A New Sanctuary for a Flock of Thousands

About 7,000 people attend First Baptist Church of Glenarden. The main sanctuary is generally packed, and the Rev. John K. Jenkins regularly greets those who watch the service from overflow rooms.
About 7,000 people attend First Baptist Church of Glenarden. The main sanctuary is generally packed, and the Rev. John K. Jenkins regularly greets those who watch the service from overflow rooms. (Photos By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)

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By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 13, 2007

It is 12:30 p.m. on a recent Sunday afternoon, and the Rev. John K. Jenkins is already preaching his fourth service. The main sanctuary and five overflow rooms are filled to capacity, and still, Jenkins has one more service to go before the day is done.

For years, the congregants at First Baptist Church of Glenarden have worshiped God in shifts.

But life at one of Prince George's County's most influential churches will change considerably Sunday when Jenkins and his members move to their new 4,000-seat sanctuary at 600 Watkins Park Dr. in Upper Marlboro. The new edifice, which spans about 205,000 square feet, will allow Jenkins to reduce the number of services to four, but church leaders say they are most excited about the potential for growth.

"I am so grateful to see where the church has come from," said Trina Jenkins, the pastor's wife. "Just to be able to impact thousands and thousands more, I am so grateful."

First Baptist Church of Glenarden has grown from about 500 members in 1989, when Jenkins became pastor, to more than 7,000. Members say Jenkins's approachable manner, humble leadership, humor (often self-deprecating) and frank preaching style have been a particular draw in a county full of megachurches.

Jenkins, who's been a licensed minister since he was 15, sometimes wears semi-casual attire for Sunday service -- a suit with no tie -- unlike many of his peers who dress in designer suits and surround themselves by bodyguards who limit one-on-one access. During each service, Jenkins usually visits the overflow rooms to greet members and guests who must watch his message on one of the large television monitors because they couldn't get a seat inside the sanctuary. With his wife, the pastor often stays long after services to chat with members.

"He speaks to the educated, as well as the uneducated," said Willie Jolley, a national motivational speaker and church member. "He speaks in a language that everybody can relate to. I have been to a number of churches where the pastor speaks down to people. He shares his flaws. He said, 'I got issues. I am working on stuff. I am trying to get better.' "

The church operates more than 100 ministries, designed to provide spiritual outreach, as well as assist members in every aspect of their lives and help them channel their talents into the church. Despite the excitement over the long-anticipated move, the church's focus will remain on ministry, Jenkins and other church leaders said.

"For the course of the 17 years that I have been in the church, what I have been doing is developing people's spiritual walk with God," Jenkins said. "It is shaping people's lives, helping children and young people to become mature and helping people to become all of what God wants them to become."

William Chin, scout master of the church's Boy Scout troop, said he has raised his five children in the church. One son became an Eagle Scout, graduated as valedictorian of Charles Herbert Flowers High School and attends MIT. Jenkins has been a big supporter of the troop because when he was a young scout, his troop folded, Chin said.

"Whatever stage in life you are at, there is a ministry that can help you to become a better person," Chin said.

Since Katrina Clements joined the church's Prosperity Partners Ministry, she has learned how to better manage her money and has become debt-free, she said.

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