Calvary Chapel is a non-denominational Christian church which began in 1965 in Costa Mesa, California. Calvary Chapel’s pastor, Chuck Smith became a leading figure in what has become known as the “Jesus Movement.”
It has been estimated that in a two-year period in the mid ’70s, 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.
A remarkable pattern kept repeating itself. As soon as we moved into a new building, our fellowship would already be too big for the facilities. 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. 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.
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 option.
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, Missionary Aviation Fellowship, and other groups, but we donate to Third World needs. We then 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%.
Today, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, the church which only had twenty-five members, has now established 1330 affiliate Calvary Chapels across the world and is among the world’s largest churches with 20,000+ calling it their home church. It is one of the ten largest Protestant churches in the United States.
Every building must have a solid foundation or it will crumble, and the Church is no different. The foundation of the Church is Jesus Christ. Listed below are the basic principles guiding CCF. God has used these to build healthy churches throughout the world as He is doing here with CCF. As we stay true to the fundamentals, God blesses His church. Everything in time and history points to the incarnation of Jesus Christ and His gospel of grace and hope. Jesus is the center of life, He is the center of the church, and He is all we will ever need.
The main thing at Calvary Chapel is very simple: we should love the Lord our God with all our heart. Some measure the health of a church by its size, but we believe that the greatest and most important measure of a church is the love they have in their hearts for the Lord. When Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” He replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40). Everything in the church should be centered on the main thing – loving the Lord our God with all our heart.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). We teach through the Word of God in its entirety because in so doing we gain the “full counsel” of God as He has revealed His heart for us there. In this way, we don’t miss any of God’s insights for our lives, even the difficult things. The Word of God also reveals Jesus, the Son of the living God; we see God revealing His Son from Genesis through Revelation. And in Jesus, we also see the heart of the Father.
Worship in song is an opportunity to express our love and adoration for the Lord. It is a time of close intimacy. Therefore, worship should be centered and focused on God. We desire our worship in song to draw us closer to our Lord; it’s about relationship.
It is clearly the heart of the Lord that those whom He would use to lead should be servants. Jesus said, “… whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:44-45). In a practical sense, this means that we look for leaders among the servants. It is there we will find those that have captured the heart of Christ for His church.
Church politics can be a great distraction for the body. It is our desire to see the Lord be the center of all we do, and so we have adopted a very simple, biblical form of government. God ordains His leaders, and we simply agree with whom He is choosing (Acts 13:1-3). We do this through building consensus rather than by voting. Any decision is made unanimously by the elders. It is our heart to see the church stay in unity in the bond of peace, thereby being the most effective witness for Jesus Christ.
“‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6). We believe the Holy Spirit provides the power in the life of the believer to give him victory over sin and the flesh. We are taught to walk after the Spirit and not the flesh. The Holy Spirit is the power in our life to conform us into the image of Jesus Christ. This is the work of the Holy Spirit within us and not our own. But not only does the Holy Spirit work within us, He also works through us. The Holy Spirit is the “dynamic” power in our lives that allows us to be effective witnesses for Jesus Christ. It is God’s plan that our lives be the instruments that He uses to reach the world around us as the Spirit flows through us.
You will never see a thermometer on the church walls keeping track of the latest effort to raise money. We believe that people should give to God’s church because they are in love with Him and want to give out of a joyful heart (2 Corinthians 9:7). We will not make money or finances a focus of what we do. The center of our church is Jesus, and as He guides the direction of the church, we believe He will also place it on people’s hearts to support His vision.
We believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, that the Bible, Old and New Testaments, is the inspired, inerrant, infallible, authoritative Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16).
We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Deuteronomy 6:4; Matthew 28:19).
We believe that God the Father is the personal, transcendent, and sovereign Creator of all things (Genesis 1:1).
We believe that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human, that He was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, provided for the atonement of our sins by His vicarious death on the Cross, was bodily resurrected by the power of the Holy Spirit, ascended back to the right hand of God the Father, and ever lives to make intercession for His Church. After Jesus ascended to Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to the believers in Jerusalem, enabling them to fulfill His command to preach the Gospel to the entire world, an obligation shared by all believers today (Matthew 1:18; John 3:16; Acts 1:9, 11; 2:1-41; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 3:18; and the Gospels).
We believe that all people are by nature lost and separated from God and responsible for their own sin, but that salvation, redemption, and forgiveness are freely offered to all by the grace of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. When a person places his/her faith in Christ as his/her Savior, that person is immediately born again, sealed by the Holy Spirit, forgiven of all his/her sins, and becomes a child of God, destined to spend eternity with the Lord (John 3:16-19; 5:24; Romans 5:8-9; Ephesians 1:13-14; 2:8-10; Titus 3:5).
We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit, who came forth from the Father and the Son to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and the coming judgment, and to regenerate, sanctify, and empower for service all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe the Holy Spirit indwells every believer in Jesus Christ. We believe that He is an abiding Helper, Teacher, and Guide. We believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the Bible, and that the use of the gifts is valid for today within the guidelines of Scripture. We believe that love is more important than the most spectacular gifts, and without love all exercise of the spiritual gifts is compromised (John 14:26; 16:13; Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19-20; 12-14).
We believe that church government should be simple rather than a complex bureaucracy. We depend on the Holy Spirit’s guidance in establishing leadership within the church in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9).
We believe in the pre-tribulation rapture of the Church and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ with His Church to rule on the earth during the Millennial Kingdom. We believe Christ’s rule will be visible and personal. We also believe in the resurrection of the saved and the unsaved; the saved unto eternal life and the unsaved unto eternal punishment (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Revelation 3:10 ;19:11-16; 20:1-15).
We believe in the two New Testament ordinances of Water Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These ordinances are observed in obedience to the commands of our Lord Jesus Christ as acts of love and devotion and are not necessary for one’s salvation (Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25).
We reject: (1) The belief that true Christians can be demon possessed, (2) the “Positive Confession Movement” which teaches that God can be commanded to heal or work miracles according to man’s will, (3) the “Prosperity Movement” which teaches that it is God’s will for every believer to be wealthy, (4) human prophecy that supercedes the Scripture, (5) the incorporation of humanistic and secular psychology and philosophy into biblical teaching, and (6) the overemphasis of spiritual gifts, experiential signs and wonders to the exclusion of biblical teaching.
In our services we focus on a personal relationship with God through worship, prayer, and the teaching of the Word of God. We teach both expositionally and topically. We do not allow speaking loudly in tongues during the services, nor prophecy while a Bible study is in progress because we do not believe that the Holy Spirit would interrupt Himself (Acts 2:42-47; 1 Corinthians 14:32).
We seek to teach the Word of God in such a way that its message can be applied to an individual’s life, leading that person towards greater maturity in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13).