History of Calvary Chapel

The history of Calvary Chapel begins with a small church near the beach in Southern California that received a new pastor named Chuck Smith. Chuck had been with the Foursquare denomination for several years. He attended Life Bible College in Los Angeles but after 17 years with the denomination he left it for the freedom to teach the bible. In the Haley’s Bible Handbook he read that he could teach through the Bible verse by verse chapter by chapter and book by book. As he began bible studies the Lord blessed his ministry. Chuck felt the Call to Calvary Chapel was God’s will, even though it was a smaller church than he was pastoring.

Chuck and Kay Smith

The little Calvary began to grow in 1965 but a new group of barefoot kids were coming and sitting on the floor because the pews were full. The Elders came to Chuck to complain that the dirty barefoot young people were ruining the carpet. Chuck’s reply was that it would be better to remove all the carpet than to remove the hippies that had come to church to hear God’s Word. This was truly the beginning of the “Jesus Movement” that grew to touch the whole country and parts of the whole world.

Calvary Chapel continued to outgrow buildings and had a huge circus tent before building the campus at Costa Mesa, California. As people left Calvary for other parts of the country they longed for the simple verse by verse teaching and the contemporary worship style of Calvary. A new church seemed to begin weekly first in So California and spreading out North and East. Some started by listening to audio cassettes of Chuck Smith and playing them in living rooms. Some of Chuck’s young people grew under his teaching to the point that they could teach the bible themselves. Some from other denominations wanted to pattern themselves after the Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa so they became Calvary Chapels. The Bible College started in the 70’s has now blossomed to include training not only in the U.S. but all over the world.

Calvary Chapel is not another Denomination but rather a fellowship of like-minded churches. Because so many took the Calvary name without the guiding principles, Pastor Chuck wrote the book “Calvary Chapel Distinctives” to clarify exactly what makes a Calvary Chapel distinct from other churches. As Pastor Chuck’s health and age slow him down, his “Sons” and “Grandsons” in the faith will carry on the Calvary Chapel tradition.