Fifteen years ago, a story began to unfold in Northern San Diego County as Coastline Baptist Church opened its doors for the first time. Though circumstances were not ideal, it soon became evident that this story was a testimony of God’s power and provision. The record of Coastline Baptist is eternally significant, not because of a work of men, but because of what Christ has done through His church.
In 1998, God would allow Pastor Stephen Chappell’s life to intersect with a growing, beachfront community in Southern California. He shares his heart and memories from a journey that has spanned over a decade of service at what is now the Coastline Baptist Church of Oceanside, California: “When it became apparent that God had placed in our hearts a desire to start a church in Southern California, I took a trip from Tennessee out to this area and drove through a variety of communities. As I began to look around, it was apparent there was a real need for a church that would exalt Jesus Christ, teach the truth, and love people.”
Stephen could not escape the feeling that God was at work in Oceanside. God soon began to knit the hearts of the Chappells and the community of Oceanside. From the moment it was decided, the Chappells knew they had made the right decision. “When we pulled in here as newcomers, we felt at home the instant we arrived.”
The transition from Tennessee to Southern California, however, was not without difficulties. Almost before the family had left the state, a blown truck engine halted their progress. What could have become a setback and disappointment only fueled Stephen’s drive to move forward. “Lisa and I sat there and laughed. If Satan was fighting us this hard, this early, then God surely had some great things in store. And in a way, this just motivated us to keep pressing on.”
As preparations began for Coastline Baptist Church’s opening Sunday, thousands of invitations were printed, and the Chappells continued inviting the community to come. Lisa Chappell remembers this time, “For me, it was really exciting, because we didn’t know what was going to happen. We felt like this is what God wanted us to do, so we kept inviting everyone who would listen to visit our church.”
From cleaning the street outside the local community center where the church’s first service would be held, to picking up trash in the parking lot, the Chappells were determined to have everything ready for whatever God had in store. “When our first Sunday rolled around, we were so excited; but we were also scared to death. When people started to arrive that day at the community center, there was a real sense of expectancy. No one was exactly sure what was going to happen, myself included. But there was a real sense that God was getting ready to do something there.”
The first service brought thirty-eight guests from the community and twelve friends from different parts of the state. Though a visiting couple raised their hands, indicating they were not saved, they did not respond to the invitation to accept Christ. Follow-up visits however, proved not only the faithfulness and grace of God, but also the effectiveness of dedication in the ministry. “As I followed up on those guests, it was great that week to see both of them accept Christ. I think that was exactly what I needed to put wind in our sails and get us started in the right direction. I’m so thankful the Lord allowed us to see people be saved, even that very first week.”
The early days of the church were filled both with disappointments and setbacks, but also with great victories. One Sunday night service found Pastor Stephen preaching only to his wife and two daughters. But visitors soon began flooding the services, often coming from a background where they had never heard the gospel.
God started to grow His church. In the beginning, the pre-service set-up ministry would play a huge part, both in encouraging new members to be faithful, and in allowing a church in a time of transition and growth to run smoothly. One member reminisces about his simple, but vitally important ministry—ensuring the arrival and set-up of the Coastline Baptist Church sign every Sunday. “As a young Christian, to be able to be involved and know that what I was doing was having an impact on people’s lives was a big thing to me.”
By the first anniversary of the church, several needs were becoming apparent to Pastor Stephen. “There were a couple commodities we’d have to have a lot of. One was faith in God. God was bigger than any problem we would have. And then we’d need to have a lot of work. Our strategy in those early days was pretty simple—work very hard and trust God to take that work farther than we ever could.
“Soon, staff members were being added to the church, risky ventures of faith were being rewarded, and it was exciting to see folks growing to a point where they could lead a class, where they could teach children, and lead others in discipleship. And really what started as me trying to do the work of teaching was growing into a church family where, collectively, we were able to get the message out.”
It wasn’t long before God did another great work. Nearby property once owned by those who claimed it was not for sale and, “Certainly not to a church,” soon became available, and at a much cheaper price than would be expected. Renovations continued and so did the story of the church. “I remind our church often,” Pastor Stephen says, “when it comes to any good thing that happens in a church, there’s only room for one person to receive glory. And the only person that can receive glory for any good thing that’s happened here in the last fifteen years is Jesus Christ.”
Now the vibrant, growing church is striving to once again out-grow their new building. The genuine spirit and excitement of the church continues to draw people to the Lord, and Pastor Stephen has a bright vision for what lies ahead in the story of Coastline Baptist: “The value of looking back isn’t to simply get ‘historical;’ it’s to be reminded of how great our God is, and how faithful He’s been to us. It’s to understand that the same God who did greats feats in the past can continue to work in the future.”