Ocean City —
Calvary Chapel is changing its name to Coastal Christian Ocean City and opening a children’s ministry near the site of its new sanctuary on Eighth Street.
Senior Pastor Matt Stokes said the church is the newest and possibly largest one in Ocean City, with membership hovering around 600 to 700 year round and mushrooming to 900 during the summer months.
Coastal Christian Ocean City is “interdenominational” and its members may come from denominational backgrounds such as Baptist, Pentecostal and even Roman Catholics who attend on Thursday nights.
“Our mission with Coastal Christian is we’re Biblically balanced and intentionally simplistic,” Stokes said. “We’re not just presenting one single side of Scripture. We try to give people a balanced view of Scripture and challenge people to make a determination on those issues.”
The church started as a Thursday night Bible study group with 15 people at Callahan’s Restaurant at Sixth Street and Asbury Avenue in 2003. After a few weeks, a Sunday morning service began which attracted 50 people.
Teaching the Bible one verse at a time, from Genesis to Revelation, is a new concept to the community, Stokes said.
Ten months after the Bible study began, the church began holding regular Sunday services at the former Christian Science Center on Eighth Street and Asbury Avenue.
Overflowing attendance at the church on Asbury Avenue resulted in many people being turned away from summer worship. Stokes said one August the church turned away 120 people. That’s when church leaders realized they needed to find a larger worship space, he said.
The search extended ten miles away, to Route 9, Route 50 and the Black Horse Pike, but proved unsuccessful.
“Eventually we felt God led us back to here that we were supposed to stay in Ocean City,” Stokes said. “We felt like we were led to stay here and be an outreach to this community.”
In 2009, Cavalry Chapel leaders started negotiating with the owners of the former Islander Gym at 300 Eighth Street, at the corner of West Avenue. The church acquired the building and a redevelopment project transformed the gymnasium into a modern sanctuary.
“It was a surprise to us to think that after four years of searching that we would end up about 40 yards away from our front door,” Stokes said.
The sanctuary opened two weeks before Easter. He said the timing allowed church staff to rehearse with and perfect the technical equipment before the Easter Sunday service.
The sanctuary has a modern look to it: new carpeting, contemporary seating and lighting make the place warm and inviting. Two projection screens flank a stage where the pastor delivers sermons and a band plays.
Stokes said the sanctuary isn’t ornate and was designed to be simplistic.
“We want people to really be wowed by Jesus Christ, by transformation in their lives, by the Scriptures and not by the stage presentation or extravagant details,” Stokes said.
Stokes said membership “ebbs and flows” with each summer season.
“That’s the nature of a resort community church. A lot of people have their home away from home. This becomes their church away from church,” Stokes said.
The church has a state-of-the-art control room, where technicians direct the lighting, sound and visuals displayed on projection screens. Each service is taped and broadcast on channel 19 on local cable. The church also broadcasts Bible teachings on radio at 92.7 FM 7:30 a.m., noon, 5:30 p.m. and midnight Mondays to Fridays.
Stokes said the name change to Coastal Community Ocean City was instituted to distinguish it from the Cavalry Chapel affiliation.
He said the church is “laid back” with casual dress, with financial giving and with his presentation style.
“The affiliation is Cavalry Chapel and it’s worldwide and they like church to be like Starbucks. People know what they’re going to get when they’re going to come,” Stokes said. “I don’t always stand behind the pulpit. I have a headset. I walk around. I focus a lot more on the application of Scripture to individuals’ lives more than just the explanation of Scripture.”
He said there’s an amicable friendship between the church and the affiliation.
“They said God is really blessing your church and really wonderful things are happening in Ocean City,” Stokes said. “They said what you are is not necessarily what Cavalry Chapel tends to be and we’re just releasing you to do what God is calling you to do.”
Stokes said the new name defines the church as a coastal church and a Christian organization. He said pop culture corrupted the name “Christian” and he wants the congregation to take the name back.
“Maybe we need to redefine what Christian means in terms of compassion in the community and loving like Christ loved,” Stokes said.
The children’s ministry, which is under construction and will open on Sunday, May 29, is in the old dollar store on West Avenue next to the sanctuary. The 4,800 square foot facility contains a nursery, classrooms for religious instruction and a children’s chapel.
“They’ll be a new name, new sanctuary, new children’s ministry. It’s a pretty exciting weekend,” Stokes said.
The church has three pastors: Stokes, Steve Callahan and Ron Mansdoerfer.
Services at the church are Sundays at 8 a.m., 9:45 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Thursday night services are at 7 p.m.
In addition to services, home fellowships comprised of church members also meet in individual homes in Ocean City, Linwood and Somers Point. These groups are informal get-togethers and Bible studies.
The church’s youth group meets on Thursday and Sunday nights.
For more information, call Coastal Christian Ocean City at (609) 399-4747. The church’s website is www.ccoceancity.com.