Smith and the
Calvary Chapel Christian Revival
[These short excerpts have been
taken from HARVEST to best describe the Calvary Chapel Revival.
HARVEST is written by Chuck Smith and Tal Brooke. For a complete
description of this awesome revival of the church of God in
our modern times be sure to order HARVEST for yourself. You
can order online at: http://www.thewordfortoday.org
, then click on "Pastor Chuck Smith's Materials", then "Books",
then "General books and pamphlets" and scroll down until you
come to the title of "HARVEST."]
Chapel Enters History
As I describe to you the explosion of church
growth that happened in the Calvary Chapel movement, I speak
as a spectator. If there is any credit to be given, it belongs
to God alone. If you understand this perspective, then when
I describe to you my difficult years, my desert years, you
will know why I stand in awe at what God has done. And you
will celebrate with me the awesome symmetry of God's design.
It leaves us all stunned and amazed.
Those pictures in Look, Life, Time, and Newsweek
magazines of our massive Calvary Chapel baptisms in the Pacific
Ocean resemble a human harvest field. Literally thousands
of people can be seen crowding the shores waiting to be baptized.
Images like these illustrate that this is a colossal phenomenon
as far as churches go. Professors such as Peter Wagner at
Fuller Seminary and Ron Enroth at Westmount College state
in their books that there may be nothing like it in American
It has been estimated that in a two-year period in the mid-70's,
Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa had performed well over eight
thousand baptisms. During that same period, we were instrumental
in 20,000 conversions to the Christian faith. Our decadal
growth rate had been calculated by church growth experts to
be near the ten thousand percent level.
Perhaps more staggering still is that when we first came to
Calvary Chapel church in Costa Mesa in 1965, we had twenty
five people our first Sunday morning.
Now put this in perspective. Not only has that church of twenty-five
members established more than five hundred affiliate Calvary
Chapels across the world, but that one fellowship in Costa
Mesa has growth until the number of people who consider it
their home church is more than thirty-five thousand!...I have
heard critics try to dismiss the impact of Calvary Chapel
by calling it "production line religion."...Other critics,
who belong to churches that have not grown in years (which
was exactly my situation for well over a decade) often adopt
a stance of spiritual elitism. To them, smallness proves spirituality,
faithfulness, or an unwillingness to compromise. Perhaps they
feel that "quantity" diminishes the "quality" of spirituality.
Christ talked about the man who buried his talents and wound
up with nothing, because even what he had was taken away.
But He also spoke positively about the servant who magnified
his talents a thousandfold. So to say that Christ purposefully
limits the size and impact of a ministry is unfounded. The
explosive force of a ministry can equally be taken as a sign
that God is genuinely at work. Who can forget the day of Pentecost
when three thousand turned to Christ on the streets of Jerusalem?
"And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being
saved" (Acts 2:47).
Just as the Jews soon discovered that they were not to keep
the Good News among themselves, but were to include the "despised"
Gentiles, so there was an interesting shifting of gears at
Calvary Chapel. Our fellowship began with twenty-five members
who represented mainline, traditional America. Yet God called
us to share with the youth from the counterculture. This outreach
took a miracle of love and acceptance. But as each group accepted
the other, both sides grew in number. There was a vital sense
of God stepping into the picture and as lives changed before
our eyes. The sense of being in the middle of a miracle kept
feeding itself like a bonfire. When some hopeless heroin addict
throws away the needle and goes to the beach to convert three
people to Christ in an afternoon, it's a pretty strong boost
to the faith of everyone involved!
Another remarkable pattern kept repeating itself. As soon
as we moved into a new building, our fellowship would already
be too big for the facilities. We seemed to grow like a Chinese
checker jumping across the board. In two years we moved from
our original building (one of the first church buildings in
Costa Mesa) to a rented Lutheran church overlooking the Pacific.
Soon thereafter we decided to do something unprecedented at
the time and move the church to a school that we had bought.
The building did not match up to code so we tore it down and
built another, hippies and straights working and smiling side
by side. It was such a sight that cars on the highway would
slow down and gawk at us.
I had always felt that the ideal church size was about 275
and so we built accordingly. But by the time the sanctuary
of 330 seats was completed in 1969, we were already forced
to go to two services, and eventually had to use the outside
courtyard for 500 more seats. This was all fine in good weather.
But by 1971 the large crowds and the winter rains forced us
to move again. We bought a ten-acre tract of land on the Costa
Mesa/Santa Ana border. Orange County was quickly changing
and the once-famous orange orchards were making way for the
exploding population of Los Angeles. Soon after buying the
land, we again did the unprecedented and erected a giant circus
tent that could seat 1,600 at a stretch. This was soon enlarged
to hold 2,000 seats. Meanwhile we began building an enormous
sanctuary adjacent to this site.
This was all amazing to me and a bit frightening. I would
sit at the signal across the street looking at the bare lot
that we had obligated ourselves to purchase, and start to
panic. It would take a tremendous amount of money to develop
the property. Was I being foolish to obligate these people
to that kind of project? Why not be satisfied where you are?
The bills are all paid. You've got money in the bank. This
is going to take such a great outlay. But then, as I sat there,
the Lord spoke to my heart: Whose church is it? I replied
out loud, "It's Your church, Lord." Then why are you worried
When an incredible relief. A sense of frantic worry just rolled
off my shoulders. The finances were not my responsibility.
They were His. This was an extremely important lesson for
me to learn. It is not my church. It's His church. And God
was the one who had created the problem! He was the one who
brought so many people in that we couldn't house them.
God continued to bring people in. By the time Calvary Chapel
fellowship had celebrated opening day in 1973 moving into
the vast new sanctuary of 2,200 seats, the building was already
too small to contain the numbers turning out. We held three
Sunday morning services and had more than 4,000 people at
each one. Many had to sit on the carpeted floor. A large portion
of floor space was left without pews so as to provide that
Calvary Chapel also ministers over the airwaves, and this
must account for many of those who travel long distances to
fellowship here. A Nielsen survey indicated that our Sunday
morning Calvary Chapel service is the most listened-to program
in the area during the entire week. As of 1987, Calvary's
outreach has included numerous radio programs, television
broadcasts, and the production and distribution of tapes and
records. The missions outreach is considerable. Calvary Chapel
not only supports Wycliffe Bible Translators, Campus Crusade
[For Christ International], Missionary Aviation Fellowship,
and other groups, but we donate to Third World needs. At what
I felt was a leading from the Lord, we built a radio station
in San Salvador and gave it to the local pastors there. We
also gave money to Open Doors to purchase the ship that, in
tandem with a barge, delivered one million Bibles to mainland
China. Our financial commitment to missions exceeds the local
expense budget by over 50%.
Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa often averages two hundred conversions
a week...As part of the course new believers can attend numerous
evening Bible studies and classes taught during the week.
Along with the Sunday morning and evening services, I also
teach an in-depth midweek Bible study. On other nights of
the week, thousands attend the wide variety of Bible studies
and fellowship groups.
Calvary Chapel never asks for money. We avoid pressuring our
members for "faith pledges" and no appeal for funds is ever
made over our radio or television outreaches. Our feeling
is that begging for money would bring discredit to God. Financial
integrity is central to this ministry. So much so that all
of the staff salaries are considered low by usual standards.
I limit myself and my family to a simple lifestyle while my
ministry has enabled me to oversee millions of dollars. I
want to be responsible to God for this money, for it is His
money, not mine. I am merely a steward. This is important
to me because I know that nonbelievers will be watching, and
we are responsible for the way we witness to them...
I believe God has blessed us at Calvary Chapel with an exceptionally
loving and open fellowship. Christ told us that the world
will know we are His by our love for one another. This is
our predominant emphasis. And how I pray that we can consistently
show the world this standard. Certainly our Lord told us that
our identification marks as Christians should not only involve
love, but also purity and integrity of character of the highest
Let me say that in the Calvary Chapel phenomenon, I did not
just walk into a church the size of an aircraft carrier and
become an admiral. The church was not handed over to me, like
an industrial magnate bequeathing an unworthy son some multinational
enterprise. Instead, as I will share with you, I had to work
from scratch and obey every new call that came from God, even
when those calls seemed irrational. Behind it was blood, sweat
and tears, as well as a number of unforgettable lessons.
One of the secrets of my preparation for this work, I am convinced,
was my desert years, those years of struggle. It was in this
crucible that God prepared my character for the coming work.
God so often makes mockery of outward circumstances. He repudiates
the impossible if we will only but believe. And believe me,
my situation looked absolutely impossible at times!
Drought Before The Harvest
"I am not your hireling. God has called
me to be a shepherd of His Church. You had better find a replacement
These thoughts marked the major turning point in my life.
I felt God clearly speaking to my heart. And after more than
seventeen years of personal drought, seventeen years of failure
in the traditional forms of Christian ministry, I knew that
this era of confinement was coming to an end. I had come to
a place where I could no longer digest the stifling restrictive
role I was required to play. Where was the room for the Holy
Spirit to work creatively among us? In my heart, I resigned,
then and there, though I held my silence for the moment as
I sat before the board of elders of the church.
That very night the Sunday evening church service had been
unusually joyous and positive. I stepped out and took a chance.
I departed from traditional procedure and tried something
that involved everyone.
We decided to change the format from the traditional song
service, announcements, prayer, and sermon to a more informal
kind of a gathering. We were holding services in the local
American Legion Hall. So having arrived early, my wife and
I gathered the chairs in a circle rather than in a row. Rather
than using a hymnal, we worshipped the Lord in singing choruses.
Then we went into a time of prayer. And many people who had
been bound were able to open up and pray. It was a very special
experience for them. And then of course I shared in a more
informal way from the Word of God, sitting there and teaching,
more as I would within an intimate home fellowship rather
than the traditional church setting.
It was electric. A lot of people got excited. But the board
members had difficulty with the change of format. They were
so upset they called a board meeting immediately after the
service. The irony was that I had started this church. Yet
the incorporating officers had not even made me an officer
on the board. I was put more in the role of a hireling. Since
they all had strong denominational backgrounds, they made
sure that the church constitution and rules of order were
virtually the same as those of a denominational church. So
after seeing God move in this exciting service, they informed
me that they did not want this to continue.
It seemed that our church, like so many churches, was artificially
bound by extra-biblical rules and formalities, and run by
men who acted as employers rather than brethren bonded together
in the love of Christ. Elders were often voted into their
positions because they were successful in the secular world.
They had prestige or money. And so the leadership of the church
was chosen by worldly standards. If they had succeeded pragmatically
in business then why couldn't they help the church? It was
a worldly formulation of success and had little to do with
the standards of eternity. In fact, these very people can
be the most inept when it comes to spiritual values and commitment
because they have rooted their lives in outward success. If
asked to sacrifice some of their affluence for the sake of
Christ, I imagine that, like the rich young ruler, many of
them would shake their heads and walk away. In our day, the
Madison Avenue approach to church procedure has been sanctified.
Thus, the elders on the board used their rules of procedure
to shape and confine the church to their own image. Little
wonder it lacked the explosive dynamism, relevance, and love
of the early Church as reported in the New Testament. It seemed
that we had lost something on the way as these past twenty
centuries went by. This, unfortunately, even applies to doctrinally
conservative and "safe" churches. They so often follow a codified
form of godliness but do not evidence the true power thereof.
As I sat before the church board that evening I kept my composure
and, rather than stir up dissent, acquiesced to their request,
not even seeking to defend what I had done. But in my heart
burned a quiet certainty that God had called me to be a shepherd,
not a hireling, or a ministerial employee on the payroll of
I realized at that moment that this was not going to be my
permanent place of ministry. It was the final move that solidified
my decision to leave that rapidly growing fellowship and start
all over again with the Bible study class I had in the Newport
area. And the tiny fellowship at Calvary Chapel was already
pressing me to come down and start my ministry with them.
What was attractive in this was the opportunity to establish
bylaws and articles allowing me freedom to be the shepherd
responsible before God that I was called to be. I vowed in
my heart that I would never again be a hireling of men.
Still, I faced uncertainty. If leaving this church was my
decision alone, this costly choice would not have been nearly
so nerve wracking. But naturally it involved my wife as well.
I knew my decision would jolt her like an earthquake. Seventeen
times she had to follow me and move to a different location.
For seventeen years she had seen me work to supplement my
ministry income. I had anything but a track record that would
bring confidence and hope into the heart of a wife. Finally,
I had worked up to a respectably sized church that was growing
monthly. Only recently had we been able to purchase a beautiful
new home that she loved. Now, after seventeen years of wilderness
wandering, this brief oasis would once again be snatched away
from her and replaced with an uncertain future. It was almost
cruel. But the critical factor for me was that I was certain
that God had ordained my decision to move. I had no choice
but to tell her.
As usual in the churches I pastored, including the most recent,
Kay formed deep emotional bonds with the people. She could
not understand how I could consider leaving this blossoming
fellowship that we had started, that loved us so deeply, in
order to go to a small struggling church that was floundering
and considering closing up shop. Not only that but officially
I would be associate pastor. I wouldn't even be the senior
"Are you sure this is the will of the Lord?" she asked me
in emotional disbelief. Finally after a great deal of prayer,
Kay looked me in the face. Her eyes shone like Abraham's Sarah,
for she was willing to follow me anywhere [What a woman of
faith! Praise her!!!]. God used her to break my heart before
him. This had to work. I pleaded before God with passion,
though I knew God's leading was too strong for something not
to be in the wind. By outward standards my move was insanity.
How true that is when faith is required...