The popular view of California is of a liberal, godless region, a land of possibilities that is open to experimentation in all things. Despite this perception, California has more megachurches than any other state.
Richard Flory · January 11, 2018
But what really differentiated Calvary Chapel was its inclusion of music that sounded just like the popular rock and folk music of the day.
Calvary Chapel became a hub of activity for young people in the “Jesus Movement,” that combined a conservative evangelical Christianity with the look of the countercultural hippie style. Calvary Chapel sponsored concerts of “Jesus music” which was essentially folk and rock music with Christian lyrics.
These concerts attracted scores of young people. Rather than Sunday services being characterized by organ and choir music, guitars and folksy music with Christian lyrics became the norm.
Calvary Chapel institutionalized and popularized the music through the creation of the Maranatha Music, a record label that soon gained immense popularity. Along with other Christian music labels that followed, this music reached a much larger population of evangelical Christians than any concert or church worship service could. Indeed the music proved to be so popular, that it quickly moved beyond the Calvary Chapel and the Jesus People, replacing more traditional “organ and choir” music in most evangelical and charismatic churches.
Ultimately, this music found its way into the Protestant mainline and Catholic worship services, transforming the way that Christians in these other traditions experienced Sunday worship services.
Today there is a worldwide association of over 1,700 Calvary Chapel congregations, all traceable to the Orange County origins.
Current iterations of California megachurches, such as Mosaic and Oasis in Los Angeles, C3 (now VIVE Church) in the Bay Area, among others, follow a similar script and arguably build on elements of California culture: the promise of a comfortable experience in church, the opportunity to feel good about oneself, and participation in a community of like-minded people that doesn’t require any deeper commitments unless one so desires.
The ConversationAcross the country, the broader impact of the California churches can be seen in the different ways that megachurches, such as City Church in Seattle, which caters to young Christian hipsters, or the more family-oriented programming at Willow Creek in Chicago, have adapted their purpose and programming to specific cultural currents in order to create their own unique identity – an approach pioneered in California.
(Richard Flory is the senior director of research and evaluation at the University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. This article was originally published on The Conversation.)