LAKE HAVASU CITY, Ariz. – Calvary Baptist Church in Lake Havasu City and its campus in nearby Parker, Ariz., baptized 236 people in 2020, more than any other church in the state. It does so by making the Gospel relatable and relevant, Pastor Chad Garrison said.
Since 1981, Calvary has allocated 10 percent of its budget to missions through the Cooperative Program, the way Southern Baptists work together to support state, national and international ministries and missions. With its generosity in 2020, Calvary was named the largest CP contributor in the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention.
“We’re a strong believer in accountability,” Garrison said. “There are a lot of ministries out there that are not fruitful. We love the accountability the SBC provides.
“If we didn’t believe in what the Cooperative Program is doing, we wouldn’t give anything to it. The main reason I’m Southern Baptist is what we do with international missions and theological education. We’re the gold standard for missionary care and support. CP is simply the best way to pool our resources nationally to make a difference in God’s kingdom.”
Through service in the community, a welcoming worship service with Bible truths presented without equivocation and exemplifying generosity, Calvary Havasu/Parker had grown to about 2,200 in worship pre-COVID.
Despite last year’s 20-week-long government-mandated limit of no more than 10 people at a gathering, average attendance for the year only dipped to 1,200, and another 1,500 became regular attenders of services streamed online. The total includes people locally as well as those in 32 other states, often winter visitors who join the services online from their northern home.
“God’s truth is for everybody, and it’s our job to make it relatable to people,” Garrison said. “We teach Scripture bluntly and applicably. We also serve our community as a strategy for earning the right to be heard. We’ve been doing that intentionally for 15, 16 years. That’s been our strategy for reaching the unchurched.
“When you start to be the church that does good things for the community, it makes it really easy for people to say yes to an invitation. Our members are going to invite others. We want to make it easy for their friends to say yes.
“The last piece of that: We have a culture at our church that is very welcoming, joyful for people who come. We basically target young families in a heavily senior adult community. The music is loud, the attitude is joyful, everybody is comfortable and real. We really want to be a culture that welcomes the unchurched and helps them on their journey to find Jesus.”
Generosity is one of the themes of Calvary, the pastor said.
“We believe we’ve been blessed for a reason,” Garrison said. “It causes them to be more generous outside the church. People get excited about making a difference in people’s lives when they see us do it.”
Calvary Havasu/Parker invested about $200,000 last year in local benevolence, in addition to its CP giving and other missions giving. This includes partnering with local agencies like a food bank and a crisis pregnancy center; paying for rent, utilities, car repair; passing out grocery store gift cards three times a year; pouring $15,000 a year into local school repair and maintenance and more.
“We know how to do ministry outside the walls of the church because the building is not our primary identity. Serving the community is our primary identity,” Garrison said.
Calvary’s 70 life groups each take on a mission project, and sometimes several combine, such as the 200 stuffed backpacks for children and senior adults taken to the Hualapai tribe of American Indians last year. The church allocates 20 percent of undesignated offerings for missions, half of which is for the Cooperative Program. Still more is given by individuals toward specific causes.
The church’s biggest partnerships outside of the Cooperative Program are with Compassion International in Honduras and with International Mission Board missionaries in Mozambique to provide 60 freshwater wells, which Garrison said provide drinking water to 45,000 people daily.
“They use the wells as a preaching point too.” Garrison said. “The need captured the imagination and generosity of our church. Most of the wells were private-designated. The church as a whole paid for six wells. One of the neat things about generosity: the more generous you are, the more people around you are. We want to unleash people’s passions for serving Christ in whatever way He’s called them to.”
Calvary Havasu was started in 1972. Garrison has been pastor since 1992. He led the church five years ago to move from its original location to a more visible location on Arizona Hwy. 95. The church’s former location houses Calvary Christian Academy and its 300 students in kindergarten through the eighth grade.
Garrison led the church in 2019 to start a new church in Parker, a desert town on the Colorado River, where four Native American tribes share a reservation. Despite the pandemic, Calvary Parker baptized 22 people in 2020. Ruben Magdaleno is campus pastor.
“Calvary’s never been about control,” Garrison said. “We want to become more effective in reaching the unchurched. We just want to have an impact in our community. We want to expand our ‘serve’ locally and expand the online campus. We’ve just begun to figure that out. That’s going to develop in a way that’s hard to predict.”
Until the pandemic Calvary Havasu posted its sermons to its website, calvarylhc.com. When onsite worship was curtailed, additional equipment was purchased so services could be streamed online. The church recently hired an online campus director to manage that ministry.
The church’s goals include baptizing 4,000 new believers by 2028, out of the 40,000 unchurched in Havasu. “Year one was this last year,” Garrison said. “We set the goal at 200 for this year. Each year the goal increases. We know it can happen. If God did it in the early church, He can do it here.
“Yes, 2020 was a tough year for us like it was for everybody, but God showed up in that. We’ll praise God for a pandemic if that’s what it takes to reach people.”