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Calvary Chapel Faith Movement

Overview of the Calvary Chapel Movement


Calvary Chapel Logo
Logo Courtesy © Calvary Chapel St. Petersburg

Calvary Chapel is not a Christian denomination but a faith movement of like-minded independent churches. Since its founding in the 1960s, it has exploded into over 1,500 churches throughout the world.

Calvary Chapel churches are unique in the amount of authority given to the pastor. The churches are also distinct for their verse-by-verse expository teaching of the Bible.

Number of Worldwide Members:

Because Calvary Chapel is not a denomination, the total number of people enrolled as members of all individual churches is not reported.

Founding of the Calvary Chapel Movement:

The first Calvary Chapel began with a Bible study for 25 shut-ins at a trailer park in Costa Mesa, California. Originally planted by Pastor Floyd Nelson in 1962, the ministry was primarily to senior citizens.

Pastor Chuck Smith, formerly a minister in the Foursquare Gospel Church denomination, became pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa in 1965. Smith took the unprecedented step of ministering to hippies, surfers, and drug addicts and the church grew rapidly. Men trained at Costa Mesa spread across the United States, starting other independent Calvary Chapel churches based on Smith's model.

Calvary Chapel Movement Founder:

Chuck Smith.


There are approximately 1,500 independent Calvary Chapel churches in the United States and the rest of the world. Not all incorporate the title "Calvary Chapel" into their name, but are still connected by association with Calvary Chapel Outreach Fellowship. A worldwide listing of Calvary Chapels can be found on the official Calvary Chapel website.

Calvary Chapel Governing Body:

Independent Calvary Chapel churches operate on the so-called "Moses Model" which gives the pastor great authority over how the church is run. There is a local church board of elders to deal with church property and business decisions, but they do not give the pastor orders. In addition, Calvary Chapel fellowships often appoint a spiritual board of elders, separate from the business and financial board, to help the pastors tend to the physical, spiritual, and counseling needs of the body. Large churches have assistant pastors and deacons, but the senior pastor is in charge.

Sacred or Distinguishing Text:

The Bible.

Notable Calvary Chapel Ministers and Members:

Chuck Smith, Greg Laurie, Jon Courson, Jeremy Camp.

Calvary Chapel Beliefs and Practices:

Calvary Chapel places itself between fundamentalism and Pentecostalism. Gifts of the Spirit, such as speaking in tongues, are not encouraged during corporate services. The individual churches do not profess a creed but believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, sent by God the Father as the perfect sacrifice for sin. Those who repent of sin and receive Christ as personal Savior will spend eternity with God in heaven; those who reject Christ will be eternally separated from God in hell. Pastors teach the Bible verse-by-verse in an expository style.

Calvary Chapel churches believe Christ instituted two ordinances: baptism of believers by full immersion, and the Lord's Supper. They believe Christ also validated the ordinance of marriage.

To learn more about what Calvary Chapel teaches, visit Calvary Chapel Beliefs and Practices.

(Sources: CalvaryChapel.com, Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, Calvary Chapel St. Petersburg Statement of Faith, and ChristianityToday.com)

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