Calvary Chapel's HIStory

How it all started...

1965, Pastor Chuck Smith began his ministry at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa with just twenty-five people. At a pivotal time in history, Pastor Chuck welcomed all, young and old, without judgment, into the local church. With a sincere concern for the lost, Pastor Chuck and Kay Smith made room in the church and their home for a generation of hippies and surfers, serving in the midst of a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit that spread from the West Coast to the East Coast and throughout the world.

A "come as you are" dress code and contemporary music are taken for granted in most American churches today. When Calvary Chapel made those changes in 1965, it was a revolutionary idea.

Even more revolutionary were the people Calvary Chapel cast its net toward in those early years: hippies, drug addicts, and young adults who were looking for God but didn't even know it. 

Calvary Chapel History - Dropping The Barriers

California is often on the cutting edge of change. In the 1960s, the state was home to hundreds of thousands of long-haired hippies. Pastor Chuck Smith looked past their unkempt appearance and saw souls hungering for Jesus Christ. But these rebels rejected traditional churches as being too stodgy and restrictive.

The movement began with 25 people in Costa Mesa, California. Within two years they outgrew their first building. Then they outgrew a rented church and built a new one. Within a couple years that was too small, so Calvary Chapel bought a parcel of land and held services in a huge circus tent until the new church could be built.

When Calvary Chapel's 2,200 seat sanctuary was dedicated in 1973, three services had to be held to accommodate all the worshipers. Soon more than 4,000 were attending each service, forcing many to sit on the carpeted floor. His simple, yet sound, biblical approach drew 25,000 people weekly.

What people saw was different. No one judged visitors by appearances. Smith preached in an open-collared shirt, pacing back and forth across a platform instead of standing glued in a pulpit. The music was contemporary, the forerunner of Christian folk and rock.

What people heard, however, was the uncompromised message of the gospel. Smith had 17 years' experience as a pastor in the Foursquare Gospel Church. He preached sermons somewhere between fundamentalism and Pentecostalism. His style was simple and straightforward, laying out the timeless principles of Christianity. 

Calvary Chapel History - A Network of Churches, Not a Denomination

It wasn't long before Calvary Chapels were established in other cities. While Smith approved them and set the basic theology, he was not interested in starting a new denomination. He had left Foursquare because of politics and bureaucracy.

Instead, Calvary Chapel became an association or network of churches, loosely affiliated but each one independent. Local churches are modeled on Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa while retaining their own identities. A common thread among Calvary Chapel pastors is a focus toward book-by-book, verse-by-verse, expository teaching of the Bible. 

Calvary Chapel History - Across the U.S. and the World

Over the years, Calvary Chapel expanded into book publishing, music publishing, and radio stations. Smith's "Word for Today" radio program became popular throughout the United States.

Smith's followers, like Greg Laurie, Raul Ries, Mike Macintosh, and Skip Heitzig, planted many other large churches, started international Bible colleges, retreat centers, Christian camps, and the Calvary Satellite Network, made up of 400 stations.

Today there are more than 1,700 Calvary Chapels throughout the United States and the rest of the world. And, every person who enjoys going to church in t-shirt and jeans also owes a small debt of gratitude to Calvary Chapel.

With a sincere concern for the lost, Pastor Chuck made room in his heart and his home for a generation of hippies and surfers, generating a movement of the Holy Spirit that spread from the West Coast to the East Coast, and now, throughout the world. What began as a small local church has now grown into an international ministry of over 1,700 fellowships throughout the world. Calvary Chapel history is not long, but this faith movement forever changed the way church is conducted.

God graciously used Pastor Chuck to reach a generation of hippies and surfers; generating a movement of the Holy Spirit that spread from the west coast to the east, bringing thousands of young people to Jesus Christ. Pastor Chuck extended his teaching nationally through The Word for Today radio program, as well as internationally over the internet.

Pastor Chuck went home to be with the Lord on October 3, 2013, at the age of 86. Yet, the work that the Holy Spirit started with Pastor Chuck did not end that day; but, continues forth in this generation and the next as people continue to seek Christ, teach His Word and avail themselves to the direction and leading of the Holy Spirit.

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