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Surfing preacher plants church in sandy beach

PACIFIC BEACH, Calif. (BP)–Typically, Evan Lauer wakes up early in the morning and yawns in the bright sunshine. After breakfast and a quick shower to start off the day, he suits up for work. Every morning, this Southern Baptist pastor dresses in sandals and beach surf shorts, two tattoos visible on his ankle and arm.

Lauer runs out the door with haste, but realizes he forgot the most important part of his outfit — a backward hat. With his ensemble complete, Lauer jumps into his retro van and heads to the beach.

Lauer, 40, has more in mind than just a day of surfing or swimming. He’s ready to worship and preach the Word of God.

The church is Coastlands Community Church, and the beach is Pacific Beach, Calif. The aim — share Jesus in any way possible.

Whether this means holding a surfing ministry or giving out free sodas, sunscreen and water to beachgoers, Coastlands church is willing to take on the challenge.

“I don’t think we are doing anything unique at all. I’d like to tell you that we have great ideas, but we don’t. We are just trying to be like our community in a way. We are trying to become identifiable to people who don’t know Christ. We try to reach out to our community just in a way that makes sense.”

A Southern Baptist church plant, Coastlands meets on the beach six times a year. Its 100 members join Lauer in a local middle school the rest of the time.

“Our goal is to become indigenous to our community. We don’t want to reach San Diego. A church even 10 miles inland with our surfing ministry would not be successful. We aim to reach the few miles surrounding this community,” Lauer said.

He said he wants people to come to the church out of a passion for God, not just because they like to surf and, Lauer added, “People come for reasons other than surfing. Half of our members don’t even surf.”

For these people there are also men’s, women’s, youth, outreach and children’s ministries.

“We have become a sending church,” Lauer said. “The average age in San Diego is 18 to 35. At our church, we attract such a young age that most of our members rotate through our doors. After six months to two years, they move on to their next part of their lives. Over the five and a half years of our church, 1,000 people have come through our church. We just hope we can instill in them a love for the Lord.”

However, Lauer does admit that he wishes and plans on making the church more of a family church. He has three boys and just recently started a ministry for children.

It’s easy for Lauer to see God daily working on the beach. For him, it’s arguably the best part of doing what he does.

“I really enjoy the ocean … just the vastness of it. It reminds me of God: how peaceful and powerful he is,” Lauer told Baptist Press. “Every day I feel like I’m baptized. Lost people can see and relate to the spiritual side of the ocean also.”

Lauer knew God had called him to be a pastor in childhood, but he said he just could not envision himself in that position.

While attending Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, a friend told him to “do what God wants you to do,” and it really hit him hard. He knew he had to fulfill God’s calling.

Lauer and his wife, Kelly, moved back to San Diego, their hometown, in 1995 with a calling to start a church.

Lauer joked, “I realized I could go to the beach, put on sandals, surf shorts and a towel, and go to church. I love it.

“I wanted to start a church that had uniqueness to our community. This is our crowd. God gave me a great vision of what he could do with a new church that was focused on the community.”

For the next one and a half years, the church members met in a local home. They had a core group of 15 to 25 members a week.

Coastlands Community Church went public in late 1996. It has been growing for the last five and a half years.

“All I know is that we have a cool church: people coming to the Lord, being saved and being baptized. It’s awesome.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: BELIEF AT THE BEACH, GIVING IT A TRY and FIRST-DAY SURFER.

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