The popular view of California is of a liberal, godless region, a land of possibilities that is open to experimentation in all things. Despite this perception, California has more megachurches than any other state.
Richard Flory · January 11, 2018
The first is the Crystal Cathedral. Founded in 1955, this church became famous for its weekly television show, “The Hour of Power” and glitzy holiday productions at Christmas and Easter.
Televising the morning service from the Crystal Cathedral both extended the reach of the church and allowed people to enjoy Sunday worship service from the comfort of their living rooms. The holiday productions, complete with performances from live animals and actors, were aimed at bringing people into the church to see, hear and experience biblical stories.
For example, the Christmas story from the New Testament Gospels was reenacted in the main sanctuary of the church with Jesus, Mary and Joseph in the stable, along with the wise men, angels, and even camels and donkeys. The Easter story was similarly reenacted with a depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus, Roman soldiers, weeping followers and an empty tomb.
However, perhaps more important than those costume dramas, was founding pastor Robert Schuller’s idea to use a local drive-in movie theater for Sunday services. Motivated at least in part by the lack of availability of other venues, Schuller turned the necessity of meeting in a drive-in theater into a cultural adaptation.
In the post-World War II jobs and housing boom, Schuller capitalized on a Southern Californian’s dependence on and familiarity with the automobile. People could come to church and never have to leave their car. Thus, partly out of necessity, partly out of vision, Schuller combined the car culture of Southern California and the more casual vibe of the region, by linking church with what people did in their everyday lives.
Informal attire and music
The second example is Calvary Chapel, best known in evangelical Christian circles as the epicenter of the emerging Christian youth culture in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Calvary Chapel was founded by pastor Chuck Smith in 1965 with 25 members in the Orange County city of Costa Mesa. Exhibiting a similar vision as Schuller, Smith created a church that embraced the surrounding culture by accepting young hippies and surfers into its fold.
People came to church wearing jeans, shorts, T-shirts, beach slippers and even barefoot. There was no need to “dress up.” Once there, they heard a traditional, “Bible-based” sermon from Chuck Smith.