Building a Church for the Community
Published on 1/15/2013
By Warren Bird
Charles Jenkins may be leading a legendary church, Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, but he is still breaking the mold in terms of their idea for their next facility. His innovative approach is designed to strengthen the church’s strong spiritual presence in his city. “As we share the Gospel, we want to show the Gospel,” he explains.
In the Fall 2013, Fellowship Chicago will break ground on its $26 million dollar “Legacy Project”—a multi-faceted development that includes not only a campus for the burgeoning congregation, but also multiple facilities designed to “bless the city” and lead to the area’s economic development.
When the 15 acre build-out is completed, the Legacy Project will also house office space, a school, a center for the arts, a health center, restaurants, retail stores and senior housing—combining church, commerce and community to spark new business and create 400-500 jobs in a blighted area of the inner city.
“We call it the Legacy Project because it’s a vision that will live beyond our lifetimes,” says the young Moody Bible graduate who took over the historic church 12 years ago at the age of 24. “Our prayer is that God will use the Legacy Project to open the door to change millions of lives. It’s unlike anything Chicago has ever seen. Individuals, families, and businesses will be impacted eternally.”
Plans for the Legacy Project include a world class auditorium, a charter School, a community development center, retail and restaurant areas as well as a state of the art health center.
Meeting Unique Practical Needs
The idea behind the Legacy Project was birthed as Charles Jenkins saw the need for Fellowship Chicago to expand while he also explored the social problems all around Fellowship Chicago. They go beyond what a church would typically try to solve—“nowhere to sit down and eat, schools lack the programming, so many needs. It’s an expansion effort that we’re leading to build up our community,” he says. The owners of Hobby Lobby recently made a significant donation, and the church is looking for more friends and partners to help them bring this vision to pass.
As described in promotional material, “The Legacy Project is more than just bricks and mortar. It’s a vision of uniting people by giving them a safe place to learn, healing the sick through a community health center, empowering youth through a charter school and community center, as well as creating economic synergy in the city by providing an incubator for entrepreneurial work to grow wings.” We want to reduce violence, and crime in Chicago and increase salvations, graduations and opportunities.
For Fellowship Chicago, the Legacy Project is the church’s answer to the call in Isaiah 58:12 to become a “builder of the breach, a repairer of the walls.”
“We want to address the desolation and destitution that exists; the deficit of quality educational support systems; the lack of amenities, goods and services in a community,” says Charles, who also leads Fellowship’s Educational, Economic Development, Inc. (FEED)—the community development corporation that will spearhead the project.
“While we definitely want to serve the children in need in Third World countries, we don't want to reach over the heads of children in our own neighborhoods experiencing poverty and broken homes. As my mother taught me, charity begins at home,” he says.
Pastor Charles Jenkins (front center in gold jacket) and the young men he has mentored, Gladiators.
Impact Is in Church’s DNA
Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church was founded 62 years ago by Reverend Clay Evans, first meeting in a funeral home. It became a cornerstone in the city during the civil rights era when it welcomed such activists such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. During that era, Chicago’s mayor blocked the church’s expansion efforts, but not its growing influence. As the church’s website describes the scene then: “For seven years, the stark steel frame of the uncompleted sanctuary stood as a monument to commitment and social consciousness. Under the leadership of Reverend Evans, Fellowship gained an impeccable reputation for social involvement, political activism and stellar spiritual leadership.” The church also helped launch internationally known activist Jesse Jackson, who was also an associate pastor at Fellowship Baptist, where he oversaw the development of Operation Bread Basket, which ultimately became the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.
Following that rich tradition, Charles tries to encourage projects that lead to good works. “After Jesus finished preaching the gospel, he did something,” he said in one of his many media interviews. “We always remember what people do.”
Expanding the Social Good to Business and Music
Pastor Charles has also continued to expand the giving legacy of Fellowship Chicago. In 2012, he led a business incubator for social entrepreneurs and over 100 non-profit organizations called GoodCity. By marrying social good with social entrepreneurship, GoodCity NFP supports high-potential, community-based entrepreneurs with education, in-depth training, mentoring and milestone-based funding.
He also founded Relevant Forums, which provides sought-after resources and powerful connections for entrepreneurs, businesses and organizations. It also creates innovative settings and meaningful dialogue for holistic cultural good with the ultimate goal of creating positive shifts in mainstream culture.
“We are blessed when we are a blessing, we grow when we give,” Charles says. “Scripture challenges us to serve, give, and love, and the glory will go to God. I want to be on the side of Scripture.”
Music Video by Pastor Charles Jenkins and Fellowship Chicago performing Awesome.
Charles and Fellowship Chicago’s music ministry is taking that same message of community service nationwide. The church’s worship album, “Best of Both Worlds,” was No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums chart for three consecutive weeks. “Awesome,” the first single released from the album, was at No. 1 for nearly 20 weeks on Billboard’s Hot Gospel Songs list.
Pastor Charles Jenkins and members of the church’s choir performing their hit “Awesome.”
He and Fellowship Chicago performed the music for large crowds all over the country—including in New York City’s Central Park, Atlanta’s Centennial Park, the Manpower Conference in Dallas, and Jay-Z’s Made in America Music Festival in Philadelphia—and used the platform to inspire audiences to action in their communities.
The group spotlighted local charities and nonprofits, urged concert-goers to get involved, and provided information and opportunities to serve.
“The idea is to marry music and mission to drive people to a higher calling of responsibility beyond their own inspiration and enjoyment,” says Charles, who is also a Grammy award winning songwriter. “If all we are is inspired, we are not impactful. Inspiration without impact is impotence.”
Serving with “Depth and Significance”
That same attitude is fueling Fellowship Chicago’s massive Legacy Project.
“Our big focus is contributing well to our city—having a strong spiritual presence that impacts the residents of our city,” says Charles, who has seen Fellowship’s average attendance swell from 1,000 to nearly 4,000 since he began leading the congregation in 2000. “We want to serve the city of Chicago with great depth and significance.
“Jesus shared the good news and demonstrated it: he made good news. That’s my model, one I pray is leaking out for others to follow.”
Warren Bird, Ph.D., research director at Leadership Network, with background as pastor and seminary professor, is author or co-author of 24 books for ministry leaders including Better Together: Making Church Mergers Work with Jim Tomberlin. His most recent title is Wisdom from Lyle E. Schaller. Some of Warren’s recent online reports include “The Heartbeat of Rising Influence Churches,” “Pastors Who Are Shaping the Future” and “A New Decade of Megachurches.” Follow him on Twitter @warrenbird