Church ministry features high technology, preaches community outreach

Posted: Friday, October 27, 2000

DALLAS (AP) -- High-tech gadgetry meets high-impact worship at Bishop T.D. Jakes' mammoth, $32 million sanctuary in southwest Dallas.

Built to accommodate a congregation of more than 26,000, the Potter's House sanctuary seems more like a state-of-the-art convention center than a traditional place of worship.

But Jakes has never been one to downplay his dynamic style of evangelism, which draws millionaire football players, gang members and the homeless, among others.

Speakers at the dedication of the new building praised the nondenominational church's diverse outreach. ''A church is not measured by the beauty of the architecture but by the deeds of the congregation,'' said Coretta Scott King, the widow of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

About 7,000 people attended Sunday's service, which also featured remarks from Vice President Al Gore and television evangelist Pat Robertson.

With the new structure, the church's mission has taken a high-tech twist, Jakes says.

''It was built toward the goal of propelling our people into the 21st century armed with modern technology,'' he says. ''Our message has not changed but our method has.''

About 200 seats in the sanctuary have data terminals so worshippers can download sermon notes and Microsoft PowerPoint presentations on laptop computers. Altar attendants use handheld computers to input new member data and prayer needs. The service is translated into six languages and broadcast to audience members wearing wireless headphones. Huge video screens flank the stage, which features a lighting and sound system rivaling that of major concert venues.

''It sometimes feels like a spaceship to me,'' Jakes says of the new building, which replaces a 2,500-seat sanctuary.

Services also are broadcast over the Internet, and Jakes hosts a cable television show seen around the globe. He says churches must use every means available to minister to those in need.

''God is not afraid of the latest technology,'' he says. ''Jesus was the great communicator. It's time for the church to step out boldly to harness the resources available to us to change lives and communicate the Gospel.''

The Potter's House church started with 50 families who moved four years ago to Dallas from a storefront church in West Virginia. Jakes and his wife of 19 years, Serita, bought the land for the Potter's House from the ministry of W.V. Grant, who was sentenced to prison for tax evasion.

The name of the church comes from a passage in the Bible's book of Jeremiah: ''Like the clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.''

Jakes says the church offers ''a word of hope and restoration for those who need and want to be reshaped by the Lord's word and his ability to raise the standard of our living in every way.''

Jakes' ministry of empowerment and community giving flourished in Texas. Within two years, there were 15,000 members. The congregation of 26,000 is still growing.

The Potter's House offers mentoring programs for young people, provides food, blankets and clothing to the homeless and operates a prison chaplain program. Church members visit crime-infested sections of Dallas and try to inspire gang members to attend church.

The charitable efforts are made possible by a staff of about 280 employees and about 1,500 volunteers.

''If we are really going to minister to hurting people, we have to trade places with them,'' Jakes says. ''We have to come off our high horses and walk where they walk and sit where they sit. If we do not become involved in the fight then all that we have professed is just religious rhetoric.''

Jakes has plans for developing a K-12 school, a refuge for abused women, a retirement community, a performing arts center and business incubators on hundreds of acres near the new sanctuary.

Jakes, 43, was recently ranked among the ''Top 10 People to Watch'' in religion, by the PBS program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. Celebrity baptisms -- he has baptized National Football League players Deion Sanders and Emmitt Smith -- have brought him attention, as have accomplishments outside his church. Jakes has written bestsellers and been nominated for a Grammy award.

Although most parishioners are black, people of various races line the pews during services. Few remain seated. A full choir sways, dances and claps on stage. Drums, tambourines and horns blare. People jump up and down and dance in the aisles.

All the activity can be a bit overwhelming, says Paula Gipson, a member from Grand Prairie.

''But he urged us to get involved,'' she says of Jakes. ''We are a big part of a big thing.''


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