'Extreme mission focus' helps AZ church give, grow
Pastor Chad Garrison cited the church's "extreme mission focus" plus "God's enabling" for its growth during the 25 years he has pastored Calvary in Lake Havasu City, Ariz. 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 told Baptist Press. "It's people doing what God has created them to do."
"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."
Calvary stays busy with outreaches nearly every month, including a major project once a quarter; mission projects that grow out of Calvary's 70 life groups; a pre-church-plant outreach once a quarter to Peach Springs, Ariz.; mission trips twice a year to San Luis, Mexico; a Celebrate Recovery group of about 70 people in Lake Havasu City, and Calvary Christian Academy for about 190 preschoolers through eighth-graders.
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."
One of Calvary's larger outreaches is its annual car show, an all-volunteer-led event now in its 10th year. At least 200 vehicles are expected to participate in this year's March 18 event at Havasu 95 Speedway, featuring 16 categories such as muscle cars, race cars, cars of several vintage years as early as 1932, and more. Attendance and refreshments are free to the public, with vehicle owners receiving gift bags with Bibles.
Calvary participates in the city's annual Main Street Halloween celebration. When the city 10 years ago asked the church to provide something for children, Calvary cancelled its annual event at the church in order to be among the 10,000 or more city residents mingling for a half mile down a blocked-off Main Street. This year church members donated at least 2,000 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. We've got a lot of stuff going on but want to make more of an impact."
In addition to providing a Christian alternative to education through Calvary Christian Academy, now in its 15th year, 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, Ariz. The city is about 100 miles northeast on the Hualapai Indian Reservation, where about 5,000 people live without "a 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."
In cooperation with the River Valley Mission Network association of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention, Calvary distributes food, clothing and Christmas gift bags, holds an end-of-school carnival, and offers a Celebrate Recovery group.
Another missions project is in the border town of San Luis, Mexico, in an ongoing partnership with other Southern Baptists. For the past 10 years, Calvary has visited San Luis twice annually, distributing gift bags of hygiene items, schools supplies and toys.
One of the life groups' mission outreaches is to the tiny town of Yucca, Ariz., where fewer than 300 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 30 kids in the schools." Another life group focuses on the homeless in Lake Havasu City.
"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."
As involved as Calvary is in its community, about 35,000 townspeople are completely unchurched, the pastor said. Leaders are discussing ways to make a bigger impact. The church's relocation to a more visible spot has helped.
"We spent the first 24 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 10 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 church that seats 800 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 100-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."