Robert Harold Schuller was born on September 16, 1926, near Alton, Iowa, the son of Jennie (née Beltman) and Anthony Schuller. He was the youngest of four children. All of his grandparents were Dutch immigrants, and he was raised on his parents’ farm nearby in a small-knit community of Dutch-Americans, without running water. As a 6 month old infant, Schuller wore the gown on the day of his baptism at a Reformed Church, in Newkirk, Iowa, where he was raised. In 1931, just weeks before his 5th birthday, a visiting uncle, who was a minister, told him to be an evangelist. Schuller called it the “single most defining moment of my early life.” After graduating from Newkirk High School in Newkirk, Iowa, in 1944, Schuller studied at Hope College and received a Master of Divinity degree from Western Theological Seminary, which follows the theological tradition and Christian practice of John Calvin, in 1950. He was ordained as a minister in the Reformed Church in America. He worked at Ivanhoe Reformed Church in Riverdale, Illinois, before moving to Garden Grove, California. There, he opened the Garden Grove Community Church, in 1955, in a drive-in movie theater. He also rented a 300-seat former Baptist church, about four miles (6 km) from the drive-in theater. Schuller presided at a service in the chapel at 9:30 on Sunday mornings and then drove his organ to the drive-in to preside at another service.
As the size of the congregations grew, Schuller purchased 10 acres (4.0 ha) of land at 12141 Lewis Street in Garden Grove for a “walk-in, drive-in” church, serving both congregations. Ground was broken September 10, 1958, for construction of the new church designed by international architect Richard Neutra. The church was completed in 1961, at a cost of $3,000,000. The dedication service was held November 5, 1961. The design of the new church building enabled Schuller to preach his sermons to worshipers in 500 cars, as well as to members of the congregation inside the church. A “Tower of Hope” building was added on the north side of the drive-in church building in 1968; the Tower of Hope rose 13 stories (approximately 130 to 150 feet in the air, the highest structure in Orange County at that time, and was topped by a cross. The illuminated cross that stood atop the Tower of Hope was 90 feet tall. That same year, Schuller purchased the 10-acre (4.0 ha) walnut grove that bordered the north side of the Garden Grove Community Church for the construction of the much larger “Crystal Cathedral”, designed by architect Philip Johnson. The church, which has glass walls and ceiling, was dedicated on September 14, 1980.
Schuller focused on what he believed are the positive aspects of the Christian faith. He deliberately avoided condemning people for sin, believing that Jesus “met needs before touting creeds”. Once in a relationship with God, Schuller emphasized, someone who is sowing positive faith in his heart and actions will discover that the by-product is a reduction of sin. He was known to say, “Sin is a condition before it is an action.” Schuller encouraged Christians and non-Christians to achieve great things through God and to believe in their dreams. He wrote, “If you can dream it, you can do it!” As the Crystal Cathedral’s founding pastor, Schuller was seen and heard internationally on Sundays on the world’s most widely watched hour-long church service, the Hour of Power, 1500 of which were recorded. In March 2012, under new leadership, the ministry began broadcasting a shortened 30-minute version of the Hour of Power. Discovery Channel and Lifetime are airing the shortened show, but the 60-minute version is continuing on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
On June 15, 1950, Schuller married Arvella De Haan (1929–2014), a church organist, who was instrumental in developing the music department at the Crystal Cathedral and produced the Hour of Power for over 40 years. The Schullers had one son, Robert Anthony, and four daughters, Sheila, Jeanne, Carol and Gretchen. Schuller’s son, Robert A. Schuller, and eldest daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman, have both been senior pastors of Crystal Cathedral. His grandson Robert V. “Bobby” Schuller succeeded as the lead pastor of the Hour of Power in 2013. Schuller’s second daughter, Jeanne Dunn, and her husband, Paul Dunn, oversaw “The Glory of Christmas” and “The Glory of Easter” productions. Jeanne Dunn has assisted in various editorial contributions to various printed works and for Schuller’s books. Her husband co-authored The Possibility Thinker’s Bible and Living Debt Free with Schuller. The third daughter, Carol Schuller Milner, was the writer, director, and producer of Creation: Once Upon All Time that debuted in 2005 to an audience of over 70,000. She co-wrote Schuller’s autobiography, My Journey, and has written several other works. The youngest daughter, Gretchen Schuller Penner, was director of programming for the ministry. Her husband, James Penner, was the producer of the Hour of Power telecast. Both were dismissed in a restructuring of Crystal Cathedral Ministries in March 2012. Arvella Schuller died on February 11, 2014, at the age of 84. The Schullers had been married for 63 years.
- September, 16, 1926
- Alton, Iowa
- April, 02, 2015
- Artesia, California
- Crystal Cathedral Memorial Gardens
- Garden Grove, California