[vc_row type=”in_container” full_screen_row_position=”middle” scene_position=”center” text_color=”dark” text_align=”left” overlay_strength=”0.3″][vc_column column_padding=”no-extra-padding” column_padding_position=”all” background_color_opacity=”1″ background_hover_color_opacity=”1″ column_shadow=”none” width=”1/1″ tablet_text_alignment=”default” phone_text_alignment=”default” column_border_width=”none” column_border_style=”solid”][vc_column_text]Singapore has emerged as a central commercial hub serving all of southeast Asia. What better place for churches to do likewise — become salt and light for Christ in ways that influence that entire section of the world?
Recently I flew to Singapore to visit one such church. It began 20 years ago as a young-looking 22-year-old computer science graduate named Kong Hee with a passion for evangelism formed Ekklesia Ministry with 20 young people. Their first worship service as a church drew 135 people. A year later they were at 364 people. The young Pentecostal congregation almost doubled again the third year to 650 people. The year after that it took the name City Harvest Church, which continues to this day [www.twitter.com/konghee, www.konghee.com/blog].
Back in 1989 there was no strong church for youth in Singapore, and many people wondered if City Harvest was even a proper church. It got nicknamed “the Sunday school church.” Kong Hee taught and personally modeled a high level of commitment to Christ. Small group involvement through cell groups was essential. The congregation was enthusiastic about sharing its faith with family and friends.
Although its contemporary, culturally relevant worship style was different from many other churches, people were drawn to City Harvest’s vision, faith, commitment to Christ, desire for excellence and emphasis on effective discipleship. According to one self-study 71% of its attenders are first-time converts.
The church continued to outgrow the hotels, conference halls and other locations it rented. In 1995 it reached 1,600 in attendance. In 2001 it crossed 10,000. In 2005 it crested 20,000. Today weekly attendance is over 27,000.
The church is currently multi-site in its form. In 2001 it bought a piece of land and built a 2,300-seat complex in the Jurong section of Singapore. It went from 3 services to 6 weekly services there, but the location still could not contain the masses. So in 2005 they began renting the 8,200-seat Singapore Expo Hall 8 to accommodate more people. The services, with Pastor Kong driving back and forth, work out like this:
Sat: 3:30-5:30pm, Jurong
Sat: 5:30-7:30pm, Expo Hall
Sun: 10:00am-12:00pm, Expo Hall
Sun: 12:30pm-2:30pm, Jurong
Each has nursery (0-24 months) and children’s church (2-12 years old).
The church has mission outreaches spanning more than 22 nations throughout Asia, with 45 affiliate churches and 10 Bible schools. Its television ministry “Harvest Time” is broadcast in 145 countries through 13 television networks. They are also planting new congregations at a rate of one every 3 months on average.
Cell groups remain essential to the church’s outreach and discipleship. They meet weekly with roughly 15 people in each one. Some 60%-70% of the church is involved in a cell group. Pastor Kong said the “cell groups provide the optimum context for effective discipleship.” My host told me the cell groups remain foundational for outreach: “that’s how the evangelism works here,” she said.
The cell groups, like the entire church, are young: 53% of the cell groups are youth groups with members under the age of 25.
Reaching Out in Ways Most Westerners Cannot
Singapore, population 5 million, has four official languages including English. Services are in English with a strong Chinese flavor, since Chinese are the dominant ethnic group in that country. In the service I attended, the congregation seemed 99% Asian. I was told that about 30 different nationalities were present. The average age seemed to be about 30, and I was told this was the “older” service, with the next one drawing an even younger crowd!
The very contemporary worship service radiated energy and excitement from its opening moment. The songs, most written by church musicians, were Christ centered, personal, and very fitting for the culture there. The fog machine, intricate stage lighting, and 8 cameras (all run mostly by volunteers) made for a very engaging experience. Different short videos also helped us feel like we belonged to something big that God is doing, such as the inspiring report on how people associated with City Harvest and its Bible schools were helping with disaster relief from the recent flooding in Taiwan. Such emphases are consistent with their approach of engaging society fully through what Pastor Kong calls the culture mandate: the need to bring Christ into the marketplace and contemporary culture of society in a relevant way.
The 45-minute sermon was strong, personal, and emphatic. It began as everyone held up their Bible and repeated an affirmation about the power of God’s Word. Pastor Kong was very vulnerable as he explained how God applied each of the sermon points to his own life.
I have been to many Asian church services, but this was by far the most personal and emotion touching, in both music and message. Pastor Kong’s closing prayer was this: “Father, raise up a new generation of world shapers and history makers.” That sentence summarizes a passion that God is making into an ever-expanding reality at City Harvest Church. I believe God will use this church to reach specific people in specific nations that Western churches simply cannot touch.
May God continue to raise many similar dynamic teachers of the faith, impacting nations with their strong focus on the Word of God, discipleship, evangelism and relevance in the world today.
To learn more, please see my global list of the world’s largest churches at www.leadnet.org/world.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]