to fill the roll of televangelist, she still comes across as s school principal. The pastor is not yet a great "show," so they're relying on praise worship to be the "show" to try to draw new members and bolster TV viewership.


One other factor I do not often see mentioned is that CCM/HOP had difficulty long before Robert A. took over. I was surprised to read another newspaper article from 1990 describing just that: (Seattle Times)


What I get from these references is that a terrific pastor does not necessarily make a terrific CEO. Sheila is learning both roles--pastor and CEO--at the same time, and while I'm sure she wants to do an excellent job, her background qualifies her only marginally for both roles, in my opinion. She has neither a graduate-level seminary degree nor an MBA, and while they are not necessarily prerequisites for being an excellent pastor or a great CEO, these degrees would likely be requirements if she were being hired for an "outside the family" position as CEO of a multimillion-dollar corporation or as senior pastor of a large, established church.

 

As CEO, Sheila seems to be following the same "pyramid" business model her dad used--rely on a base of many smaller donations and top it off with well-heeled donors who can supply a large donation when it's most needed. Robert H. discusses this model at length in his autobiography. Because he had a personal charisma that enabled him to actively (and successfully) court celebrities and the rich, this business model bailed CCM/HOP out of financial distress many times. It appears that Sheila has not been able to successfully court those rich donors who are able or willing to bail the ministry out this time, and the base of smaller donations is simultaneously dwindling.

Do the demographics of people who are attracted to this new worship model support the base for the very large financial needs of CCM/HOP? I don't know, but I have my doubts. Even with the "miracle" letter of intent that has enabled CCM/HOP to file the bankruptcy exit plan, CCM/HOP is a very long way from financial solvency or a guarantee of longevity. It has been publicly reported that they lost more than $500K in April alone. A letter of intent is not equal to a sale, either, and CCM is still courting bidders and hoping for a better offer. If the current offer is implemented exactly according to the bankruptcy plan, CCM/HOP needs to rent back the facilities for $212K per month--an amount of positive cash flow they are not currently generating.

These issues would be difficult for any CEO to overcome, but I think that the correlation between the change in worship service with a dramatic drop in revenues, membership, and viewership should be easy to see, even with the corresponding "great recession." Throwing the baby out with the bath water is not good common sense, nor good business sense.

A second hijacking by the siblings might not happen simply because time will run out for CCM/HOP financially. If the miracle does happen and CCM/HOP is able to successfully exit bankruptcy and generate sufficient positive cash flow to allow it to stay on the air, we might very well see more jockeying for position among the family members. What's sad is that those of us who valued the excellence of past broadcasts/services--in music and in preaching--will likely not see it again with the current leadership.

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