Calvary Temple is India’s largest church with more than 300,000 members. Now, it’s on a mission to build 40 more megachurches in the next 10 years. Most roads in Hyderabad on Sundays lead to Calvary Temple. Shortly after 4 a.m., side streets around the church are already jammed. As church volunteers coordinate traffic, shuttle buses, auto rickshaws, and motorcycles ferry thousands of people, all trying to get here two hours ahead of Calvary’s first of five services that begin at 6 a.m. By sunrise, the faithful have taken their seats. The main sanctuary holds 18,000 people supported by adjacent Bethlehem Hall with 15,000 and a third structure accommodating more than 3,000 more. Hundreds more watch on television screens scattered around the sprawling Calvary campus. Pastor Satish Kumar preaches all five services with the last one ending at 8 p.m. “I’ve been given the grace to pastor this church which is beyond my dream and imagination,” Pastor Kumar told CBN News.
Calvary Temple started in 2005 with about two dozen people. Today, it boasts more than 300,000 members making it one of the largest churches in the world. They have 11 satellite churches with plans for more nationwide expansion. “God put a burden in my heart to establish 40 mega churches just like what you see here during the next 10 years,” said Kumar. Pastor Kumar says the church adds some 3,000 new believers each month in a sign that the Lord is moving mightily across the country. “God’s hand is upon India, it’s a time for India to reach the lost, not only within the country but across the globe,” Kumar said. In addition, the church produces over 650 TV programs each month in 17 of the country’s major languages for broadcast on national television. “It’s not only within the nation, but also in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Gulf countries,” said Kumar. Millions more follow on social media. The reason for the church’s success?
“Preaching the pure Word of God is what attracts people, and practicing the Word of God is what keeps people within the church,” said Kumar. That practical demonstration is on full display here each Sunday. Narayana Podhili works as a civil engineer during the week. On Sunday, he leads an army of 150 church volunteers who spend hours chopping, slicing, peeling, and stirring – all to prepare free breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals for 50,000 people. “We are committed to come here every Sunday at 3:30 a.m., 4 a.m., and we keep working till evening,” Podhili told CBN News as he marshalled his forces. Nagavalli Mendem has served in the Calvary kitchen for seven years after making a promise to God that if He healed her cancerous tumor, she would serve the church in this capacity. “Because I made that promise, God healed me completely without surgery,” Mendem said. “God cleared the tumor in my chest and healed me. As a thanksgiving to Him, I serve here at the Lord’s house.” She and volunteers feed more than 200,000 people each month.
“In India, we say, ‘service to mankind is service to God’ so that is what we try to practice,” Kumar said. “We try to show God’s love in action in every possible way that we find.” Calvary also has an on-campus hospital where members get free medical treatment on Sundays and medicines at reduced cost. “The majority of the people who come here are poor and cannot afford treatment,” said Dr. Vinod Kumar of Calvary Hospital. Members also have access to church facilities to hold marriages. And when a church member passes away, Calvary handles all funeral, burial, and meal arrangements – again, all for free. In 2007, Calvary Temple created an access card system, the first of its kind, to follow up with members and their families. “I have thousands of people. How do I know who hasn’t shown up on a Sunday? As I was praying God put access card into my mind,” Kumar said. Each member must swipe their card when attending any one of the five Sunday services.
“Without fail, if we don’t show up to church, we get a call,” said Chandraiah, a Calvary Temple member. “They’ll ask me why I didn’t come to church and after they find out they will pray for me. I’m happy when I receive that call. Not only that, but the fact also that they care for us is special, and because of that we will surely come to the next service.” Pastor Kumar says prayer has always been an integral part of their success. The church has held 40 days of prayer and fasting regularly since 2005 drawing tens of thousands of young participants to stadiums around the country. “During these 40 days of fasting and prayer, I teach from Genesis to Revelation,” Kumar told CBN News. “Every book I try to explain. Hundreds of thousands of young kids end up reading the whole Bible.” Each month, the church, along with its satellite campuses, holds a “Night with God” as members pray for revival. “About 25,000 to 30,000 people join. That has been the biggest, largest all-night prayer services in our nation,” Kumar said.
In recent years, however, India has witnessed an unprecedented uptick in violence against Christians. “The more the persecution, the more the church grows and that’s what’s happening in India,” Kumar said. Most attacks are carried out by Hindu extremist groups who accuse Christians of forcibly converting people to Christianity. Pastor Kumar, a Hindu convert to Christianity himself, says resistance produces power. “No persecution has ever succeeded in stopping the preaching of the Word of God, it always promoted the Word of God and spread the Word of God across the countries,” said Kumar. “It’s my passion, my burden that before I die, I want to see every Indian will hear the gospel and know the Saviour.”
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