City Harvest Church
|City Harvest Church|
|Founder(s)||Kong Hee and Sun Ho|
|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 Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Australia and United States.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Affiliate organisations
- 3 Controversies
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
The church has been described by the Charisma magazine as "one of the largest congregations in Asia." It had a year-end service attendance of 17,364 attendees. The Congregation size (2013 figure) is listed as 18,192. 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.
The church has 22 pastors and assistant pastors, with eleven of them ordained as reverends, while at least two incumbent senior pastors are in line to serve their imprisonment sentences at Changi Prison from 2016. 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.
Early days (1989–2002)
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.
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.
Criminal offences involving Kong Hee (2012–2015)
In June 2012, Kong Hee and four other members of the church were arrested by the Commercial Affairs Department of the Singapore Police Force. 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 former finance director with the last of the pre-trial conferences is set for 22 November. When the trial started on 15 May 2012, some Christians expressed concern that the slow pace of the trial may have a negative impact on public opinion.
On the same day as the initial arrests, the COC released a press statement detailing the results of its inquiry stating 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 including the five arrested such as Chew Eng Han and Sharon Tan, Sun Ho and two others were suspended from their duties with the charity while the COC considered further course of action under the Charities Act. $24 million was taken from church building funds and put into sham investment bonds in Ho's artist management firm Xtron Productions and glass maker Firna. 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 what the accounting industry calls "round-tripping" . The church stood by the five accused, 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, indicating that the accused "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.||”|
Relevations were made about a multi-purpose account (MPA) involving Kong Hee and his wife Ho Yeow Sun set up in 2006 and closed in 2010, made up of "love gifts" worth $2,888,334 from church members as well as $359,530 from an Indonesian businessman Wahju Hanafi. The Commissioner of Charities warned the church and its employees against raising funds for legal expenses, the church was also restricted from paying the legal fees of the 6 accused. The chief prosecution led by Mavis Chionh noted the absence of a crucial board meeting between August and September 2008 as being without any meeting minutes, and also charged that Wahju Hanafi was the other beneficiary of funds allegedly diverted from City Harvest Church to further Sun Ho's music career.
In October 2015, all six accused were found guilty of all criminal breach of trust charges pertaining to 409 read with section 109 of the Penal Code, Chapter 224. Falsification of Accounts under section 477A of the Penal Code, Chapter 224. Alongside the conviction, other pastors and christians began speaking out regarding the trial which was the second longest in Singapore history.
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
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.
Sun Ho scandal
In 2013, a scandal took place involving founding clergy Sun Ho after hackers self-styled 'Messiah' hacked her official website, following which a police report was made by City Harvest Church. Around the same time, a spam-like email is further published on the Internet suggested another self-styled 'Messiah-Two' making allegations regarding Sun Ho.
S$310 million Suntec investment
On 6 March 2010, City Harvest Church announced that it had 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.
Misuse of church funds
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.
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