“There’s never been a time in my life that I can remember where I’ve not loved both the church and people,” says Senior Pastor Chris Goins of a2 Church. His mind is traveling back to the small Southern town of Graysville, nestled in the hills of Tennessee, where he was raised by devout Pentecostal parents.
Before delving any further into the intertwining narratives of Pastor Chris and the planting of a2 Church, it is crucial one understand what a2 stands for. It is inspired by the Book of Acts and the second chapter, when Holy Spirit was poured out in power upon an ethnically diverse body of Christ-centered, praying believers. In those early days, the church wasn’t an array of differing and competing denominations, but a community of loving believers. A family.
Jesus said to his followers, “By this, all [the world] will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (English Standard Version, John 13:35)
Pastor Chris believes nonjudgmental, uncondemning, unconditional love is the center piece of a2 Church located on Hwy 280 behind Superior Grill.
“We want broken people to find healing and help,” he says.
Even though a2 Church is nondenominational, Pastor Chris was raised in a rich Pentecostal tradition stemming in part from a father who was a passionate lay minister at their mountaintop church.
At the age of 8, he encountered an “irresistible drawing of Holy Spirit” to follow Jesus and repent of his sins through a message of a Church of God traveling evangelist. From there he received the baptism of the Holy Spirit at sixteen, and the same evening the call to serve in the body within the context of the local church.
As he speaks of Jesus there are hints of that old-time Pentecostal fervor, but lacking the characteristic Southern drawl. Maybe it was lost while pastoring Maranatha Church in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Or it could’ve disappeared during the years of traveling the country as an itinerant Church of God speaker.
“I’d speak 300 days out of the year,” he says. “South Florida prepared us for Birmingham with only 5% of its population regularly attending church.”
Sitting across him, one feels the peace of God crashing against them with the gentle drawing of the Spirit, like ocean waves lapping Floridian shorelines.
Once in Birmingham, Pastor Chris encountered a tense ministerial situation, which eventually led to the planting of a2 Church.
“I didn’t want to stay in Birmingham – it was like a scab being pulled off my heart daily reopening a deep wound,” he says, now heart-healed.
God closed all the escape doors and Pastor Chris was led to stay. He tenderly and forgivingly speaks as a man who bears – like many Americans – the scars of the painful internal afflicting that comes with denominational Christianity.
But behind brown Bonhoefferish glasses burns a love for Birmingham, born out of that dark night of the soul where Pastor Chris in brokenness found himself standing and leaning upon Jesus—“The Rock That Doesn’t Roll.”
In the tilled soil of his life, Holy Spirit, which drew him to the Savior, gave him Jesus’ dream for Birmingham. It came to him while driving, in the form this question: “What is Birmingham known for?”
Birmingham is well-acquainted with racial history filled with hatred, segregation, Jim Crow, discrimination, and inequality. Out of those ashes God desired to build a beautiful, loving church—“an Acts 2 biblically-functioning church in the heart of Birmingham.” A church filled with persons from every corner of the earth, socioeconomic status, background, and ethnic group, all be drawn to the wooden cross of Calvary, similar to the one in the center of the a2 sanctuary.
“We believe God put us here on 280 for a reason,” says Pastor Chris, as his heart burns for reaching the Hispanic community of the Metro Birmingham area.
“I hope that God is writing the story.” 78