In the summer of 1974 I spent part of a study sabbatical visiting and observing six thriving congregations in the western part of the United States. I paid special attention to three of them. Some of the details such as membership figures may have changed by now, but the basic principles have not.
I. Our Heritage Wesleyan Church, Scottsdale, Arizona, a medium-sized church with 300 plus members. The church is young, having been started in the sixties as part of the denomination’s church-development program. It has thirty small groups known as “Little Churches” that meet each week; 70 per cent of the members belong to one or more of the groups. As is generally true among the so-called body life churches, the median age of the members was young. For more information see a book by the pastor, Robert Girard, entitled Brethren, Hang Loose (Zondervan).
2. Calvary Chapel, Santa Ana, California, a non-denominational church whose attendance was around 10,000 at the time of my first visit. The present church grew out of an older, 150-member church with a small building; now it has a multi-block physical plant and a large staff, plus many unpaid volunteers. The median age at the time of my visit was twenty-five! In the summer of 1974 there were nineteen services and Bible studies at the church each week and fifty small groups (“branch churches”) meeting in homes. Membership of the branch churches averages forty. Calvary’s pastor, Chuck Smith, has written The Reproducers (Regal).
3. Peninsula Bible Church, Palo Alto, California. Peninsula is the church that popularized the phrase “body life,” a concept that could apply in varying degrees to all the churches I studied. It appears to me that many of these churches independently arrived at ...1
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