Pillar Community Church
Pillar Community Church is billed as ‘the church for people who don’t go to church’, or ‘the church that started out at Starbucks’. Pillar is part of the New Breed Church Planting network, based on the edge of Penllergaer and Gorseinon in Swansea. We’ve been around for a little over three years, and in that time, we’ve grown to over 100 people, many of whom did not go to church or even believe in God three years ago. We’ve outgrown two buildings, and have started meeting in the community centre, which has enabled us to provide child-care and Sunday school facilities. It seems that the Lord is continuing to add to those who are coming in. A week does not go by when there is not a new face coming through the door, and since last October we have witnessed at least one person coming to faith every month. Just a few weeks ago we had a baptism for four people who have each been set free from addictions to drugs and alcohol. Also, having recently merged with Calvary Chapel, Swansea, we have pastor Clint Pickens as part of our pastoral team. These are exciting times for Pillar.
Church for the un-churched
I should say that I’m a Yank, but being a Jones, am pretty sure of a Welsh heritage. After coming from a mega-church (1,000 or more people) in the United States, I embraced the down-to-earth qualities of church-life in the UK. As a missionary from Calvary Chapel, I was given a wide-open ticket from my home church to preach the gospel in whatever way God should lead, whether in working alongside a church or church-planting. Having been a pastor for six years in America, I felt that I needed to be exposed to the Welsh culture and learn what might work here rather than simply transplanting my American version of church into Wales. After ministering in South Wales for about six years at established churches, I decided to start a church for people who didn’t go to church.
As a missionary pastor to Wales, I was able to offer myself to churches that needed help, but couldn’t afford to pay for full-time ministry. Although I had some backing from the States, I often needed to engage in ‘tent-making’ in order to support myself financially. During these providential appointments, I was examining the Welsh non-churched culture and listening to what was being said. I could see the sovereign Spirit of God working in people’s lives, but often the religious trappings of church seemed to disorientate them. When I would suggest something new and different, some people thought, ‘that may work in America, but you’re not in America anymore’. Yet the reality was that I hadn’t been trying to reproduce what I’d seen in America. Instead, as a missionary, I was trying to find the culturally suited approach to the unsaved in Wales. But it didn’t look like what I was doing was working!
Getting started in Starbucks
My unyielding conviction was that more people were interested in the gospel than we realised, and that people wanted spirituality without the packaging of religion. I suppose that over the years some people have emphasised ‘religion’ rather than the gospel, and we’ve scared people off. Before Pillar started, I hosted a ‘Da Vinci Code Question and Answer Evening’ in the local Starbucks Coffee House and thirty non-believers turned up. They were eager to talk about Jesus and have their questions answered. Many were convinced that Dan Brown was wrong, but they still didn’t have all of their facts right about Jesus. At the end of the evening I was amazed when they actually asked to meet again the following week even though it was a ‘one off’ meeting. The next week we met again, but this time some Christians turned up. I watched in horror that night as some of those Christians, who sincerely wanted to reach the lost, practically shouted at people who were seeking Jesus because some of their viewpoints concerning our Lord were wrong. That night it became obvious to me that people out there needed a place to come where they could be honest and open about their views and have somebody reason with them in a ‘synagogue’ style evangelism, involving safe, guided, biblical discussion. Working in Starbucks, I looked around one day and said to myself, ‘People are happy here. They want to stay. They’ve got good coffee, good conversation, and they’re comfortable. Church ought to be like that. That’s how people felt with Jesus – welcomed’. So, we started an open-discussion event (a modified Christianity Explored) in the same Starbucks. At the same time we also started a home Bible study. Eventually we started renting a community hall, and after the first Sunday of our public launch as Pillar Community Church, people were amazed that church could actually be enjoyable. We include all the important biblical aspects of church — we are evangelical, strong on preaching and prayer, and our service is up to two hours long. The crucial difference is the set-up, style and attitude on a Sunday morning. We’ve tried to strip down some of the non-essential elements of a church service – there are no pews, ‘long prayer’, hymn sandwich or even notices. (We’re not opposed to that, it’s just not for everybody.) When people come to the church, they sit around coffee tables. There is a time of contemporary worship, bible-teaching, and open discussion, and, of course, good coffee.
We wanted the church to grow through people coming to faith. At the outset, other than our founding members, Christians were not allowed to come. If a Christian who had left another church tried to join us we said, ‘We are not for you. If you were upset there, you’ll definitely be angry with us!’. Within the first few months approximately ten people had come to faith and some backsliders had returned to the Lord. It was very encouraging, and although there was some opposition, we took the fact that the lost were being saved as confirmation from the Lord. Like Nehemiah, we simply got our heads down and continued to work on building up the walls, sensing that the Lord was truly in this work.
We like to say that Pillar Church is a cross between Starbucks, A.A. (Alcoholics Anonymous), and church. Our motto is ‘Keep it real’. Nobody has to fake being ‘okay’. We all know we need work, we need help, and that’s why we’re here. It’s very refreshing. I used to get asked if we were an Emergent church. At the time that the church started up, I didn’t even know what that was. The answer, by the way, is ‘no’. We are an evangelical missionary church. We are actually an eclectic mix of all sorts of people, from a wide range of backgrounds. We exist to reach the lost, and that remains the focus. One of the first things established by Jan Jensen, who helped plant the church, was that we were going to war on the enemy’s territory. When you go to war, you don’t bring your pets. We had to ensure in the beginning that the pets stayed at home. We weren’t planting a church into which Christians could inject their agendas which had already been rejected elsewhere. We had one agenda: to reach the lost by preaching the gospel simply, clearly and powerfully. So far, we’ve been spared the pettiness that can bog down a church. In that time, we have found that when you get a bunch of new believers together, they are just so happy to know Jesus that they don’t even know what to complain about. By keeping our focus outward, sadly, we won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But, if you like coffee with your preaching, then we might just be the place for you or a non-believer you know.
Peyton Jones is the pastor of Pillar Community Church, Swansea.