COSTA MESA, Calif. Since Chuck Smith began his ministry at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa in 1965, membership has grown to 9,500, according to Outreach magazine's annual megachurch listing. But its legacy is far more sweeping. Bucking the 20th-century practice of building bigger to hold the flock, Smith stayed true to his outside-the-box thinking and opted to plant more churches. Each of these congregations, now numbering more than 1,500 nationwide, is affiliated with Calvary Chapel, but the local congregations are autonomous.
The results are impressive.
Eleven of the top 100 largest churches in America are Calvary Chapels including Smith's Costa Mesa churchcombining for a total membership of more than 113,000 people. Among them are some of the most prominent churches in Southern California, including Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Maranatha Chapel in Rancho Bernardo, Calvary Chapel Golden Springs, Calvary Chapel Chino Valley and Calvary Chapel South Bay in Gardena.
Greg Laurie, senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, has carved out his own dynamic ministry, which includes the global Harvest Crusades, created with the blessing of Smith. Each year, Laurie hosts several community evangelistic services including the annual crusade each August at Angel Stadium in Anaheim.
Not on the Outreach list is Horizon Christian Fellowship in San Diego, pastored by Smith protégé Mike MacIntosh. Under MacIntosh's guidance, more than 100 congregations and parachurch ministries were born, including Maranatha Chapel, Horizon Christian Fellowship North, Horizon College and the Horizon School of Evangelism.
San Diego's largest congregation, the Rock Church is not an affiliated Calvary Chapel, but its roots are traced to Horizon Christian Fellowship. Miles McPherson, who founded the church in 2000, attended Horizon for several years and was mentored by their church leaders. His church is the 33rd largest in the country with weekly attendance topping 11,000. In addition to his Point Loma-based megachurch, McPherson also founded the Miles Ahead Crusade, a school and training academy.
Smith, through a series of books on Christian living, apologetics, prophecy and prayer, has extended his influence beyond Calvary Chapel churches. Among his titles are "Love: The More Excellent Way," "How Can a Man Be Born Again?" "The Claims of Christ," "Wisdom for Today," "What The World Is Coming To" "The Gospel According to Grace," "The Final Act" and "Standing Up in a Fallen World."
In addition to the Costa Mesa church's standard ministries, it also operates The Word For Today, a publishing ministry that shares the same name as a daily radio program produced by Smith, and K-Wave Radio. It publishes Calvary Chapel Magazine and numerous other materials designed to edify the affiliated churches.
Finally, Calvary operates numerous retreat centers in the United States and abroad, schools, Bible colleges, missionary training centers and worship schools.
Its outreach includes support for a variety of parachurch organizations, including indigenous missions, music festivals, mission workers based in the United States, aviation ministry and assistance to the poor in Tel Aviv, Israel.