South Bay Baptist Church

“2010: A New Beginning” reads the label on the binder in the ministry booth set up in the church hall. The table surrounding the decorated cardboard triptych is strewn with candy. Other, similar booths advertise the church’s music ministry; its preschool and kindergarten; its youth group, Awana; children’s ministry; deaconess’s board; and Bible ministry. Out in the courtyard, they’re setting up the popcorn machine; after the service, there will be nachos and hot dogs. In the yard: an inflatable “jumpy” and some games. A banner out front welcomes new pastor Michael Beach, and today, the church is hosting an open house. To help get the word out, congregants have invited friends. And they have left flyers in mailboxes and hung notices on neighborhood doorknobs.

Inside, you are greeted by a Thomas Kinkade painting (Dogwood Chapel) and a sense that at some point, the building’s orientation has been shifted — from long to wide. Once, maybe, the sanctuary was situated beneath the stained-glass windows to your right; once, maybe, the organ pipes on your left rang out their tunes from the rear of the church. Now, windows and pipes occupy the side walls; instead of a sanctuary, a broad stage serves to raise up preacher, choir, and worship band. The organ is silent, replaced by baby grand piano and electric keyboard.

But if some things have changed, others haven’t. Tentative sopranos still praise Providence from the traditional choir: “If you don’t understand/ And you don’t see His plan/ When you can’t trace His hand/ Trust His heart.” And after a couple of standard praise jams, the youngsters in the band launch into “Before the Throne of God Above,” ringing out the chorus in haunting old-time Baptist harmony: “My name is graven on His hands/ My name is written on His heart...” It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve had chills in church.

For first-time guests, there are cool black coffee mugs bearing the church’s logo and free Bibles for those who don’t have them. “We want you to know that we’re a Bible-believing church,” explains Beach. “That’s our tool and our foundation, and if you don’t have one, we’d like to give you one. We want you to know that this home, this family, this church is open to you — to all of you. Hopefully, this is a place you’ll feel at home. You are loved...our hearts are open to you and it’s because of the love of Jesus Christ.”

There are announcements. The church has sent $750 to the Salvation Army’s relief efforts in Haiti. On Valentine’s Day (a Sunday this year), the church will provide childcare from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (after the service on “relationships God’s way”), “so you can go out and spend time together as a couple.” And the youth group is planning to attend a screening of the film To Save a Life. A congregant urges teens to sign up, to see how “your high schools are mission fields. There are opportunities for you every day to stand up and make a difference.”

Beach’s sermon compares salvation to a bank transaction — Jesus taking on our spiritual bankruptcy — and extends an invitation. “There are no hoops to jump through, nothing magical. All you have to do is take a simple step of faith. It’s a prayer: saying, ‘Lord, I need Your forgiveness. I want You to take my sin on the cross.’ If you do pray this prayer, I’m going to ask you to mark it on this communication card. Because I am going to — hopefully this week — follow up with you and share what it means to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. It’s the greatest decision you could ever make...knowing that when your life on Earth is over, you’ll enter into His presence....

“If you prayed that prayer today, while everyone else still has their heads bowed, I want to ask you to look up and make eye contact with me. I’d like to know that you prayed that prayer. God bless you. I see you. I see you.”

And once you’ve said the prayer? “I ran across a Swahili proverb that says, ‘Treat your guest as a guest for two days; on the third day, give him a hoe.’ Once you become part of the family of God, we will expect you to throw yourself into serving the Lord. There’s more to being a part of South Bay Baptist than just showing up and sitting here. There’s a lot of work to be done for God’s kingdom.”

What happens when we die?

“Basically,” said Beach, “we enter into God’s presence if we have trusted Christ as our Savior. If we haven’t, then we enter into a place of separation from Him that the Bible calls hell.”

South Bay Baptist Church

960 Fifth Avenue, Chula Vista

Denomination: Converge Southwest
Founded locally: 1954
Senior pastor: Michael Beach
Congregation size: 100–125
Staff size: 4
Sunday school enrollment: 4–12
Annual budget: about $200,000
Weekly giving: about $4500
Singles program: no
Dress: casual to formal, mostly semi-formal
Diversity: majority Caucasian, but diverse
Sunday worship: 10 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Website: southbaybaptist.com

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