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Toddlers sprawled quietly on the patch of thick carpet at the back of the dim auditorium, filling in their coloring books. Behind them stood a row of tables holding free Bibles, juice, sandwich bags filled with Froot Loops and Goldfish crackers, and various hats and T-shirts bearing the Coastlands logo accompanied by Christian slogans: “Body piercing saved my soul.” “Tattoo your heart for eternity.” “Covered by the Cross.” That last one bore the image of a surfer; a bumper sticker gave the Greek for “Pray for waves.” The sensibility seemed to fit the demographic — mostly younger, with flip-flops abounding.

Pastor Evan Lauer drummed on a speaker box as the worship leader strummed his guitar and crooned breathily. “Stir in me a fire that the world cannot explain/ Stir in my a passion that my heart cannot contain/ Hold me, break me, mold me, make me more and more like you/ I’ve come to worship you...” The congregation sang along, sleepily at first, but then with more feeling. Then they read from the psalm that promised “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways...” and the children’s minister gave out a welcome:

“I’ve been traveling a lot this summer...and it’s awesome to see the fellowship of the church.... No matter where you go, there is God’s presence, and there are fellow believers.... If you don ’t’ have your Bible here today, there are Bibles in the back that you can borrow. Or, if you don’t have a Bible at all, take one and keep it. It’s our gift to you. We study the Bible here; the Bible is the core of our faith. And once you have it, read it — that’s so important.”

Lauer stood and announced, “We have a chance every summer to have a handful of Campus Crusade for Christ youth with us, and we’re going to ask one of them to give us a couple of minutes about what God’s been doing in her life this summer.”

A young woman stepped to the front. “I’d never really shared my faith with anyone.... It was just completely out of my comfort zone.” But, she said, she had learned “that it’s not just something we can do to bring joy to other people’s lives; it’s our duty.” She recalled a line from Mark Cahill: “People in hell are yelling up at us to tell people about Christ.... I just realized how much the lost just want us to reach out to them.... Even if they kind of reject you sometimes, you have to just push through it.” She had also seen evidence of “how different we are as Christians...the joy we have in our lives.” Then her testimony became personal: “In eighth grade, I suffered from an eating disorder. I still kind of struggled with it, and I wanted to be able to say I was over it by the end of summer. As of probably a couple of weeks ago, I finally am at that point. I’ve realized that my identity is in Christ, and there is nothing better than knowing God.” Applause followed.

“It’s great to have you here after last Sunday’s beach service!” continued Lauer. “We did some baptisms, got to meet a lot of people in the community, and got to share Christ’s love in a very public way. There was a family sitting to the right of us, and they just watched the entire service.”

But today, it was back to exegesis: Paul’s advice to Timothy about the care of widows. “It’s nice, sometimes, to know where the Bible dials into something really specific,” noted Lauer before making general observations on the Church as God’s family and specific challenges regarding widows and the elderly. “Think about your family right now.”

Lauer ended the service with a call to group prayer. “Prayer is a vital part of our church. I would love to see you break up into groups of three or four, and we’ll do three or four minutes of prayer.” He put up a slide suggesting prayers for the church: “helping each other stay connected as the body of Christ”; for the community, asking God “to move on the hearts of those who are not Christian yet”; and for our country, with special regard for the upcoming election. Heads bowed and eyes closed as Gregorian chant murmured in the background.

What happens when we die?

“We emphasize the Bible here,” said Lauer. “I believe the Bible teaches that if you’ve accepted Jesus as your savior — which means that you’re a Christian — then you go to heaven. If you don’t want a part of that, then I think that, as real and great as I think heaven is, hell is just as scary. A lot of churches don’t like to mention heaven and hell, but they’re in the Bible.”

  • Coastland Church
  • Denomination: affiliated with the Southern Baptists
  • Address: 2445 Fogg Street, Pacific Beach, 858-274-9079
  • Founded locally: 1996
  • Senior pastor: Evan Lauer
  • Congregation size: 60
  • Staff size: 4
  • Sunday school enrollment: about 25
  • Annual budget: about $100,000
  • Weekly giving: $2000
  • Singles program: no
  • Dress: casual to semiformal
  • Diversity: mostly Caucasian
  • Sunday worship: 9:30 a.m.
  • Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 20 minutes
  • Website: coastlandschurch.org
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