GARDEN GROVE, Calif. (AP) – Robert A. Schuller remembers working hard as a child for his father’s fledgling church, cranking out Sunday programs on a mimeograph machine and spending hours tiling the floor of a new church building.

Now, decades later, the younger Schuller is taking on his father’s legacy – and adding a few modern twists of his own. Schuller, 51, was installed last month as senior pastor at the 10,000-member Crystal Cathedral in a ceremony beamed live to millions watching the church’s weekly televised service, the “Hour of Power.”

After years spent in the shadow of his father, 79-year-old Robert H. Schuller, the younger Schuller now faces the weighty challenge of expanding that religious empire. Outside observers wonder if the Crystal Cathedral will continue to thrive without the constant hand of the elder Schuller, whose strong personality and charisma attracted millions of followers with his lively televised sermons.

“The truth is I think a lot of people are questioning whether or not this is going to work,” said Gary McIntosh, a professor at the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University in La Mirada. “He seems a little bit stiffer in front of the camera. He may grow into it, but that’s the question.”

Edmund Gibbs, professor of church growth at the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, said the elder Schuller tapped into a demographic shift that began after World War II when he moved to Southern California from Chicago in 1955 and started preaching at a drive-in theater in Orange County.

Schuller has said he was at first shunned by his denomination, the mainline Reformed Church in America, for preaching from an outdoor theater.

Schuller called himself a “possibility thinker” and exhorted his followers to take control of their destinies with God’s help and a positive outlook. That upbeat preaching style made the most of a spirit of change that was sweeping the nation, while Schuller’s “drive-in/walk-in church” united California newcomers who craved a sense of community, Gibbs said.

The elder Schuller also did something few other pastors had done so successfully: He studied marketing tactics to lure worshippers from other congregations and built an enormous ministry focused on a generic, feel-good Christianity. That approach, now known as the “church seeker movement,” heavily influenced today’s most famous pastors, including Bill Hybels, Rick Warren and Joel Osteen, McIntosh said.

The younger Schuller says he’s not intimidated by his father’s resume and plans to build on his success by bringing the glass-sheathed Crystal Cathedral and the “Hour of Power” to even more people worldwide.

The younger Schuller, who remarried after a messy divorce in the early 1980s, began appearing regularly with his father in 2002 after founding a 175-acre branch campus of the Crystal Cathedral in San Juan Capistrano.

Although a father-son succession is rare in the Reformed Church in America, the Schullers consider the church a “family business” and the transition has been planned for at least a decade before being recently sanctioned by the Reformed Church in America, church officials said.

“I’m really interested in using the technologies that are available to help people grow spiritually,” said the younger Schuller.

The younger Schuller said recent surveys show that nearly half of the far-flung “Hour of Power” viewers consider the weekly broadcasts their only church, so he plans to use Webcams and online courses to help them join the cathedral in the same way locals do. A pilot group of 500 began the global membership process this month.

For his part, the elder Schuller says he could not have picked a better successor for the church empire he calls his God-given destiny. Now he’s focused on creating a cathedral endowment with at least $80 million in capital so his son – and those who follow – will never lose it to high land prices.

“Whether he’s less than I am or more than I am, I don’t know and I don’t care. It’s a God thing as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

On the Net:

Crystal Cathedral:

Hour of Power:

AP-ES-02-24-06 0447EST

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