Calvary Chapel


Calvary Chapel was founded by Chuck Smith. Smith was raised in a loving family by Christian parents. After completing high school, Smith attended L.I.F.E., a Los Angeles Bible College in 1946. Following graduation from college, Smith began to minister in the Foursquare Gospel Church (Burgess & McGee, 1988, p. 792). He was very successful in his work with Foursquare Gospel yet felt he did not fit in with the denomination. Smith investigated several denominations and found the same criticisms of Foursquare were relevant to all denominations. He was tired of denominational structure and strategy.
In the early sixties, Smith started the Corona Christian Center which grew rapidly (Miller, 1997, p. 32). Small Bible study groups held in Smith's home carried a Christian message that was easily understood and was applicable to people's everyday lives. These groups grew in number and size because they met the mundane needs of those who attended (Burgess & McGee, 1998, p. 792).

During his ministry at the Corona Christian Center in 1965, Smith was invited to pastor a small church with only 25 members called Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California. The growth rate exploded following Smith's acceptance to minister to this church. In just two year there were almost 2,000 members overflowing the church (McGraw, 1997). Membership constantly outgrew itself. Radios broadcasted Smith's sermons but this was halted because the church could not accommodate all the new members Smith was attracting. Three years after Smith had joined the congregation, the church grew to a larger church in Newport Beach in order to accommodate the increasing membership. Yet, soon this church was also outgrown. In response, Calvary Chapel constructed a place of worship on 11 acres in Costa Mesa, California. Costa Mesa is still the location of the original Calvary Chapel. In the past three decades the church has grown from only 25 to 25,000 (Burgess & McGee, 1988, p. 792).

The future of Calvary Chapel was dramatically changed by Chuck Smith's decision to spread his ministry to the "hippies" at the beaches surrounding Costa Mesa. At the time, Smith and his wife Kay had three teenage children who were encountering the drug culture. Through his college age daughter, Smith began to meet some of the hippies who were early converts of the Jesus Movement. These young people who were called "Jesus Freaks," were experiencing great inner transformations and expressed an excitement for sharing their new faith (Miller, 1997, p. 33). The open atmosphere fit them perfectly at Calvary Chapel, filling them with religious energy.

Many of these young people needed a place to live. Smith's solution to this dilemma was to invite them into his own home. However, soon the Smith's home became overcrowded. In May of 1968, Smith rented a small house intended for new converts who were turning away from drugs towards Jesus (Miller, 1997, p. 33). Calvary Chapel helped pay half of the rent for this house which was named the House of Miracles. In a week's time, over 35 new Christians had found a home in the House of Miracles and church members went looking for new renting possibilities (DiSabatino, 1995, p. 59). This was the first of over a hundred "community houses" supported by Calvary Chapel (Gateway Films, 1992).