First Baptist Church of Rockville (FBCR) began when eight people from the Church of Old Seneca disagreed with the church’s position against supporting missions. The small group met “in the home of Brother Brewer” to discuss forming a new church which they eventually named Bethel Baptist. Later that year, the church constituted as a Regular Baptist Church with 15 members. They met in two locations, Poolesville and Rockville, due to the distance between members’ homes.
In 1831, the two branches separated, and the lower half became Rockville Baptist Church. They later changed the name to FBCR.
That small band of people who chose to embrace missions in the 1800s is, 200 years later, reaching the world for Christ.
God blessed the church and added to it. They outgrew their first building on Jefferson and Van Buren streets and built a new facility at Jefferson and Washington streets in 1908.
By the early 1950s, membership was at an all-time high, with a Sunday School attendance of about 700. They added a new educational wing in 1958 and moved into their current location at Montgomery Avenue and Interstate Highway 270 in 1973. The church now has photos on the wall of those two previous churches, along with original stained glass. They celebrate their history.
Throughout their journey, they planted Redland Baptist Church in Derwood, Han Mi Korean Church, and Iglesia Bautista Hispana. They were also instrumental in helping Upper Seneca Baptist Church, Barnesville Baptist Church, and Poolesville Baptist Church.
Though membership has ebbed and flowed, they’ve remained faithful to missions.
So, what’s it like 200 years later? It’s diverse.
According to WalletHub, an online financial website, Rockville ranks seventh among the country’s most diverse cities. If FBCR leaders were asked, “Does your church look like the local supermarket?” the answer would be a resounding “yes!” FBCR Senior Pastor Lee Becknell goes further. “Our church looks like heaven. On Sunday mornings, we have people from Asia, Africa, India, the Philippines, China — all over the world,” he enthuses. Missions is part of the lifeblood of FBCR. The missional DNA permeates the church. In addition to supporting outreach through the Cooperative Program, the church also independently supports up to 40 missionaries. Each May, designated “missions month,” Becknell preaches on missions, the church has “missionary moments,” and they take a love offering. They distribute the funds to up to 40 missionaries, who keep in contact with the church. “We get reports back, and I share them with the whole church — what’s happening and their prayer requests. It’s so important to us,” Becknell says. The letters connect members directly to the field and encourage and motivate them to continue praying and supporting missions. And they go. Church members have taken mission trips to Albania and the Philippines. But mostly, the world has come to them through the changing face of the Baltimore-Washington corridor.
Ministry through the Wee Center
FBCR’s Wee Center is over 40 years old, and it too has transitioned to reflect the culture surrounding the church. Sachi Nishio is the director. Becknell says Rockville has a large influx of Japanese people sent to Washington by their companies. Most are not Christians. In an effort to meet their needs, the church recently began offering Japanese classes. As Japanese families search for a preschool for their children in the area, they discover the Wee Center is accredited, and when they meet Sachi, there’s an instant connection. The ministry opportunities are plentiful, Becknell explains, because the center is a ministry of the church. Children learn English, as well as Bible stories. “Their parents don’t even know who Jesus is, and the kids go home and say, ‘I learned about Jesus today,’” he said. Parents also come to the church for special events at the Wee Center, such as concerts or Christmas pageants, and they hear the gospel. Several children have made professions of faith.
Becknell says the church had many Chinese scientists working in the Washington area who attended the church. One neurosurgeon accepted Christ and was baptized. Unfortunately, since COVID-19, many of the scientists were sent home. The church hosted a summer camp for Chinese children. Parents sent their children to learn English. Several Christian Chinese doctors, including the neurosurgeon who made a profession of faith at the church, served as interpreters. Three children accepted Christ.
In addition to being multiethnic, the church is multigenerational. Before COVID-19, they had two Sunday worship services, with about 100 seniors (“Keenagers”) at the first service and up to 200 families at the second. The church scaled back to one service and live streaming, but they expect to return to two services in the fall. Becknell says the Keenagers have been a strong group — they met every Thursday for Bible study and had a monthly gathering with food and fellowship before COVID-19. They, too, are starting to meet again for movies and fellowship, and more activities will resume in the fall.
Stepping boldly into the next century
Becknell loves the church entranceway, where flags from various nations hang above an inscription: “My House Will be Called a House of Prayer for All Nations” (Isaiah 56:7). The flags represent members who have come to the church from around the world. Moving forward, FBCR continues to keep to their vision inscribed on a plaque in the church: “First Baptist Church is a church of the nations, therefore: We exist to win, disciple and send people across the street and around the world with the message of Jesus Christ.” “A lot of historical information was lost, so sadly, we don’t know when that vision statement was written,” Becknell says. “But it’s the picture of what church has always been. We are a missions church. “We’re so excited to be celebrating 200 years of worshipping and serving the Lord, and we want to be faithful until He comes.”
Sharon Mager is a Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware communications specialist and BaptistLIFE church correspondent.
Cover Photo: FBCR staff pose in front of a historic stained-glass window – one of several throughout the 200-year-old church. (l-r) Carroll John, Donald Boyd, Melanie Blankenship Lee Becknell, Sachi Nishio, and Carlos Camargo (photo by Sharon Mager).