When Chris Bullock and his friends prayed into what God wanted them to do next, he led them to the town where locals once stoned John Wesley. Now, an Elim church is putting down roots there.
Chris Bullock (pictured above, inset top right, with wife Justine) and his friends didn’t know what God wanted them to do. They didn’t know where he wanted them to do it, either. But they sensed him calling them to begin “something new” as they gathered in Chris’s garden in the summer of 2021.
As they met and prayed over the following six months, the answer was revealed: they felt God calling them to the small, affluent town of Cowbridge in rural South Wales to plant a church.
“We looked at places where there was little or no church life and Cowbridge was one of them,” says Chris.
Following God’s call, the group of friends, along with some families who had lost church connections during lockdown or were eager to be part of something new, began to meet fortnightly in the town from January 2022.
“We met on Saturday nights to pray, worship and seek God for what he was doing in an area that is quite desperate in terms of church life,” says Chris.
Fast forward to July last year and Beacon Church was officially launched. In the fledgling congregation’s first year, Chris worked to build strong foundations that would ensure a long-term future.
Having grown up with a dad and grandad who were both Elim pastors, he was keen to have the backing of the movement.
“I felt we needed to be part of something bigger. With my background and agreement with Elim’s theology, it made sense. It was a no-brainer to become an Elim pioneer church.”
Chris then wanted to ensure the church followed God’s lead as it launched.
“I felt God was saying we needed to be a church that was built on calling on the Lord in prayer and worship, rather than us just falling into the habit of doing church the way it’s always done. All around us here that hasn’t worked – churches are closing and empty.”
These two steps have been crucial given the tough spiritual atmosphere in Cowbridge. This is the town where locals stoned John Wesley in the 1700s – a cross on the road opposite the pub where Beacon Church used to meet marks the spot of the attack.
And Cowbridge closed its doors to the Welsh revivals of the 20th century.
Today it’s a town where freemasonry, spiritualism and witchcraft are active, along with a stubbornness towards the gospel born from the comfort of affluence.
“Rather than meeting these things head-on we aim to deal with them through prayer, praise and worship,” says Chris.
“We meet for our service on Sundays, for worship on Tuesdays, to study the Bible on Wednesdays and to pray and worship once a month on Fridays.
“We’re focusing on ‘getting our room right’ and building a culture where we know what it is to call on the Lord. That way we can be a community that really models what it is to follow Jesus well and to truly love one another.”
Putting on community activities has been a learning curve, Chris says. People in the town aren’t so keen to stop and chat because they’re busy with work and life.
“We didn’t want to go in all guns blazing and get it wrong, so we’ve kept it small with things like family-style services, quizzes and meals which all let people know we’re here.
“We’ve kept things very simple. As we’ve done this we feel like we’ve taken steps forward. We’re taking ground as Jesus builds his church in Cowbridge.”
It helped, Chris says, that the church met in a pub for its services on Sunday afternoons for the first year, though it has now outgrown this and meets in the town hall instead.
“The pub was usually full of people and it naturally led to conversations about who we are and what we’re doing.
“We didn’t see the pub turn to Jesus or anything like that, but what we’re aiming to do is build trust and longevity. By being there, putting our signs up and messages on social media, it’s got the word out that there’s a new church in the community.”
With relationships and trust starting to build and an all-age congregation of up to 50 people formed, Chris is looking to the future after a year of carefully putting down roots.
“We’re in the process of renting a building permanently so we have a base to use throughout the week. Now we’re into our second year we feel ready to do more outreach.”
A permanent home will allow the church to launch community events such as coffee mornings and Alpha courses and also to build more connections and relationships, says Chris.
Through all this, Beacon Church wants its Cowbridge community to know it is there for the long term.
“We’re slowly building relationships with people. We’re hoping they will see Jesus modelled through our lifestyle and the way we love each other.”