Celebrating 50 Years! Calvary Church of Naperville

OurStory

In a decade sandwiched between "Leave it to Beaver" values and hippie culture, the 1960's served as a stagnant transitional period in American culture. Few took the initiative to try something different. But one group had their eyes on Naperville. The town of 20,000 was unaware of the movement that would soon breach its borders.

The Vision

In June of 1967, a young college graduate and his new wife embarked on a journey that would spark a powerful change in the community of Naperville, Illinois. Bob and Karen Schmidgall, along with eight other students from Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri, joined forces with a common vision: go into an area of need, secure a church building and financial support and apply New Testament principles toward establishing a body of believers.

This team of college students did what was then considered a "backward" way of establishing a church. Instead of building a congregation and then acquiring a church building, they bought the building first and then sought the congregation. For weeks before their first service, they went door-to-door around the neighborhood, telling people about the Lord and inviting them to the church. "We knew that we had to depend upon the Lord," shared Karen Schmidgall, "because we didn't have it within ourselves to bring the people in."

Calvary Temple's first Sunday service began with three guests in the quaint building at 129 West Benton Street in downtown Naperville. One by one, members from the community walked through the wooden doors to personally discover what was so different about this "Pentecostal" church. They found at the pulpit a man who was intimidating in physical stature but humble and down-to-earth in word and deed. They found a man who very simply loved God.

Bursting at the Seams

As time progressed, God filled the pews. "This empty shell (Benton campus) started filling up with people, and pretty soon the place was alive!" said Karen. "There was so much excitement and electricity. When you walked in, you just knew that God was doing something." In 1973, Calvary began to rent Pfeiffer Hall on the campus of North Central College for their worship services, while still using the Benton Street campus for Wednesday evening services and Naperville North High School for Sunday evening services.

Time and growth necessitated another move, and in June of 1978, Calvary built its second building just two miles away at 1155 Aurora Avenue. During the church's time at this 40-acre location, an educational wing was added, which almost doubled the building's size. This wing was used for Calvary Children's Center and Calvary Christian School, which were started in 1979 and 1980, respectively.

Again, the congregation outgrew their facility. In order to minister to the growing need, Calvary added another Sunday morning service in 1986, yielding a total of six Sunday services (four in the morning, two in the evening). In their biggest venture to date, in 1987, the congregation agreed to purchase 116 acres on the then-tiny Rt. 59. While they raised the funds to begin building on that property, a steel auditorium (fondly known as the "tin temple") was constructed at the Aurora Avenue campus in 1990, allowing a more reasonable service schedule.

On December 19, 1993, Calvary Church moved into its current location at 9s200 Rt. 59. The vastness of the property and the expanse of the building were quite a contrast from the previous campus, but Pastor Schmidgall and staff believed that God would fill it with people and with his presence … as he had done for each preceding location. Shortly after in 1994, the congregation agreed to change the name from Calvary Temple to Calvary Church. The congregation was growing steadily and settling into its home.

Goodbye

On a bleak January morning, phones started ringing across Naperville, across America, across the globe. Pastor Bob Schmidgall had died. After attending early morning prayer for the annual Week of Prayer, he and a friend drove to the nearby IHOP for coffee. He suddenly collapsed in the restaurant and was later pronounced dead at 8:07 a.m. at Rush-Copley Medical Center. Though in good health, it was discovered that he died from heart failure. On January 6, 1998, Pastor Schmidgall went to be with the One whom he loved most.

Thousands from all over the world attended his funeral—from colleagues in other countries to members of his congregation who had listened to his sermons just weeks before. The church was in shock, but they had to keep moving forward. After 30 years, who would fill that sacred pulpit?

It was nearly two years before the church board found a candidate whom they believed to be God’s next leader for this church. During the interim period, long-time friend of Calvary Church Rev. Dick Foth (as well as Dr. Ron McManus and Dr. Robert Rhoden) offered to provide leadership from the pulpit. Though living in other parts of the country, these men faithfully ministered to the congregation through this difficult time.

A New Beginning

On April 2, 2000, Rev. Randal Ross humbly accepted the responsibility of Calvary Church’s senior pastor. Under his leadership and transparent preaching style, the congregation more than doubled in size and diversity over the next two decades. An expansion project was completed in 2005, which included a wing for Calvary Christian School and Calvary Children’s Center, a new chapel, new facilities for children and youth, a café and coffee shop and an expansive atrium. The entire facility currently amounts to 310,000 square feet.

During this time, the Aurora Avenue property was sold for $13 million, which was a great factor in helping to pay off the $23 million expansion project.

February of 2005 brought a new opportunity. Led by Pastor Alberto Lopez, Calvary en Español launched its ministry to the Hispanic community. Born out of a vision to reach the Spanish-speaking community, the ministry began with 15-18 people. That small group rapidly grew and propelled them toward their first weekend service on April 5, 2005. The attendance during that first service was 116, and the congregation has grown ever since. Today, Calvary en Español represents over 800 people from 17 Latin American nations.

On Thanksgiving weekend in 2006, Calvary launched a third campus: Calvary West in Sugar Grove, Illinois. Beginning as a satellite campus in which fewer than 100 people watched a sermon on a screen, the campus has grown into a thriving congregation of nearly 500 attendees who now enjoy a live sermon by Site Pastor Rich Wooten.

Expansion continued in 2013 when Calvary Church launched a web church with a live stream of their Sunday morning and Wednesday evening services. calvaryweb.org allows those who are out of town or physically unable to make it to church to still worship with their church family.

In 2012, the time came to renovate the 20-year old sanctuary so that it could better serve the growing number of congregants. Services were held in the Fellowship Hall during the summer 2013 construction. In September, after hundreds of volunteers and endless prayer, the $4 million project was complete. Besides prayer and financial support, the congregation contributed nearly $1 million in volunteer labor. The new sanctuary included updated sound and lighting systems, new electrical and safety systems, 450 new seats and updated staging and aesthetics. An additional exit road on the northwest side of the parking lot was also added to aid in traffic flow after services.

Calvary’s most recent renovation is underway and will be completed later this year. Since the Route 59 campus was built in 1993, one space has only been slightly updated—the Fellowship Hall. Off the beaten path of the main corridor, this multi-purpose room has been a central location for weekly ministry. The remodel of the Fellowship Hall will create a space that gives several ministries the ability to grow and minister as an extension of weekend worship experience. The Fellowship Hall is also used to host more than 300 events each year, and the upcoming transformation will provide adequate seating, a modern environment and updated technology.

Transformation is nothing new to Calvary Church. What was once a small building is now four growing campuses. Once a handful of missionaries is now over 200 around the globe. Babies once dedicated are now dedicating their own.

What was once the vision of 10 college students is now a church of 7,000 and all who have been touched by the ministry of Calvary Church.