Calvary Chapel’s Influential Founding Pastor, Chuck Smith, Dies at 86; Reached Out to Hippies During ‘Jesus Movement’

Dave Urbanski

Calvary Chapels Influential Founding Pastor, Chuck Smith, Dies at 86; Reached Out to Hippies During Jesus Movement

Chuck Smith — the evangelical pastor who founded Calvary Chapel and whose outreach to hippies in the 1960s and 70s aided the transformation of church worship styles for decades to come — died Thursday of lung cancer. He was 86, Christianity Today reports.

Smith pastored Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa (Calif.) since 1965, embarking on a then-atypical approach to Christian evangelism in which he embraced the youth of the American counterculture and became one of the most influential pastors of his time, growing his single congregation of 25 members to a national and international movement of more than 1,600 Calvary Chapels. He was known for being radically laid back with regard to dress and other typically rigid ecclesiastical modes of operation.

In one instance early on when old-guard Christians were frowning on hippies, having posted a sign in Calvary Chapel that reminded young visitors “no bare feet allowed” in the newly renovated sanctuary, Smith tore down the sign with a promise to reach young souls for Christ, even it meant throwing out new pews and carpeting and bringing in steel folding chairs, Christianity Today notes.

“Lifestyle issues and morality issues were things that he would expect Christ would clean up in these folks lives,” said Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College. “But the informality of these folks and the music they were fond of – he was willing to let that slide quite a bit.”

“He led a movement that translated traditional conservative Bible-based Christianity to a large segment of the baby boom generation’s counterculture,” says Brad Christerson, a Biola University sociologist who studies charismatic churches in California. “His impact can be seen in every church service that has electric guitar-driven worship, hip casually-dressed pastors, and 40-minute sermons consisting of verse-by-verse Bible expositions peppered with pop-culture references and counterculture slang.”

Smith also pioneered translations of Gospel teachings into 20th-century pop art forms. In 1971, he launched Maranatha! Music, a pioneering record label designed to promote the “Jesus music” that his young followers were producing on the California coast.

Tributes from fellow evangelical leaders have popped up on Twitter since word of Smith’s death came to light:

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