Coastal Christian Ocean City’s earliest roots date from 1990. Originally a home fellowship from Calvary Chapel of Vineland, the first Sunday service was held at the Strand Theater at 9th and Boardwalk on Palm Sunday of 1990. The church was officially incorporated as “Maranatha by the Sea Christian Fellowship” in 1991, and later became a Calvary Chapel affiliate. In the earlier years, the church met at the Strand during the summer months, and at various hotels in the winter including the Port-O-Call, Watson's Regency and The Flanders. The church met year round at the Strand from 1997 until it became unavailable in 2002, and then moved to one of the rooms at the Flanders. The name was officially changed from “Maranatha” to “Calvary Chapel Ocean City” in 2001.
In the two years following, the church languished and almost died but for the exception of a small core of believers. This small core group traveled weekly to Calvary Chapel of Vineland, but continued to long for their own fellowship in the Ocean City area. This desire prompted the Pastor of Calvary Vineland to begin a bible study at Callahan’s Café in Ocean City on Thursday evenings. About 15 people came out for that first cold, snowy evening in January 2003. The net had been cast, and the bible study continued to grow through the winter and into the spring, and it became obvious that a church was to be planted. There was just a minor technicality - there was no pastor.
The greater Calvary Chapel community took notice, and the Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel Philadelphia appointed Matt Stokes to take over the leadership of the bible study and begin holding Sunday morning services. Matt, a landscaper by trade, had been on staff at Calvary Chapel Philadelphia for several years, and served in a variety of capacities including Junior High Bible teacher, worship leader, hospital visitation/pastoral care team member, and police chaplain.
The first Sunday service was held in Callahan's Café on June 22, 2003, with 50 worshippers in attendance. Matt taught from Philippians and led worship. There was a buzz of excitement in the air, and several people were overheard affirming, "I can feel that God is in this." Later that same day, someone pulled up to the café and donated a brand new sound system.
The word was on the street, and people crammed into the cafe for every Sunday and Thursday service. Some people would even have to listen from the kitchen because the rest of the restaurant was full. Others even pulled up a bench on the sidewalk outside to listen. In the ensuing months, church members would gather at the café after it closed on Saturday afternoons to transform it for the Sunday service the next morning. After service, it would be turned back into a restaurant. During the first year, Matt continued his ministries at Calvary Chapel Philadelphia and commuted to Ocean City for both Thursday evening and Sunday morning services.
At about this time, the church was awarded a construction permit from the FCC to build a low power FM radio station. By the end of the summer of 2003, the Lord had graciously provided funds necessary to build the station. Working against a deadline of late December, "92.7FM - The Voice" officially lit up the airwaves in the early evening hours of December 13th, and has been continuously broadcasting modern worship music and sound Bible teaching ever since.
The fellowship grew steadily throughout that first summer and fall, and it soon became clear that a larger facility was needed. Several locations were considered, and after much prayer, the Lord opened the door for the fellowship to meet in a larger facility at the corner of 8th and Asbury in downtown Ocean City. The stately building had originally been a bank, and had last been occupied by a Christian Science organization. To assume a monthly payment, where the church previously had none, was a step of faith. As it turned out, after the decision was made to move, a friend of Matt Stokes called. She had not spoken with Matt for quite some time, but said that she had heard about the new fellowship and wanted to bless the church with a gift. Unbeknownst to her, the amount of the gift she gave that day was the exact amount of the first month's rent. We do “walk by faith,” but it is a great comfort when the Lord gives us confirmation, especially in ways like that!
A work party was assembled, and the building was transformed in short order. Old flooring was torn up and new carpet was laid down. Walls were painted, windows were cleaned, and a new stage was constructed. The church's radio station played in the background as volunteers worked; God was doing something, and it was just a joy to be caught up in the midst of it.
The first service in the new building was held on Sunday, February 22, 2004, and 125 people showed up - in February! In Ocean City! The building quickly filled, and by Memorial Day weekend of 2004 it became necessary to go to two services. Both of these services topped out, and creative ways had to be found to squeeze more chairs into the sanctuary. An overflow room was created out of the Bookstore/Fellowship Room, with the services projected live on the wall.
Even with these changes, there still wasn’t enough room! The church was able to procure additional space in a building across the street, and the church’s offices and Children's and Youth Ministry moved in.
Seams began bursting again in 2008, and church leadership sought the Lord once again for His will regarding a larger meeting place where all ministries would fit inside one building. At that time, 300 people attended the church in the off-season, and about 600 during the summer months.
A search committee was assembled to spy out the land for a new home for the fellowship. Research was done from Seaville through the whole of Egg Harbor Township, and leadership felt confident that God wanted the church to continue in Ocean City. Despite the restrictions of limited real estate that the community offered for an ever-growing ministry, the church remained steadfast in their pursuit of a property in the city.
After four years of searching for a new location, the church ended up moving 40 yards across the street into the Island Gym Fitness Center building. The gym was transformed into a sanctuary with a seating capacity of over 400. With the new building came the new name, Coastal Christian.
Since those days many things have changed and many have remained the same. We still uphold the supremacy of God's Word and continue with the verse-by-verse teaching of the Scriptures. We watch transformation in the lives of individuals from week to week, rejoice as people commit their lives to Christ, and continue to celebrate the great things that God is doing.
We know that God has a plan and we are following Him. We have been abundantly blessed in what the Lord has done, and look forward with hopeful anticipation to "Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think ..." (Ephesians 3:20)