ROOM IN THE INN
It should have come as no surprise to Pastor Rob Collins and the congregation at Calvary Chapel that as soon as the members moved into their new sanctuary in downtown La Grande it would be full.
That's been the pattern of Calvary since 1993 when Collins, his family and a handful of others began meeting for a Bible study in a home on N Avenue.
That was the beginning of Calvary Chapel, although Collins, who transferred to La Grande in 1983 from Twin Falls, Idaho, in his work for the Union Pacific Railroad, said he was initially reluctant to become a pastor.
But when the church started growing, "it took off from there."
After a year, the fledgling congregation outgrew the house and started meeting Sundays at the Comfort Inn's conference room, which had space for 50 to 75 people.
Collins, who had attended a Calvary Chapel in Twin Falls, said when the motel conference room was full, the congregation moved into the old Salvation Army Church on North Fir Street, where Calvary Chapel made its home for two years.
It outgrew that facility and converted a storefront area next to the Golden Harvest Chinese restaurant on Jefferson Avenue into a church. But a year ago, the congregation was pressed for space again. The meeting room would only seat about 150 and people were standing during services.
The owner of the building also owned the building across the street that housed Telfax. The phone book producer was moving out of that space and the building's owner came up with an idea.
Why shouldn't Calvary Chapel move into the vacated building at 1433 Jefferson Ave. The necessary renovations could be made to accommodate the church.
The renovations, Pastor Collins explained, included removing storage units from a portion of the building. Calvary Chapel agreed to convert the storage area into a sanctuary that would seat 250 or more people.
"That would give us about 100 more seats," Collins said. But within weeks of moving to the building last spring, the new sanctuary was full.
Why the steady growth at Calvary Chapel?
Collins said people have been attracted to the systematic approach that he and other teachers use in going through the Bible verse-by-verse. The expositional method of teaching Scripture is common among the many Calvary Chapels throughout the world, he said.
Collins, a former locomotive engineer, is teaching from the New Testament book of James at the 10:30 a.m. Sunday service. His nephew, Wade Twilegar, is teaching from II Kings in the Old Testament at a study at 7 p.m. Wednesdays.
Collins explained another reason why Calvary Chapel has grown. Many area young people have been attracted to the church because of its contemporary worship style, led by the church's band, Trustfall.
The pastor estimated that high school- and college-age young people make up 30 percent of the congregation. The young people meet for a Bible study of their own at the church at 7 p.m. on Fridays. The study is led by Jesse and Summer Steele.
Collins said the old Telfax office building has provided space for a pastor's office, several Sunday school rooms, an espresso bar that is run by the young people as a fundraiser for mission trips, and a new book store. Collins said the store, offering Bibles, commentaries and other books at low prices, has been very popular among the congregation.
"They've been gobbling it up," he said, adding that many people attending the church desire to become students of the Bible.
He said a major emphasis of Calvary Chapel is "if we can give the Word of God away, it will change lives."
Newcomers may not initially bring a Bible to church. After a while, however, they are carrying a Bible with them to services, Collins said.
"Then they are talking about what they are reading in the Bible at home," he said.
"The book store allows them to study more to dig deeper."
Collins said the local congregation supports two Calvary Chapel national satellite stations in La Grande. The CSN station, 88.3 FM, includes Bible preaching and Christian music.
The newest station, called The Effect, is at 91.1 FM. The station has a contemporary Christian rock sound that is popular among young people.
Collins said many people have started attending the church after hearing the radio stations. "They say they gave their heart to the Lord listening to the radio, and came here," Collins said.
"Our goal is to give the Word away, and we do that through the radio stations and the book store."
The increased attendance in Calvary Chapel's new building is presenting a dilemma for the pastor.
The answer might be to offer two Sunday services, but Collins struggles with that because he knows that will split up the church family.
After only nine months in the new building, it does not seem feasible to move to another location, so Collins is looking closely at two services.
"Realistically, we can't get around it," he said.
Collins said the growth of Calvary Chapel in La Grande over the past 10 years has been God's doing. There's been no church committee working to see that happen, he said.
"There's never been a plan," he said. "God opens his word to people. We've just had to run to keep up."