“The church has left the building” for two congregations in the Cape Fear Network of Baptist Churches.
That’s the motto that Pastor Andrew Matthews and Kure Beach First Baptist Church have adopted not only in regard to their beachfront service, but also to their ministry at large.
“Most of the ministry that we do in our church is not in our church building. It’s outside of it,” says Matthews. “It’s a lot more work, but it’s a lot more effective.”
Beach Church started meeting at Kure Beach Ocean Front Pavilion in 2019. What began as a ministry to summer visitors expanded to a church service that reaches a wider audience.
“We began to realize that there were a number of people from the island that enjoyed going to an outdoor service. Maybe going into a church building had some bad vibes for them, or they didn’t like going into a church building because of a bad experience or the death of a loved one,” Matthews says.
“Beach Church has provided a platform for disenfranchised Christians to get reconnected to their faith.”
Not only have people reconnected to the local church, but “folks in the community have gotten saved through Beach Church,” says Matthews.
Beach Church meets in a public area with restaurants, shops and the beach.
“People walk by and ask what is going on and stay for the service. People come and ask for prayer,” he says.
People from different backgrounds come to their beachfront service, and Beach Church tries to meet them where they are, making it a “comfortable setting for people to attend and serve at an entry level.”
“People have genuinely found a spiritual home for themselves,” says Matthews, “and they are coming under the influence and care of our church.”
Partnering with local churches
Pastor John McIntyre and Wrightsville Beach Baptist Church have also seen the fruit of beachside ministry.
“There’s a whole crowd of folks on the island every Sunday that would never go into a church building. A lot of people visit or move to the island to get away from normal life and just enjoy nature. While they are in the midst of doing life, a ministry like Surf Church has the opportunity to meet them right where they are,” says McIntyre of his church’s partnership with the local surfer ministry.
“We are inviting people to come taste and see the goodness of God, and if that resonates with them, we have a place for them.”
Surf Church started in the summer of 2020 as a way to reach the surferes of Wrightsville Beach with the gospel, but as things took off, others started showing up.
It is a true testament to the fact that “Jesus draws all people to Himself,” says James Connolley, NextGen pastor of Wrightsville Beach Baptist Church and a leader of Surf Church.
“Everywhere there’s a wave breaking on Wrightsville Beach, we want a surfer in the lineup who can be a light for Christ.
“People walk down the beach and see a group of people gathered, or they are out in the water and we say, ‘Hey do you want to come get some free donuts and coffee,’” says Connolley.
They may come for the donuts and coffee, but they get so much more. On a given Sunday, Surf Church will worship through song, share the gospel through a testimony or expository teaching, and there will be a time of invitation often ending in baptisms.
“We open up the door for people to have next steps of faith whatever that might look like for them,” Connolley says.
“They offer an invitation for people to receive Christ and baptism at the close of every gathering,” shares McIntyre, “and they have young and old respond to that invitation every week.”
As life change happens, Surf Church encourages people to get connected to a local church community because they believe that “life change happens best in a small group where you are seen, known and heard,” says Connolley.
In many ways, Surf Church acts as a feeder ministry into the local church. Wrightsville Beach Baptist has seen this first hand. Many of Wrightsville Beach Baptist’s members will attend Surf Church and then come over to their services after.
“As a pastor on the island, I can say that I do not see Surf Church as competition,” says McIntyre.
“They truly are our partner in ministry.”
Kure Beach will also launch Tidal Impact to offer discipleship opportunities to the next generation. They will invite church groups and student ministries to serve the community.
Matthews is excited to partner with North Carolina churches and student ministries, as many vacationing at Kure Beach reside around the state and can be connected back to those churches.
To learn more about Tidal Impact, email [email protected].
by Kari Wilson, N.C. Baptist contributing writer