It's not often that a person needs to arrive forty-five minutes early if he wants a seat for church. Yet such is the case at the Garden Grove Community Church. At 8:45 A.M. we joined others in line waiting to be seated for the nine-thirty service. It was worth the wait. The grounds and sanctuary were beautiful and immaculate, the music was varied and excellent, the program was polished, organized, and quick-moving, the sermon was interesting and positive. As Dr. Robert Schuller spoke, I thought about the many negative sermons I had heard and preached.
How many times have members come to my church after a week of criticisms and bad news from their spouse, children, employer, newspaper, and television only to hear a spiritualized version of the same negative attitude at church? I remembered—sadly—the time some one told me he had stopped coming to his Bible-study class at church because it made him feel gloomy. It's difficult to feel gloomy while attending worship at the Garden Grove Community Church. No wonder people are willing to wait in line for forty-five minutes to go to church!
There is more, though, to the Garden Grove Community Church than a beautiful facility and a snappy, uplifting church service. Otherwise it would be merely a lovely auditorium with an excellent group of performers. Looking at the bulletin, I could tell that it was an active church. The activities listed included fifteen Bible-study groups and twelve adult-education classes.
Though there are more than 100 churches in Orange County, Dr. Schuller believes that he and his congregation should "work as if our church were the only church of Jesus Christ in all of Orange County, and the salvation of all souls depended upon us alone." He has divided the county into sections, each with a Bible-study group under the leadership of a lay minister. Each individual who visits the church is himself visited the next week by a visitation team and invited to the Bible-study group in his area.
We rushed from the Garden Grove Community Church to Calvary Chapel in Santa Ana. Arriving for the eleven o'clock service, the third worship service of the day at Calvary, we felt fortunate to find two empty seats in the large auditorium. In contrast to the service we had just left, the program was very simple. Announcements were made, two hymns were sung by the congregation, the offering was taken. But the bulk of the time was used for an expository sermon by Pastor Chuck Smith. As he preached from First Kings, everyone in the congregation held an open Bible, as far as I could tell. I noticed that many young people were in attendance, most of them casually dressed. Blue jeans outnumbered suits ten to one. I was startled that so many young people would attend Calvary Chapel every Sunday morning, knowing that the main feature would be a long expository sermon.
Through-the-Bible expository preaching is the thing at Calvary Chapel. Be ginning at Genesis 1, the pastor preaches (Sunday morning and evening) right on through to the end of Revelation. Then he starts again. The cycle takes about two and a half years. At Calvary Chapel, people don't refer to the time they joined the church in terms of the month and year. "I joined in First Chronicles," they say. Or "I joined in Matthew."
Is through-the-Bible expository preaching meeting a need? Every Sun day, 7,000 people, most of them 18 to 40 years of age, attend worship services at Calvary Chapel. Eighteen hundred at tend the Bible study on Sunday night! Twenty-four hundred attend the mid week meeting, in which they study a Biblical book verse by verse! It took this study group two years to go through the book of Acts, eighteen months to go through Revelation.
As Pastor Smith preached, I thought of how long it had been since my church had had a sermon on 1 Kings 9, or Habakkuk, or Philemon. I thought of what they had been missing, for "all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16). Many congregations undoubtedly suffer from an unbalanced sermon diet. Many fine passages are never preached upon or studied simply because there is no plan to do so.
After the service was over at Calvary, I talked to one of the pastors. He told me that the church had started in the 1960's and that after a few years it was discovered by the "Jesus people." They found that they were welcomed, accepted, and loved at Calvary, which was a different reaction than they had received at most other organized churches in the Los Angeles area. The church grew so large it had to spawn. By 1976 there were twelve Calvary Chapels, and today more than 140 are scattered all across the country. I asked the pastor how they staffed the new churches. He explained that the new ministers come from the laity of the present congregations. There is no great concern that they have a college education or seminary training. Being an active member of Calvary Chapel is training enough, they feel. They have been through intensive expository Bible study, they have been a part of the church's evangelistic outreach, they have caught the Christian zeal that flows through Calvary's active church pro gram. What more is really needed?
I had to wonder how many of the members of my church could step into a pastor's role simply because of the church's Bible-study program, evangelism training classes, and Christian zeal. Just think what would happen if the pro gram of every church was so strong that members were constantly being developed who were properly equipped for ministry and evangelism!
This, of course, was the way that the Seventh-day Adventist Church began—church members studying and praying together, laymen studying with their neighbors and friends, laymen starting churches in new areas, laymen assuming the roles of pastor and evangelist. When the churches met together, emphasis was placed on Bible study, and knowledge of the Scriptures. Zeal for witnessing and evangelism was great, and the growth of the church was extraordinary.
My visits to two very different and growing churches that Sunday morning made me examine again my ministry and priorities. I see the need for positive, encouraging, Bible-centered preaching. I see the need for through-the-Bible expository study. I see the need for church programs so active and zealous that they produce laity with skills for ministry and evangelism.
I came away from my visits to Garden Grove Community Church and Calvary Chapel with a belief that laymen of the church can make great things happen if challenged by their pastor. I came away with an understanding that the greatest potential source of people to do the work of the ministry is not necessarily the seminary, but the pews of my church. I'm convinced that people are willing and eager to see their church grow through evangelism. They are waiting for the challenge and example of their pastor.