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Ministries born in the 1960s and 70s grew into a distribution empire. By 2013, Smith's radio and television programs were airing in more than 350 cities around the world. The Word for Today, a publishing program begun in 1978, now packages Smith's messages through books for adults and children, DVDs, CDs and other channels.

"From age 50 on up would be his larger fan base," said Word for Today General Manager Mark Rich. But Smith's easy-to-understand messages keep attracting followers from other demographics, Rich says, because "Pastor Chuck has always been able to relate to the younger crowd and to children."

Never a denominational man, Smith forged a different type of fellowship among congregations as word of his success spread. Calvary Chapels, concentrated largely in coastal population centers, reflect Smith's preferences for authoritative male pastors, expository preaching and openness to contemporary music. What Eskridge describes as "restrained exuberance" in worship has spread from Costa Mesa to Calvary Chapels on the East Coast and beyond.

Some in other Protestant groups now look to Smith as a role model, whose methods have become the stuff of seminary workshops.

"Chuck Smith is one of my heroes," said Kurt Frederickson, a church vitality expert who invokes Smith's work when he trains pastors in Fuller Theological Seminary's doctor of ministry program. "He's able to read the culture and to see a group of people who've been marginalized by the institutional church and say, 'these people too should be cared for'…. So he opens up his arms."

In Smith's absence, the Leadership Council of the Calvary Chapel Association will continue to govern the fellowship's affairs.

Early today, Evangelist Greg Laurie posted on his blog, "I am so sorry to tell all of you that our friend, pastor Chuck Smith, has died." At age 19, Laurie began ministry under Chuck Smith's leadership. Laurie is the founding pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California.

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Chuck Smith, 86, Dies After Cancer Battle