Editor's Note: Bishop T.D. Jakes' congregation in Dallas, The Potter's House, is constructing a new facility with an emphasis on ministry in the 21st century. After visiting with Bishop Jakes and sensing his excitement for ministry through this facility, we asked Julie Fairchild, a Christian free-lance writer, to file this report.
Spirituality is on the upswing, according to researchers, but church attendance is trending down. Ministry leaders have grappled with this issue for the last decade, responding with various initiatives to stimulate interest and excitement in the local church. Congregations have dressed down, dressed up, added Saturday night services, offered alternative styles of worship and more, attempting to attract a waning crowd.
All over the world, people of faith are asking, "What should the 21st-century church look like?" In more ways than one, Bishop T.D. Jakes and the 26,000-member Potter's House Church are showing us. After only four years, this Dallas-based church has grown from 50 families to one of the fastest growing churches in the country. And there is no sign of slowing. They will open the doors to their new church campus this fall.
But at any given time in the United States, hundreds of churches are undergoing building projects. So besides this new building's enormous footprint--more than two football fields--what makes The Potter's House unique?
"It's not the sticks and bricks that make a church," Jakes told Ministries Today. "Two people can meet on the side of the road and have church. We had church in a West Virginia storefront for years, and God was just as present and powerful then as He is today.
"But our vision for The Potter's House is to meet the culture at its point of need," Jakes continued. "And the 21st century brings new challenges and opportunities. The church must deliver a relevant message and life-impacting programs. It must become more user-friendly, and church leadership must keep open minds about creative ways to embrace the larger community with God's love."
With revolutionary strategies and creative flare, T. D. Jakes and The Potter's House embrace the larger community at every level. Jakes' outside-the-box philosophy brings amazing results--a diversity of members and attendees that defy church models of the past.
There is no homogeny at The Potter's House. The congregation is a patchwork of varied colors, ages, levels of education, socioeconomic classes and spiritual maturity. On any given Sunday, The Potter's House pews may seat royalty alongside the homeless, or celebrities alongside the unknown. The playing field is level, and all worshipers are focused on corporate communion with God.
Since its inception, The Potter's House has reached into the community to uplift the downtrodden. Located in the underserved southern sector of Dallas, the church immediately went to work to serve the community. The congregation treats the normal societal outcasts as VIPs and loves them back to wholeness through an array of outreaches that embrace the unlovely.
"In the inner city, we must roll up our sleeves and help solve practical and economic issues that hinder people's relationships with each other and often with God," Jakes said. "Some, trying to break a destructive pattern, become frustrated with no safe place to receive tutoring and care as they make changes in their lifestyles that affect their morality as well as their income.
"The church's problem is that for years, we've just tried to get people saved and then thought our work was done," Jakes continued. "We can't expect people to receive Christ and be instantly mature in their faith. They have to be discipled."
Already, Jakes is legendary for his use of nontraditional methods to disseminate the gospel. And he exudes the message personally, through the creative outlets of his own books, plays and musical productions.
Jakes' passion for empowerment is evident, as he keeps his congregation plugged in to the latest technology. Now with the $32 million new church nearing completion, his excitement is evident.
"With the technology now available, we are missing the boat if we don't use it to impact the culture and to advance the kingdom of God," he said. Appealing to techno-wizard kids, businesspeople, families and curious senior citizens, The Potter's House's new "smart" church will be equipped to hold their attention like no other.
"Technology is completely revamping the way America is talking, working and worshiping," Jakes said. "Leaders of the church, like those in other arenas of life, must be empowered to communicate in the high-tech realm our nation is quickly approaching.
"Our buildings must be multifaceted to fully serve our diverse parishioners, including translation equipment, digital sound boards, capacity for satellite uplinks and more. The technological possibilities are very impressive, but taking advantage of them will require the church's coming up."
Jakes' new 191,000-square-foot church facility is designed with that in mind, providing a variety of services for the diverse crowd they anticipate coming together in the next decade. These services include translation rooms located behind the stage that can accommodate up to six languages simultaneously.
The sound, lighting, broadcast and Master Antenna television (MATV) systems are state of the art. The sanctuary has been acoustically engineered to produce a sense of closeness and involvement between the platform and the audience. The digital console is developed from the latest technology, not even available yet to the general public.
To say the facility is computer-friendly is an understatement. The first four rows of the church are completely interactive--with attendees able to instantly download sermons, Power Point presentations and more. The new sanctuary will hold 8,425 people, with additional seating for almost 500 in an overflow chapel. Digital screens will enable the entire congregation to enjoy clear visuals and cutting edge graphics.
"I can't wait to see what God is going to do in the 21st century," Jakes said. And the church can't wait to see what Bishop Jakes will do to facilitate God's work in Dallas and around the world.