Chuck Smith

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Charles Ward “Chuck” Smith (1927-2013), pastor, founder of the Calvary Chapel movement, was born in Ventura, California to middle class followers of Aimee Semple McPherson‘s International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. Smith attended the denomination’s LIFE Bible College and was ordained in 1948. After spending some time as a Foursquare pastor and as the manager for a healing evangelist, Smith became increasingly dismayed by the extreme behaviors exhibited in many Pentecostal worship services, although he did not discard his belief in Pentecostal doctrines as such.

In 1962 he left the Foursquare church to accept a pastorate at a non-denominational church in Corona, California. After moderate success there he moved in 1965 to Calvary Chapel, a struggling church of about twenty five people in nearby Costa Mesa. The church experienced modest growth but did not really begin to grow substantially until a chance meeting in 1968–via his teenage daughter–with a 19-year old hippie convert named Lonnie Frisbee. Smith took Frisbee on to his ministry staff and in the months that followed an increasing stream of hippies, surfers, and suburban teenagers began to make their way to Calvary Chapel for nightly meetings and Bible studies. There they found an informal atmosphere and upbeat, youth-friendly music that appealed to their countercultural sensibilities.

By 1970 Calvary Chapel had become the premier outpost for the Jesus People revival in Southern California, a movement that hit the national media in 1971. Throughout the 1970s Calvary Chapel’s musical styles and performers became a major element of the growing phenomenon of “Jesus Music” (later, Contemporary Christian Music) through its Maranatha! Music corporation and recording artists. A Calvary Chapel Bible College was created in 1975 and gifted young protégés such as Mike McIntosh, Raul Ries, Greg Laurie and others created their own successful Calvary Chapel congregations throughout Southern California and beyond. Smith oversaw this growth with a relaxed management style, presiding over a “non-denominational denomination” that wielded a tremendous amount of influence over the model of the emerging “megachurch”. By the early 21st-century there were more than 700 Calvary Chapels in the United States, with an estimated following of nearly 300,000.

For further reading see Larry Eskridge, God's Forever Family: The Jesus People Movement in America (Oxford, 2013); Donald Miller, Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the New Millennium (California, 1997); Chuck Smith and Tal Brooke, Harvest (Word for Today, 1987). 

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