"We've tried a number of ways to reach out to people in the community. We've tried TV, parades, door-knocking; all of this didn't work. Creating the additional service is the best outreach we've ever done," Pastor Larry Hamblen said.
First Baptist Church of Coronado calls this new service "The Vertex."
The Vertex was launched one year ago as an evening service, catering to a younger audience. "A couple of people wanted to make the church more exciting. They wanted to have a service with a higher energy and more upbeat music," Pastor Hamblen told me. Hamblen described the service as having a "postmodern flavor."
Wedged between homes on Coronado, First Baptist Church's steeple rises a story above the white building. Inside, ten candles in sconces hang on the walls. The candle glow provides a faint light to the room. Thin stained-glass windows, black from the night, line one wall. The small sanctuary houses nine rows of cushioned pews. A cross, six feet in height, hangs on the front wall. Nearby, a large screen mixes artistic images with the words to the songs, displayed by PowerPoint projector.
The 38 congregants at the service were primarily college-aged students. Common attire was a Point Loma Nazarene sweatshirt, jeans, T-shirt, and an occasional baseball hat turned backward. I asked Taylor Dwyer, the lead guitarist and vocalist in the band, about who attends the service. "Half of the people live on the island. They either have been involved with the church or heard about it when we posted door-hangers in the neighborhood. The other half are friends of ours from Point Loma Nazarene College." Dwyer and the entire band graduated from PLNU last spring.
The service began with a welcome from Dwyer. Through the ceremony, the band performed nine songs. The volume of the music filled the small sanctuary as drums, keyboards, bass guitar, electric guitar, and acoustic guitar accompanied the singing. Later, Pastor Hamblen told me they had purchased a new sound system for the evening service.
Dwyer classified the band's sound as "a little harder than Dave Matthews Band. We play a lot of songs from the Passion Movement and the Vineyard, but we would like to write our own tunes." The songs for the evening included "Trading My Sorrows," "Blessed Be Your Name," "Hear Our Praises," "Lord Most High," "You Alone," and "How Great is Your Love."
The keyboardist from the band, Tim Gaines, preached the sermon. Gaines based his message on the gospel of John, chapter 11. This chapter tells the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. The shortest verse in the Bible is this chapter: "Jesus wept." Gaines connected the story to the congregation's life by saying, "I believe Jesus weeps when we come to him without faith, when we give up on our brothers who are spiritually dead. Just like in the story of Lazarus, when we see people give up on Lazarus who is physically dead. The people didn't have faith that Jesus would raise him from the dead. I believe that is why Jesus wept."
After service, Gaines told me he preaches every four to five weeks. Gaines studied philosophy and theology at the undergraduate level at PLNU. He is in graduate school and would like to teach theology at the college level. "Theology is bigger than anything that I know. It's so much bigger than me. I love being caught up in something bigger than me," Gaines said. "I like how theology influences a church to live and do local ministry."
Philosophy comes into play in his preaching. "You can't take theology and philosophy apart. Theology has, over the last thousand years, basically followed philosophy. Philosophers and theologians have been in conversation and so you can't really study one without studying the other. You have to have both together."
After the service, people gathered outside for coffee, juice, cake, and brownies. I approached two young women, asking why they preferred this type of service. "I like the upbeat music, the service is uplifting and lively," one of the women named Connie replied. Michele chimed in, "I think it is contemporary. The service is more of a reflection of who we are."
The morning service, in contrast to the Vertex, tends toward the traditional. Pastor Hamblen said, "There are older folks. Forty to fifty percent of the church is families from the Navy base on Coronado. We're never going to be a mega-church here. Coronado is a rich community. A lot of people do not think they need to go to church. Maybe ten percent of people on the island go to church. Also, we don't have any parking. It costs $90,000 to buy a parking stall on Coronado. But even with these problems, we are doing well. Typically we have between 65 to 85 people attend on Sunday morning."
I concluded my interview with Pastor Hamblen with the question I ask at every interview's end: "What happens after a person dies?"
Pastor Hamblen answered, "A believer's spirit goes home to the Lord. Their body goes into the grave to be resurrected when Christ returns. People who do not believe in Jesus are lost, and they go to hell."
Denomination: Southern Baptist Convention
Founded locally: 2003
Senior pastor: Pastor Larry Hamblen
Congregation size: 105
Staff size: 2
Sunday school enrollment: 10
Annual budget: $150,000
Weekly giving: $4,000
Singles program: no
Sunday worship: 6 p.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1-1/2 hours