City Harvest Church
||This article lends undue weight to certain ideas, incidents, or controversies. (July 2012)|
|City Harvest Church|
|Senior pastor(s)||Kong Hee|
Founded in 1989 by Kong Hee, the church officially bases its values on Charismatic and Pentecostal teachings, with emphases on such "doctrines" as "the Great Commandment", "the Great Commission" and "the Cultural Mandate".
City Harvest Church is a member of several interchurch organisations, including the National Council of Churches of Singapore, Evangelical Fellowship of Singapore, and Festival of Praise Fellowship. Services are held at its church building in Jurong West and rented hall space at Suntec International Convention Centre. CHC has affiliate churches in the region, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Australia and United States.
In June 2012, Kong Hee and four other church members were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit criminal breach of trust for misusing over SGD$50 million of church money, much of it to finance the music career of his wife Sun Ho. The trial is set for May 2013.
- 1 History
- 2 Branding and demographics
- 3 Architecture and decor
- 4 Ministries
- 5 Culture
- 6 Media and productions
- 7 Affiliate organisations
- 8 Conferences
- 9 Controversies
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
The church was founded by Kong Hee and his wife Sun Ho on 7 May 1989, and held its first service at Peace Centre. It first functioned as "Ekklesia Ministry," a youth department under the legal covering of Bethany Christian Centre, an Assemblies of God church. On 21 December 1992, City Harvest Church was set up as a society. It was registered under the Charities Act on 16 October 1993.
In its early days, CHC had to move through different venues to accommodate its growing congregation. Past venues include the Bible House, Katong Park Hotel, World Trade Centre, DBS Auditorium, PUB Auditorium, NTUC Auditorium, Ministry of Environment Building, National Productivity Board Auditorium, Hotel Grand Central, Orchard Hotel, Westin Hotel, and Singapore Expo. In six years, CHC grew from 20 to 1,319 in its average monthly attendance.
On 4 June 1995, CHC leased the former Hollywood Theatre at Tanjong Katong Road and held its services there for another six years. By 2001, the church had grown to 10,310 and was conducting up to 15 services every weekend.
On 15 December 2001, the church moved to its permanent 2,300-seater venue at Jurong West Street 91. On 11 December 2005, CHC rented another worship site at Singapore Expo for its weekend English congregations.
In 2012, SUNTEC Singapore went through a renovation process. As a result, City Harvest Church moved to Singapore Expo temporary till July 2013.
From 2002, Kong began to teach on the Cultural Mandate and encourage the church members to excel in the marketplace. On 1 November 2005, Kong withdrew himself from the staff payroll and he now serves the church as an honorary founder/senior pastor.
Branding and demographics
The church has been described by the Charisma magazine as "one of the largest congregations in Asia." It had a year-end average of 19,462 attendees in 2012. 39% of the congregation are below the age of 25 years and the average age is 30. 46% of them are men, 35% are married, 61.7% are single. 52.8% of them are working adults, while most of the rest are children or students.
Staff and committees
The church has 22 pastors and assistant pastors, with eleven of them ordained as reverends. The 165 full-time staff work from two locations: the Jurong West premises and the corporate office at Suntec City. Committees report to the main CHC Management Board, whose office bearers are elected annually by its 720 executive members.
Architecture and decor
The primary church building is located at Jurong West Street 91, and was completed in 2002. Its construction was part of a trend of larger churches in Singapore to go for "clean lines, stainless steel, titanium facades" for their architecture in place of "stained glass and steeples" in an effort modernise their religious services. Costing $48 million (SGD) for its entire construction, the building has a $583,000 fountain and an 18300 square foot auditorium. A CHC spokesman said the building is "reflective of the personality of our congregation – ultra-modern, contemporary and ultra-mobile". The building occupies almost 38,000 sq ft (3,500 m2) on a 30-year leasehold land and its main hall seats up to 2,300 attendees and has two 250-seat halls. The toilets are by the church's own admission, "the very meaning of style".
On 15 December 2005, CHC began renting Hall 8 of Singapore Expo as an additional worship venue with a seating configuration that accommodates a maximum of 8,200 attendees.The move costs the church over $50m from its building fund in shifting costs, equipment and venue rental expenditures.
On 19 March 2011, CHC moved to the Suntec International Convention and Exhibition Centre. The initial plan for a 12,000-seat auditorium to be built has been shelved due to a new guideline released in July 2010 by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). The new plan is to seat 7,500 in compliance with the new rule that restricts the use of commercial buildings for religious purposes.
Almost all functions of CHC's 36 internal ministries are run by church members on a volunteer basis. The church believes that "every member is a minister" with unique gifts, talents and abilities.
- Drama Ministry All scripts and music scores used in drama productions are originally written and composed by members of the church.
- Marketplace Ministry This is a ministry outreach to working professionals and business people, whose members meet to study God’s Word as well as to strengthen business networks.
- Nursery Ministry Baby and toddler care is provided while parents attend the worship service.
- The Millennial Orchestra A 40-member orchestra that performs in various church-wide conferences, including the Asia Conference 2008.
- Ministry to the Hearing Impaired This ministry reaches out to hearing-impaired church members. Regular recreational and social activities are also organised to help them adapt better to mainstream society.
- Strikeforce Ministry Strikeforce was part of the church’s creative ministry and its purpose is to "train people to serve God in various expressions of rhythm, movement and drumming."
Strikeforce performed at Singapore’s National Day Parade in 2006 and 2009. The group also performed at the NDP Appreciation dinners hosted by the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Defence force, as well as the Chingay Parade.
Technology is extensively used to standardise and regulate the church experience, and to monitor and supervise attendance, offerings, counselling records and conduct other assessments. According to Stephen Ellingson, CHC's success can be attributed to its creation of a middle-class religious identity that resolves the cognitive dissonance faced by Singaporean's young and aspiring "upwardly-mobile" population, who struggle to weave together the worlds of "work, family, leisure and religion". Ellingson cites Twitchell to note aspects such as edutainment, contemporary music, shopping malls or the sense of a village commons, which cater to the culture of the middle-class.
Cell groups (CG) are a major part of the church's ministry. Divided into youth and adult cell groups, meetings are mostly led by trained lay members. As with all cell groups, they are meant to help members forge close relationships in a small setting.
Missions and church planting
CHC has 47 affiliate churches, with a total membership of 25,506. Apart from these affiliates, CHC also works with many other ministries in the missions field. In 2010, CHC sent out 753 members in 227 teams to 58 cities to help Christian agencies overseas.
The missions department organises conferences and seminars throughout the year, strengthening CHC’s affiliate churches. Many of the church members are also involved in humanitarian causes, such as, disaster relief work and medical aid to countries like China, Indonesia, Taiwan, Honduras, and more recently, Haiti.
Teachings on tithes, worship and discipline
CHC encourages its members to commit themselves to the church's teachings when they have regularly committed to be part of the Church. There are teachings such as the law of the harvest and biblical economics for Christians who apply to its teachings referenced from the Bible. Church leaders also encourages its committed members to worship God wholeheartedly daily, not just during Church meetings. Members and visitors have noted strong presence and encounters from God during its worship services and meetings.
Students in The School of Theology (formerly known as City Harvest Bible Training Centre) are also required to join Church ministry to serve the people in the Church regularly and be a blessing to others.
Transformative and conspicuous lifestyle
CHC teachings testify of its members through God have inward change and outward change of life. Many of them started poor and ended well-to-do today, despite "many difficulties". Young and old people have given their stories on stage to share of the "goodness of God." Some of the testimonies are recording in the CHC YouTube channel.
Views on wealth, freedom and success
Success and freedom, according to Tong's study, are the two most outstanding values that are not merely "advocated to back up the church's agenda" but are "presented as virtues in themselves", often using quotations from Bible verses in the process. According to church doctrine, "God's abundant love" has both material and spiritual payoffs. "Conspicuous success", i.e. being prosperous, is presented as a desirable goal of the congregation. One informant who responded to Tong gave his explanation of church doctrine as follows:
God wants us all to be successful in all aspects of our lives ... I don't see [why] Christians should live a poor, pitiful, and suffered life ... it is not victory that is questionable, but failure ... success is good testimony. Of course people want to join successful people. Is it sensible to join a group of losers?
Hard work is exhorted as important for the church members' success, but "equally important" is to give generous offerings, in order to receive "divine blessing"; by giving to God as much as possible in their tithe, members can "reap the fruits of their investment as higher returns, both spiritually and materially". Tong claims that the concept of a prosperity gospel, equates worldly gains with the blessings of God and that CHC validates the values of its middle class congregation who are "keen [on] accumulating material and cultural assets" as part of their identity.
CHC's teachings are quick to encourage empowerment and a "forward-looking mentality", avoiding the conservative themes of "Sinners in the hands of an angry God" frequently found in other churches. According to Tong, while the church authorities deserve full submission, CHC's teachings promote freedom from legalism and traditionalism; individualism and "differentiated taste" are embraced. The message to be "True to Yourself" is frequently delivered. Kong Hee explained that the church does not give its religious opinions on consumer tastes such music, clothing, housing or cars: "These are not issues of right or wrong, sin or righteousness. They are simply matters of personal preference!" Such a message is "liberating and comforting" for a congregation part of a consumer society. According to Tong, Kong has thus unwittingly given spiritual endorsement for consumer culture and "liberal and trendy Christianity".
Media and productions
Recordings and stage productions
Like most Charismatic churches, CHC uses contemporary music and settings for praise and worship, including a choir and a wide range of musical instruments. It also has a drama team for its stage productions.
The church has a 30-minute television broadcast program Alive! with Kong, which is televised on 8 Cable Television Networks and satellites. Alive! with Kong has a potential viewership of about 837.9 million, and is available in its original English-language or Mandarin, Korean and Japanese translations, depending on the broadcast station. In 2010, the church’s webcast of its worship services reached approximately 366,143 viewers from 104 countries, or 6,929 viewers per weekend.
The church previously published a magazine known as Harvest Times (founded in 1999), with a readership of 60,000. In 2006, a Chinese version of Harvest Times – Chinese Harvest Times was started and had a readership of 45,000. On 1 April 2009, Harvest Times magazine ceased its print edition.
In addition, City News, which is a Christian news portal managed by the church, was established in 2008 to publish its Christian newspaper.
School of Theology
The School of Theology (formerly known as City Harvest Bible Training Center) was started on 18 January 1994 with the purpose of training up pastors, missionaries and church workers for the establishing of local churches in Asia. It conducts a seven-month, full-time program offering an Advanced Certificate of Theology with 34 credits. By the end of 2012, 5,937 students from at least 30 countries have graduated from its courses.
City Harvest Community Services Association
Emerge is a youth conference organised for youths and young adults from 13 to 25 years old.
A total of 8,830 youth leaders and delegates from 16 nations attended the last Emerge Conference from 31 May to 3 June 2007. The opening night meeting was broadcast "live" on GODTV to 122 million homes in more than 200 nations and territories.
CHC also co-hosts Emerge conferences overseas with its affiliate churches in Malaysia and Taiwan.
Asia Conference is a biennial conference bringing together pastors, Bible teachers, worship leaders, and Christian artists to educate, equip and empower Christians. Asia Conference event provides the plenary sessions and elective workshops for the delegates.
S$310 million Suntec investment
On 6 March 2010, City Harvest Church announced that it has purchased a significant stake in Suntec Convention Centre and will be using its facilities for church services, the project will cost an estimated S$310 million, including shares acquisition, renovation and rental costs. Church founder Kong Hee said in a statement that the move "allows [the church] to move from a present expensive rental model to a more financially sustainable ownership model for the long term". However, some brought up the point that as a registered charity, CHC's income – expected to include profits and dividends from space rental and tenant leases in Suntec Singapore in the future – is non-taxable. The church has clarified that the investment is indirect, through a wholly owned subsidiary for the purpose of taxation and separate accounting. Questions surfaced among the public whether religious organisations, which are registered as charities, should be allowed to go into business using what are essentially donor funds.
The Commissioner of Charities (COC) sought clarifications on the transaction. The church stated it was under a non-disclosure agreement which required the details of the transaction to remain confidential, but explained that the investment was made through a holding company that is not a charity organization and does not enjoy tax breaks; and had disclosed details of the deal to the COC as well as the Urban Redevelopment Authority upon request. The church also said that there was a "strong and unfounded allegation" floating online that the Management Board and Kong were "deliberately concealing a number of embarrassing facts from its members" with regard to the Suntec investment, saying that the allegation was "furthest from the truth", and later released a notice stating that Charities and foundations often use donor funds to invest and generate sustainable income for their intended causes.
On 21 July 2012, the church announced details of its investment in Suntec Singapore. A total of 39.2% shareholding was acquired at a total cost of $97.75 million. Public-listed Suntec REIT holds the other 60.8%. The remaining balance in the projected building fund will be used for costs such as equipment, furniture and fittings, periodical shifting costs (due to other events at the venue), committed rentals, optional rentals and refundable rental deposits.In 2013, it was revealed that the church had undertaken a $50m loan with high interests to finance the acquisition of additional shares, as the building fund had largely been exhausted over the years on venue and equipment rentals, while using the Singapore Expo from 2006-2010. If the church is unable to finance the loan, it may in default lose up to 19.2% of its shareholding as part of the loan agreement.
On 31 May 2010, the Office of the Commissioner of Charities(COC) and the Commercial Affairs Department(CAD) of the Singapore Police announced that 17 individuals linked to the City Harvest Church, including church founder Pastor Kong Hee and his deputy, Pastor Tan Ye Peng, were under investigation after complaints alleging the misuse of church funds. The joint press statement stressed that the investigations are neither linked nor initiated from its acquisition of a stake in the Suntec Convention Centre The police also visited the offices and homes of these individuals and brought back computers and financial records for investigations. The police were looking into some financial transactions among these individuals and related companies, involving the possible falsification of accounts and criminal breach of trust amounting to millions of dollars which dated back a number of years. The authorities said that regular church activities and services for the congregation need not be disrupted during ongoing investigations, which is expected to take several months.
The investigation followed requests by church members for the COC to review the church's constitution, which denied ordinary members the chance to attend general meetings, or be privy to its annual reports and financial statements. Some members felt that the church board had utilised the church's building fund and committed it to "future liabilities" without consulting members at its latest AGM.
On 2 April 2011, The Straits Times article reported that CHC actively planned to improve its image and reputation in the congregation and public through corporate crisis management and working with cell group leaders and pastors. The church encouraged the cell leaders and pastors to talk with members and public openly, clarifying about inquires about the fund probe.
In June 2012, Kong Hee and four other members of the church were arrested by the CAD. All five face multiple charges of criminal breach of trust, while three face multiple charges of falsifying accounts of the church. The charges were filed against the five individuals and not the church itself, which would be allowed to continue its services and activities. They were released on $500,000 bail each. In July, charges were brought on one additional individual, a former finance director. There will be three pre-trial conferences held before the actual trial to allow defence lawyers and prosecution to exchange information and evidence. The last of the pre-trial conferences is set for 22 November. Some Christians have expressed concern that the slow pace of the trial may have a negative impact on public opinion. The trial is set to start on 15 May.
On the same day as the initial arrests, the COC released a press statement detailing the results of its inquiry. It stated that there were misconduct and mismanagement in the administration of the charity. There were irregularities of at least $23 million in the charity's funds, which were used to finance Sun Ho's secular music career. There was also a concerted effort to conceal this movement of funds from stakeholders. Eight members were suspended from their duties with the charity. The eight included the five arrested, Sun Ho and two others. The COC is considering further course of action under the Charities Act.
Prosecution claims that $24 million was taken from church building funds and put into sham investment bonds in two companies, one of which was Ho's artist management firm Xtron Productions. After church auditors raised questions about the bond investments, an additional $26.6 million was moved around to "create the false appearance that the purported sham bond investments had been redeemed". In reply to the allegations, the Church has stated that money for the investment bonds were returned to the church in full, with interest, and it did not lose any funds in the transactions. It also stood by the five accused, stating that they have "always put God and CHC first." "As a church we stand with them and I believe fully in their integrity. Pastor Kong is still our Senior Pastor."
In August, donations were solicited within the church seeking funds as "personal gifts" to the 6 people charged. The Commissioner of Charities warned the church and its employees against raising funds for legal expenses. The church states that pastors involved have relinquished their roles in the effort. The church itself was notified earlier that they are restricted from paying the legal fees of the 6 accused.
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- Official website
- City Harvest Church Live Webcast
- City Harvest Community Services Association
- City News
- Attributes Online
- Harvest Times Online
- Asia Conference