It’s not just by chance that Calvary Baptist Church has grown from fewer than one hundred to more than two thousand in worship each week, said the church’s pastor.
Pastor Chad Garrison cited the church’s “extreme mission focus” plus “God’s enabling” for its growth during the twenty-five years he has served as pastor of Calvary in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. He noted that the church is healthy because its members have been “empowered to do what God calls them to do.”
“We just encourage people to influence their communities, friends, affinity groups, and we help them do that in big ways and small ways,” Garrison said. “It’s people doing what God has created them to do.”
Cooperative Program Support
During Garrison’s entire time at Calvary, which he calls his “first and only” pastorate, the church has given 10 percent of undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptist’s giving channel to missions and ministry. In 2017 alone, the church is giving 21.5 percent to missions through and beyond CP.
“There’s no debate about what we are responsible to do,” said the pastor, who also is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. “The mission of Christ has always been our priority, and with the Cooperative Program we’ve got a better method to fulfill the mission and [achieve] more accountability of the money than any other Christian organization I know.
“We just keep expanding our missions giving because we believe ‘give and it will be given to you,’” Garrison said. “We preach that and we model that for our church.”
Congregational Empowerment for Service
Calvary stays busy with outreaches nearly every month, including a major project once a quarter; mission projects that grow out of Calvary’s seventy life groups; a pre-church-plant outreach once a quarter to Peach Springs, Arizona; mission trips twice a year to San Luis, Mexico; a Celebrate Recovery group of about seventy people in Lake Havasu City; and Calvary Christian Academy, now in its fifteenth year, a school with about 190 students from preschool through eighth grade.
These ministries are accomplished because the church has “a culture of learning and empowering people,” Garrison said. “Because of that, people rise up in leadership in formal places and informal areas of influence.” The pastor challenges the eight-person staff to grow personally and in ministry, and the volunteer leaders join in, whether reading books or attending conferences.
As a result, “We’ve ordained seven volunteer pastors in the last four years,” Garrison said. “We take them through a process, and now they’re leading our recovery ministry, truck stop ministry, police chaplain ministry, and more.”
Community Missions and Ministry
One of Calvary’s community outreaches is its annual car show, an all-volunteer-led event now in its tenth year. Almost two hundred vehicles participated in this year’s March 18 event at Havasu 95 Speedway, featuring sixteen categories such as muscle cars, race cars, and cars of several vintage years as early as 1932. Attendance and refreshments each year are free to the public, with vehicle owners receiving gift bags with Bibles.
Calvary also participates in the city’s annual Main Street Halloween celebration. When the city asked the church ten years ago to provide something for children, Calvary cancelled its annual event at the church in order to be among the ten thousand city residents mingling for a half mile down a blocked-off Main Street. This year church members donated about two thousand pounds of candy for the event they see as a giant block party.
“We shut down our Fall Fun Fair that first year and did the same kind of stuff, but only in the midst of people who aren’t there because of God,” Garrison said.
Several affinity groups have sprouted from church members’ interests, such as a motorcycle group, a four-wheel-drive group, and a trapshooting group.
“It opens the door to more conversations about how God can change your life,” Garrison said. “Our next step is to increase how we serve in the community.”
The church ministers at least six times a year at the city’s eight public schools. This involves teacher appreciation and other assistance as requested, such as cleaning and painting buildings and grounds, reading to students, and providing funding for teacher training, in addition to sponsoring a special maintenance project annually.
For the past seven years, the church has sponsored a missions project in Peach Springs, a city about one hundred miles northeast on the Hualapai Indian Reservation. Its five thousand residents have no continuing “solid Christian witness,” Garrison said. “We’re trying to do a church plant there. . . . The tribal leaders welcome us, trust us, appreciate what we do.”
Cooperating for the Gospel
In cooperation with its local association, River Valley Mission Network, Calvary distributes food, clothing, and Christmas gift bags, holds an end-of-school carnival, and offers its Celebrate Recovery group.
In an ongoing partnership with other Southern Baptists, Calvary has visited the border town of San Luis, Mexico, twice annually for the past decade, distributing gift bags of hygiene items, schools supplies, and toys.
One of the church’s life groups does ministry outreach to the town of Yucca, Arizona, where fewer than three hundred people live. “The life group bought a washing machine for the school, since many children live in homes without running water,” Garrison said. “We go up and do food and clothing projects, and last fall took new shoes for the thirty kids in the schools.” Another life group focuses on the homeless in Lake Havasu City.
Maintaining Gospel Focus
“There is an energy and creativity about empowering your church members to do ministry,” Garrison said. “What ends up happening out of that is that people know Calvary cares about them. We always preach Scripture and make it obvious God loves you and can change your life.”
Despite Calvary’s outreach in its community, about thirty-five thousand townspeople are completely unchurched, the pastor said. Leaders are always discussing ways to make a bigger impact. The church’s relocation to a more visible spot has helped.
“We spent the first twenty-four years I was here in an out-of-the-way location, not very visible to the community, and it’s an understatement to say there was not enough parking,” Garrison said. “We’ve been at the 80 percent mark or more for the last ten years, and for the last two years we had five services every weekend.”
Calvary bought more visible property less than two miles from its first location, and last year built a new building that seats eight hundred in its sanctuary, double the seating capacity of the previous location. Now Garrison only preaches four times each weekend, but the 9:30 a.m. service already is at 80 percent capacity.
“God has added 25 percent growth this year,” the pastor said. “We challenged our people to bring three unchurched friends the first six months.” He hopes to expand outreach to a one- hundred-mile radius.
“We’re trying to get a whole lot more intentional and active serving in the community,” Garrison said. “We’re figuring out how to do this; we’ve only been in our new facility for nine months.”
Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press and SBC LIFE and is a member of First Baptist Church of Pleasant Grove, Utah. The article was previously published in Baptist Press.