Seattle is famous for the Space Needle and its technology companies, music, frequent rain and coffee — but what about its spiritual vitality?
The Atlantic magazine notes in an article titled “The Non-Religious States of America” that one-third of Washington state residents don’t claim a specific religious faith. The website of KUOW, Seattle’s National Public Radio affiliate, includes the headline “Don’t Believe in God? Move to Seattle” with a report noting 10 percent of Seattle residents describe themselves as atheists — the highest rate of any U.S. metropolitan area.
Of course, Seattle is home to many committed Christ-followers and a leading Christian institution of higher education, Seattle Pacific University, that has drawn many believers to the Emerald City. Five years ago, Brice Sanders followed his then-fiancée Tracey Tucker to Seattle for Tucker to earn a master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology at SPU. The couple met at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where Tucker earned her undergraduate degree while Sanders, a native Texan, earned his Master of Divinity degree from the university’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary and served as the seminary’s director of ministry placement.
Sanders researched SPU and discovered it is a Free Methodist university, but, as he recalled in a phone interview with LIGHT + LIFE, “I had never heard of the Free Methodists before.”
One of his Truett professors, who previously taught at Seattle Pacific, told him that his theology would match Free Methodist beliefs well. Sanders called Matt Whitehead, who was then superintendent of the Pacific Northwest Conference and now is the lead bishop of the Free Methodist Church – USA.
Whitehead and Sanders met for Thai food, and Sanders soon became the family pastor of the Shoreline (Washington) Free Methodist Church one month before he married Tucker. Sanders became an ordained Free Methodist elder and next joined the pastoral staff of Timberlake Church, a multisite Free Methodist congregation in the Seattle area.
Coffee on the Side
The newlyweds moved into Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood and frequented the weekly Ballard Farmers Market but noticed it lacked coffee. They decided to start a coffee catering side business that would serve farmers markets.
“The goal was just to meet people. We felt like the city was pretty lonely,” said Sanders, who previously had worked at several coffee shops in Texas. “It was just something to do. Instead of playing golf, I decided to basically construct a cart and make coffee at the farmers market, and that went really well.”
The couple started a coffee kiosk in a workspace and then a roastery. In 2018, they leased their own space and opened the Cedar & Spokes coffee shop in Belltown — a popular section of downtown Seattle that is also one of the city’s most densely populated neighborhoods.
“The workspace that we were in was in Belltown, so we had a customer base there, and we really knew the area,” Sanders said. “I knew the people who were on the Chamber of Commerce and the Belltown Business Development Board. I knew a lot of landlords and business owners, and so keeping our Belltown community close seemed best.”
While serving at Timberlake, Sanders became familiar with leaders of the Association of Related Churches, a church-planting organization commonly known as ARC.
“All that ARC really desires to do is equip people who are called to church planting with a great plan for how to plant a church,” Sanders said. “It was really some of the ARC guys that kind of nudged me a bit and said, ‘Have you ever thought of this as an option for you and your wife?’”
He said no, but he eventually realized that church planting matched his calling.
“I really loved the message that ARC had, which was creating churches that were life-giving, creating churches where people felt like they could belong, creating churches that were looking to reach the uncommitted and the lost,” Sanders said. “The message that ARC had was resonating, and, at the same time, truly the Holy Spirit was doing something on my heart.”
Sanders said he eventually picked up the phone and called ARC, “and they put us through the ringer, and then I had a few mentors who put me through the ringer, and then the denomination put us through the ringer. …. It was never this huge moment of God knocking on the door and saying, ‘Go do this.’ It was a culmination of community speaking life into something that was starting to grow in our hearts.”
Plans began to take shape for a church plant, Sanders said, “but one of the things we had not nailed down was where we were going to meet.”
Then he received a call from Lawrence Fudge, a campus pastor from Mosaic (the Los Angeles-based multisite church led by well-known author Erwin McManus) who reserved Cedar & Spokes for launch parties celebrating Mosaic’s Seattle campus. Sanders said he entered his business during one of the launch parties and was “incredibly impressed by how they used our coffee shop to set up basically a place of worship.”
Sanders realized he already had a great location in which to launch Coastline Church. “We had in our possession the whole time the place where we were going to do church, and I just didn’t realize it.”
The decision to launch Coastline at the coffee shop was not easy for the couple, who had tried to avoid professionally mingling business and ministry. Now they had to figure out how to handle their church meeting in their business. They brought the idea to the board of ministry leaders they had assembled from around the country to guide them in planting the church, Sanders said, “and we all agreed it was going to be a great spot.”
The coffee shop offered a downtown location with storage and parking, but hosting Coastline Church also meant Cedar & Spokes would need to be closed for business on Sunday mornings — a key time to attract tourists visiting the nearby Pike Place Market. Still, they decided, “We’re going to close on Sunday morning, and we’re going to trust God with the finances of the shop.”
How would a church handle paying rent to a coffee shop owned by its lead pastor? Sanders said he and his wife decided, “Let’s make this not messy. This space is free. We can use anything in it [for Coastline], and the church will never have to pay a cent for using the space.”
Seeking the City’s Welfare
Coastline launched at Cedar & Spokes on Sept. 8, 2019, as the newest plant of the Pacific Northwest Conference. The church highlights Jeremiah 29:7’s call to “seek the welfare of the city to which I have carried you into. Pray for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Coastline’s mission is “to see the message of Jesus bring real and lasting change to people’s lives, and to the city of Seattle.”
One of the ways Coastline demonstrates its commitment to the city is by sharing its finances.
“We’re doing things like partnering with nonprofits to make sure the church is more than about itself,” Sanders said. “Twenty percent of our giving goes to our nonprofits in an effort to truly change the city.”
Thus far, the church primarily attracts young adults (including college students ) along with empty nesters.
“It’s a very transient group — young people who might want to live downtown for a year or just moved here and want to be close to work,” Sanders said. “We’re 10 minutes from Amazon, so we are attracting that group.”
Some of the people already have a church background.
“We have found that we are meeting Christians left and right who have just moved here and have not been able to find a church,” said Sanders, who added that Coastline leaders also are meeting “Christians who are leaving the big churches and want to be part of something smaller.”
Of course, it can be unpredictable who will attend. On a recent Sunday, the 75 people in attendance included FMCUSA Bishops Whitehead, Linda Adams and Keith Cowart and their spouses.
The church’s website tells potential visitors to expect a casual atmosphere, vibrant worship and an engaging message. Sanders’ message typically lasts for 20 minutes, and preaching isn’t the only discipleship tool.
“I spend a decent time writing my message, but I don’t put a lot of stock in the message being the center of everything we do to drive people toward being better disciples. We meet with people constantly,” Sanders said. “I’m constantly raising up leaders where they feel like they have a group of 30 to 40 people to reach out to and minister to.”
Sanders said he has “about 15 people on my leadership team, and any of those 15 I would be glad to call them a pastor because we’re raising them up and teaching them how to love people and pour into people.”
Faith and Growth
Coastline aims for both numerical and spiritual growth.
“If we’re not truly, continually making disciples and leading people to Jesus, then, of course, we’re not going to grow,” Sanders said. “I don’t really pay attention to the numbers, but I do pay attention to whether people are engaging and choosing to take faith steps.”
Along with detailing the church’s beliefs and statement of faith, Coastline’s website emphasizes five values: “We are committed to the message of Jesus. We are committed to growing as a church. We are committed to the uncommitted. We are committed to raising the spiritual temperature of our area. We are committed to people’s spiritual growth.”
Coastline is attracting unchurched people along with people who stepped away from church, and it is moving them forward on their spiritual journey. The church offers baptism, small groups and the Growth Track.
“We’re doing six baptisms in three weeks, and we continue to encounter people who walk into our doors that haven’t walked into church in five, ten years,” Sanders said.
While some churches see small groups as in-depth Bible studies, Coastline’s small groups focus on connecting people, briefly discussing the church’s messages, and praying for each other.
One of ARC’s influences on Coastline is Growth Track, which meets after the Sunday church service with food and child care provided. Growth Track covers church membership and helps participants discover their redemptive purpose and how to life the life God created for them. Like going to the gym, Sanders said, people start to feel momentum each time they participate.
“Growth Track is a real game changer. It’s a four-step class that you can take in any order,” said Sanders, who added the flexible order is helpful because some people cannot attend every Sunday. “If it’s their first week in five weeks, they can take the step that day to grow in some way and walk out the door realizing that they have prioritized their faith.”
As people become involved at Coastline Church, they may decide to join the group of volunteers known as the Dream Team.
“We call it a Dream Team because we want people to catch the dream in effect — catch the dream that we are to seek the welfare of the city, and we do that by being an equipping church,” Sanders said. “They’re there to help push the dream forward of seeing a lifegiving church in downtown Seattle.”
Dream Team members serve in a variety of roles, and they are invited for a special time of worship earlier on Sunday mornings as members prepare for the morning ahead.
“We don’t want to put the wrong person in a serve role, but we want everyone serving,” Sanders said.
It takes work to make people aware of Coastline’s presence in a city of more than 740,000 people.
“We’ve done a lot of things to make it known that we exist. We have A-frames [portable signs] and yard signs everywhere. We do mailers. We’re pretty active on social media. We have a really aggressive follow-up and engagement process when we encounter someone,” Sanders said. “More than just doing good marketing, we’ve also been smart about what is the church supposed to be, and so we’ve gone into assisted living centers and senior homes. We’ve walked into apartments and said, ‘How can we serve you as the property manager?’”
As they walk the pavement of downtown Seattle, Sanders said, they find “we have lots of people who’ve been searching hard for a place to ask spiritual questions, for a place to encounter God, for a place to call home.” He added, “I don’t think this city is so post-church that it just hates the church, that it’s anti-church, that we’re getting fought hard on the opportunity to exist. I think what we’re finding is that the church has not met the needs of Seattle.”
Visit coastlinechurchnw.com to learn more about Coastline Church and to support its ministry.