Published on 7/17/2012
No one would have blamed J. Don George for accepting his retirement gifts and riding off into the sunset. At 70 years old, Don had logged 38 years of fruitful ministry at Calvary Church in Irving, TX. The demographics of the community around him were rapidly changing, and the city now looked nothing like his 98% white congregation–which had initially grown in remarkable ways, but then experienced years without growth as the neighborhood changed. After all the lives he had touched and the community leaders he had rubbed shoulders with over the years, Don could have easily handed the keys to some young guns and enjoyed a bon voyage.
But in Don's mind, that would have been turning his back on the culture he had worked so hard to build at Calvary. “We have an absolute intolerance for status quo-ism,” George says. “It's part of who we are.”
Instead, Don began rebuilding himself, his staff and his church to look and act like what has been called the most ethnically diverse community in Texas. Cultural relevance and cultural awareness took on new meaning and ultra-focus for the congregation. “I had a word from God several years ago, and he told me one of our biggest problems as a church was we were just too white,” Don says. “We had a hard choice to make: we could go into decline, relocate to a predominantly white area or reach the mission field God was bringing to our front door.”
With Don and new Executive Pastor Ben Dailey at the helm, Calvary leaders chose the latter. Don took a college course in African-American history, and began several preaching crusades in Mexico, which enabled him to better understand those cultures. The church began hiring staff members of color, and integrating ethnically diverse leaders into all aspects of ministry. The weekend service became a melting pot of diversity, with a Korean/African-American worship leader, and Spanish and Nepali language pastors also leading services.
Ben became lead pastor in 2010 and Don took the title of founding pastor. The church went multisite, and attendance has almost trippled to 9,500 including a second and third campus. The congregation is now 1/3 Caucasian, 1/3 African-American, and 1/3 Hispanic and Asian. “We have a great congregation with a culture of solid diversity,” Don says.
Don is enjoying the fruits of his labor–maybe more than ever. He describes the most recent years at Calvary as, “pastoring the most youthful church in my 30 years of ministry. The longer I go, the younger our congregation seems to get.”
While Don has stayed on to “help the younger guys,” Ben Dailey has reconfigured the church staff to follow Don's lead. “A lot of times, young leaders come in and they want to get rid of the guy who has all the influence to spend–and that's a terrible waste,” Ben says. “But the cool thing is, when it's done right, there is mutual trust and that is powerful for a church. The younger generations can celebrate that there is a father in the house and all the great things that come along with that.”
Calvary Church is an example of a U.S. congregation that is experiencing rapid growth, and has found a way to navigate and maintain their momentum. To read more about Calvary Chapel and other churches experiencing similar spikes in growth, download the full paper Diverse DNA: Varying Factors in Church Cultures Lead to Rapid Growth.
This article was originally published in October, 2010 in Leadership Network Advance and has been updated to reflect current attendance numbers. You can learn more about Ben Dailey and J. Don George at http://www.calvarychurch.cc/staff.php?id=1. Copyright 2010 Leadership Network.