t’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 Adventists, 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 draws people to church and wins 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 [post-Christian] society is to live and practice what you preach,” he said.

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 said. “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.”

Building a Church

Contero’s first step wasn’t to try to fill a church building. Instead, he and his 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 sizable 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.

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. 

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 Adventists, and 40 percent were born in Adventist homes and returned to the church through Cero.

Cero’s model can be implemented in any secularized country, said Kleber Gonçalves, director of the Global Mission Center for Secular and Post-Christian Mission. “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.

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.” Some ten people have attended worship services through her efforts.

“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.”


Jonathan Contero and his family will soon begin working in the highly secular country of Switzerland. Symbolically, they are following in the footsteps of J. N. Andrews and his children. They went to Switzerland in 1874 as the first official missionaries of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The 150th anniversary is being celebrated in 2024. “Our goal,” Jonathan says, “is to pour ourselves into enlarging the church and strengthening the mission.” 

Andrew McChesney Office of Adventist Mission.