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Pastor Jonathan Contero preaching at Cero Seventh-day Adventist Church in Madrid, Spain, on Dec. 8, 2018. (San Suvankham / For Adventist Mission)

Church Planter Starts at Zero and Attracts Crowd in Spain

Cero Church doesn’t try to fill seats. It makes friends through community service.

By Andrew McChesney

It’s not your traditional Seventh-day Adventist church.

A vibrant church plant in the heart of Spain’s capital, Madrid, welcomes 70 people, 20 percent of whom aren’t Seventh-day Adventist, to its weekly Sabbath worship services.

But its biggest sermons take place outside of the building in the form of visits to children in the hospital, feeding the homeless, and outings with children.

It’s the community outreach, not the preaching, that is drawing people to church and winning hearts for Jesus, said Jonathan Contero, the 34-year-old pastor of the Cero church.

“We believe that the best way to impact the community in a postmodern society is to live and practice what you preach,” he said. “Other religions speak a lot and do nothing. … We are doing mission.”

The Spanish word “Cero,” which means “Zero” in English, was chosen as the name for the church because “you have to start from zero when you work with secular people who don’t believe in anything,” said Contero’s wife, Abigail, a nurse and teacher, who works closely with him.

Cero is ready to start from zero with anyone. Its origins go back to 2015 when Jonathan Contero had a dream to plant a church in highly secularized Madrid.

“In Spain, we are losing all our youth,” he told Kleber D. Gonçalves, the Adventist world church’s point person for reaching people in postmodern countries. “If we continue to go this way, we are going to end up with a church of immigrants. We need to do something with the Spanish people.”

The Adventist Church only has 16,563 members in this European country of 46.6 million people, according to the latest statistics from the world church’s Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research. That’s one member for every 2,812 people.

Building a Church

Impressed with Contero’s vision, Gonçalves invited him on a field trip to another highly secularized city, São Paulo, Brazil.

Upon returning to Madrid, Contero got to work to establish Cero. The first step, however, was not to try to fill a church building. Instead, Contero and other church members sought to make friends through community service. They organized craft-making and other activities at the hospital and invited young people to join them.

The initiative struck a positive chord in the community, and soon a sizeable group of young people were accompanying the Adventists to a growing number of activities.

As relationships grew, the Adventists welcomed their friends into their homes for small-group discussions. After that, Bible studies were offered at the church.

“When they are ready, we bring them to church to study the Bible,” Contero said. “But the Bible is not the first step. In Spain, people will reject the Bible if they hear about it first.”

Later, people were invited to Sabbath worship services, which Contero likened to TED-style talks, After that, they were offered deeper Bible studies and an opportunity for baptism. Those who are baptized receive mentorship on how to disciple others.

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  • Pastor Jonathan Contero singing during song service at Cero Seventh-day Adventist Church in Madrid, Spain, on Dec. 8, 2018. (San Suvankham / For Adventist Mission)

  • Cero young people feeding homeless people in Madrid, Spain, on Dec. 8, 2018. Visiting mission specialists accompanied them. (San Suvankham / For Adventist Mission)

  • Food provided by Cero young people lying near the feet of a homeless man. He did not wake up, so the young people left food on his bed. (San Suvankham / For Adventist Mission)

Stories of God’s Power

Contero said he has witnessed God’s transforming power in Madrid and told the story of Sylvia, 34, who learned about Cero through a Facebook advertisement. Sylvia, who had no Christian background, spent a month debating whether to contact the church. Then she visited regularly for four or five months and immigrated to the United States. There, she was baptized.

“We are happy for her,” Contero said. “She started with us.”

While social media can be effective, new contacts usually are made by word of mouth as people invite their friends, he said.

One woman became involved in church activities after noticing the difference Cero was making in the community.

“You’re young,” she told Cero’s young people. “You should be drinking and partying. Wherever you go, I want to go with you.”

Many of those who attend Sabbath worship services are under 40. Among them is a movie actor who shares what he is learning from the Bible with his 200,000 followers on Instagram.

In addition to the 20 percent non-Christian churchgoers, 40 percent are Adventist, and 40 percent were born in Adventist homes and returned to the church through Cero.

Cero’s model can be implemented not only in Spain but in any secularized country, said Gonçalves, who works as director of the Global Mission Center for Secular and Postmodern Studies, part of the Office of Adventist Mission at the church’s world headquarters.

“This works in Chile, Brazil, and Spain,” he said. “When people see that we have a heart for the community, they want to get involved. This is an opportunity to invite them to Bible studies.”

He noted that 67 postmodern-sensitive congregations have been established in South America alone over the past seven years.

Mission Conference Highlight

The Cero church was a highlight of an Adventist Mission conference that brought mission specialists fromaround the world to Madrid for a week.

The annual conference spent the larger part of two days working with Clifford Goldstein, editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide, on an outline for a mission-focused Bible study guide. The General Conference committee responsible for the Bible study guide earlier asked Gonçalves and the directors of the church’s five other Global Mission study centers to prepare the Bible study guide for fourth quarter 2023. The six Global Mission study centers oversee Adventist efforts to share the gospel with non-Christian people groups around the world.

Also at the conference, participants presented reports about their work for the past year, brainstormed on new methods of outreach, and grappled with the challenge of reaching postmodern societies and people from the major non-Christian world religions.

Conference attendees included Adventist Mission leaders from Adventist world church headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, and its six Global Mission study centers: the Center for Secular and Postmodern Studies, the Center for East Asian Religions, the Center for South Asian Religions, the Global Center for Adventist-Muslim Relations, the World Jewish-Adventist Friendship Center, and the Global Mission Urban Center. Also participating were representatives from the church’s Institute of World Mission, the Inter-European Division, the Adventist Church in Spain, and four General Conference educational institutions: Andrews University in the U.S. state of Michigan, the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies in the Philippines, the Adventist University of Africa in Kenya, and Loma Linda University in the U.S. state of California.

Meeting With Members

At a Q&A session with visiting mission specialists, church member Daniel Forcada, 34, said he found it a challenge to go beyond the volunteer work and introduce people to God.

“It’s very easy to bring people who are not Adventist to our community activities,” he said. “But it’s very difficult to introduce them to God.”

Another church member, Violeta Campello, 30, said she found it easier to invite people to Cero than to other Adventist churches.

“I’ve invited more people in one year to Cero than I invited in my whole life to the Adventist church,” she said.

About 10 people have attended worship services through her efforts.

The mission conference ended with a Sabbath worship service at the Cero church on Dec. 8. Visitors were clearly impressed with the church’s work.

“Cero is what happens when you combine mission-minded young Adventists with Christ’s method of ministry,” said Gary Krause, director of Adventist Mission. “As these young adults mingle in the community and serve others, they win confidence and bring people to Jesus — and it’s happening in a large secular European city.”

But perhaps no one was more pleased than Gonçalves, who described Cero’s pastor as an answer to prayer.

“I prayed for at least five years, ‘Lord, help me find someone in Europe,’” he said. “God has blessed Jonathan’s ministry.”