The senior Schuller, now 84, remains an occasional presence at the church but no longer controls day-to-day operations. He was not available to comment, his secretary said. He remains on the ministry's board as chairman emeritus but doesn't have a vote, according to a person with knowledge of the board who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Some of the church's early members, now in their 70s and 80s, still attend services, but their children aren't there, much less their grandchildren. The church's efforts to update its approach with new music -- a gospel-influenced choir backed with guitar, bass and drums -- has alienated some older worshipers without attracting many new ones.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, June 21, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 59 words Type of Material: Correction
Crystal Cathedral: An article in the June 19 Section A about the success of the Latino ministry at the Crystal Cathedral stated that Pastor Dante Gebel's services were broadcast widely throughout the U.S. and the Spanish-speaking world on the Telemundo network. They are broadcast by Telemundo in the U.S. but in other countries by Enlace TBN, Gebel's office says.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, June 26, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 59 words Type of Material: Correction
Crystal Cathedral: An article in the June 19 Section A about the success of the Latino ministry at the Crystal Cathedral said that Pastor Dante Gebel's services were broadcast widely throughout the U.S. and the Spanish-speaking world on the Telemundo network. They are broadcast by Telemundo in the U.S. but in other countries by Enlace TBN, Gebel's office says.
"If I wanted to hear rock 'n' roll, I'd go to a nightclub," groused a retired airline pilot one recent Sunday.
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.
As people are still taking their seats, the Jumbotron shows a fast-paced video of testimonials and clips of past services. A timer counts down the seconds to the service, creating a sense of anticipation.
"When one comes, one doesn't want to stop coming," one woman proclaims. The screen features large shots of the pews throughout the service, from every angle, featuring people singing, clapping and praying.
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.
One recent service featured a guest appearance by self-proclaimed prophet and faith healer Cindy Jacobs, who purported to cure ailments that included deafness, depression and infertility. Her brand of fundamentalism once would have been unlikely in a Schuller pulpit. Coleman said she wasn't aware of Jacobs' visit and had never heard of her, although programs featuring Jacobs' name and face were widely available around the church campus.
Using a Spanish interpreter and citing God as her source, Jacobs prophesied that Gebel's ministry would grow to 10,000, then 20,000, then spread nationally, leading a Latino-based revival of Christianity in America.
Gebel, by his account, was ordained in Argentina by the Assemblies of God, one of the largest Pentecostal denominations in the world.
He prefers to call his approach "charismatic" rather than Pentecostal. In any case, it is far from the relatively button-down mainline Protestant world of the Reformed Church in America, the denomination to which the Crystal Cathedral belongs.
On a recent Sunday, Carlos Lossi, a 32-year-old construction worker from Eagle Rock and a native of Guatemala, stood in line for the Spanish service. He had arrived at 9 a.m. to get seats near the front.
"Any time you bring a friend, they stay," Lossi said. "Something is going on here. This is only the start."
"What we might be seeing," said Richard Mouw, president of the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, "is the cutting edge of Protestantism. It's an exciting thing."
Gebel's success could undoubtedly support most churches. But the Crystal Cathedral is a virtual empire whose success was rooted in the "Hour of Power."
"The local church is not nearly large enough and doesn't have the capacity to carry it alone," said Fred Southard, the Crystal Cathedral's former chief financial officer. "It takes a television ministry."
As viewership has declined, so have donations, with the national recession also playing a role. According to the bankruptcy filing, overall donations to the church were down 24% in 2009 alone.
Gebel's services are broadcast widely throughout the U.S. and the Spanish-speaking world on the Telemundo network. They are, however, no cash cow: The core audience, Gebel noted, is in Latin America, where people aren't accustomed to sending money to the U.S.
"Generally," he said with a laugh, "they are expecting it to be the other way around."
According to Coleman, donations to Gebel's services raise about $500,000 a year, a fraction of the cathedral's budget of more than $30 million. Overall donations have remained at about $2 million a month and more than $7 million in December, not enough to maintain the cathedral's huge campus and far-flung operations.