ChurchSurfer @ Calvary Chapel: Growing A Church From The Ground

Church Experience #7 – February 13, 2011

Calvary Chapel

Old Friends

After my wife, Laura, and I had been invited by at least 3 or 4 different people to attend Calvary Chapel on Broad Street in Chattanooga, I posted on Facebook that I was planning to attend there and received an immediate encouraging comment from an old friend.  The old friend was one of the Buntin sisters that were both in the Brainerd United Methodist youth group with me back in our high school years.  17 years later and now with the married name, Susan Potter, she informed me that her sister, now Sara Coffman, also attended there, as did our old BUMC youth pastor Bryant Black, who is now head of the history department at Chattanooga Christian School.  There was no way I could miss out on a reunion like this, so I asked Susan to meet Laura and I before the Sunday worship service so that we could sit together, and she reluctantly agreed :).

The Buntin Women
Sara Coffman, Brenda Buntin, Susan Potter

Purely Downtown Chattanooga

We pulled into the Calvary Chapel parking lot and I was immediately impressed with the modern architecture of the building, with contrasting Earth tones, a very “green” or eco-friendly feel to it, clean lines, and beautiful simplicity.  We walked in to the lobby about 20 minutes early for the 9:00 AM early service, and it was bustling with activity, probably due to the impressive coffee stations where everyone was fueling up on caffeine for the day.  The inside of the building had exposed beams, stained concrete floors, natural wood, and a wide-open warehouse feel.  This church really captures the essence of downtown Chattanooga, which has been resurrected from a post-industrial junk heap to a true jewel filled with parks & recreation, museums, unique restaurants and shops, and all connected by pedestrian friendly bridges and river walks.  I was later told that the Calvary Chapel building is an old Bi-Lo grocery store, and that there is still an additional 10,000 square feet of unfinished space that they will be converting into a cafe and an area for the youth.  As I looked around at the building and the people, I definitely got the overwhelming sense that this church had gotten it “right” by creating an environment that was purely Chattanooga.

Calvary Chapel Chattanooga
Outside Calvary Chapel

A Family Meeting

We went in the sanctuary and found seats as the worship music was just beginning.  The songs were mostly acoustic guitar driven, slow and melodious, heart-felt ballads.  These are the type of songs that tug at your emotions and really allow you to connect on another level, as if you are right there in the presence of God, worshiping and singing to Him straight from your heart.  If you’ve ever landed on the 90’s song “More than Words” by Extreme while you were alone in your car, you know what I’m talking about…don’t laugh.  After a couple of worship songs, pastor Frank, who appeared to be quite young, began to speak and that’s when things took a turn for the interesting.  This Sunday’s message (which from what I gathered was a continuation of what had been going on for a few Sundays now) was a lot less like “church” and a lot more like a family meeting.  You know, the kind that a dad calls on Saturday morning to gather the household together and discuss issues and establish ground rules…pretty much like that.  He began by recapping their church’s story, starting as a small group meeting in an apartment clubhouse that had grown all the way to where it is now.  He likened their church, both the building and the people, to the verse Isiah 58:12 (if that doesn’t strike a chord, stop and reread the last paragraph about Chattanooga), and talked about always staying true to the three main focuses of their church:  Love Jesus, be led by the Spirit, and give back to the Lord.  As he spoke of these things you could hear the passion in his voice and almost tap into the raw emotion of the 10 year journey he had been on with Calvary Chapel, that had come all the way to the present, to this very Sunday morning, to this family meeting.

Growing Pains

In talking about the present situation at Calvary Chapel, Pastor Frank’s voice grew slightly more stern.  Living up to his name, he addressed the congregation very directly about the immense growth that Calvary Chapel had experienced in recent years, expanding from a single Sunday service to two Sunday services, and now are set to begin a third service that will be held on Saturday evenings.  It seemed that his main fear would be that in the midst of all of their growth, the church would lose its sense of community and potentially become disjointed and unconnected, subjected to conflict, or become a victim of what he referred to as “consumerism”.  This latter issue dominated the rest of his sermon time and attention, as he explained that large churches easily become a place where people come to consume without giving back, and drew the comparison of a hotel versus a home.  To prevent this from becoming the norm, he implored those in attendance to make Calvary Chapel a place where everyone serves.  It was pretty plainly stated that “if you are going to be a part of this, then this is what you need to be” as he spoke of the three ways he expects God’s people to give:  time, talent, and treasure.

Deep Thoughts…by Josh Davis

After experiencing Calvary Chapel on Sunday and also attending the men’s Deeper series on Wednesday evening, I got the sense that this is a church that breaks the “typical church” mold and doesn’t really mind.  They are fixated on growing, not in attendance numbers, but in their relationship with Jesus Christ.  They don’t want to encourage behavior amongst the Christian community that they feel is fostering consumerism and preventing people from doing the things (serving, giving, living) that really matter on the “eternity scale”.  I, for one, applaud Pastor Frank and the rest of the Calvary Church leadership for speaking so boldly on the issue, because there are plenty of other church options out there for the people who feel differently.  But if you are interested in a church where you will be encouraged to live for God every day, this is a great church for you.  If you are interested in a church where there is a real passion for creating relationships that truly mean something, this is a great church for you.  If you are interested in a church where you will be challenged to grow, challenged to be a giving person, challenged to be held accountable for your actions, and challenged to serve the body and the community, this is a great church for you.  If you are interested in a church where you can slip in and out of Sunday service, blend in, drop a $20 bill in the box each week, and never get involved…good luck not feeling really, really guilty.  Thank you Calvary Chapel for a refreshing experience, and I pray that God blesses you with continued growth, not only in attendance, but also in the constant desire to draw closer to Him.

*Special Note*

Laura and I have decided to begin attending the Calvary Chapel Saturday night services that begin in March.  My commitment to the ChurchSurfer project and to visiting a different church every week in 2011, prevents us from getting rooted into a “home” church, so we are excited for the Saturday service and look forward to building new relationships.  If you would like to worship with us there, I invite you to join us.

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-Josh Davis

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