Megachurches: authorities curbing the giants’ growth?

bed too short for giant

Grey area

Religious usage of facilities approved for commercial use was a grey area. The previous guidelines were not clear. Can a church use a cinema hall? Or a hall in an office complex, hotel, industrial building or conference centre? No one knew. If no one complained, the authorities would let things be. The public concerns over recent megachurch plans have prompted the authorities to set guidelines. They have drawn a line in the sand. On the whole the clarity is to be welcomed, but it may affect the giants of the land: the highly visible megachurches.

New guidelines affect megachurches

One new guideline is: “Each religious organisation is limited to use up to 10,000 sqm in any commercial space at any one time”.  10,000 sqm is huge for a small or midsized church but likely a squeeze for megachurches wanting to expand further without increasing the number of worship services on offer. Doing an amateur calculation, if seating 1 person needs only 1 sqm, at least 10,000 should be able to have seating space. With seating for 5,000, the church will still have space leftover for other things like aisles, the  children’s church, reception area and other things. At least 3 churches will be taking out their calculators and talking with their architects.

Another guideline that puts a lid on growth is that it can only be used twice in the week. Saturday and Sunday services are what most megachurches in commercial facilities have presently. In other countries, some churches hold services almost every night because the weekend services have been already been maximized to meet the burgeoning congregation. This won’t be possible for the megachurches using commercial space.

Questionable motives?

It is doubtful that the authorities are trying to curb the growth of megachurches since the guidelines are quite generous. They say no religious group is being targetted but it was likely that the rise of the megachurches and their recent publicity raised issues that just demanded clarification. Whatever the case may be, churches are too resilient to be limited by physical space or guidelines. Especially with today’s technological advances.

Here is part of the guidelines but read the full online article in the straitstimes.com:

The guidelines, set by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports and Urban Redevelopment Authority, allow some flexibility for the limited use of commercial premises for religious purposes, while ensuring that the main use of the building is not compromised.

‘Though religious activities are generally not allowed in commercial buildings, URA is prepared to exercise some flexibility and allow commercial premises to be used in a limited, non-exclusive way by religious groups,’ said joint news statement on Tuesday.

Some of the new rules set limits on how often regilious groups can use commercial spaces for their activities, and a cap for the space they can take up for religious activities in any commercial building at any one time.

For example, the maximum space within a commercial development that can be considered for religious use cannot exceed a total gross floor area of 20,000 sqm or 20 per cent of the total area of the development, which is lower.

Each religious organisation is limited to use up to 10,000 sqm in any commercial space at any one time.

The premises also cannot be owned by or exclusively leased to religious organisations.

Owners of convention centres must ensure that the reglious use does not compromise the staging for events during weekend, added the statement.

Richest Singapore churches

The following data of churches with annual income of over $10 million comes from the internet but was first communicated by the Commissioner of Charities (Sep 2008). I have always wondered which were the richest churches in Singapore. Now we can all have a peek and know, in order of funds collected, who they are:

NUMBER 1: NEW CREATION CHURCH

one northLocation: Worships at the Rock Auditorium in Suntec City Mall.

History: Founded in 1984 by a small group of young believers who wanted an independent, non-denominational church. From 25 members, the congregation has grown to 16,000 now.

Led by: Senior Pastor Joseph Prince, a Singaporean in his 40s.

Income: $42.8 million for its financial year ended this March.

Income source: Tithes and offerings, sales of goods, income from interest

Business arm: Rock Productions has invested about $280 million in a tie-up with property giant CapitaLand to develop a $660 million lifestyle hub in Buona Vista. In 2001, Rock Productions bought Marine Cove, a cluster of food and beverage outlets in East Coast Park, for about $10 million.

NUMBER 2: CITY HARVEST CHURCH

chcLocation: Holds worship services at S’pore Expo and Jurong West Street 91.

History: Founded in 1989 by Reverend Kong Hee.

Led by: Reverend Kong, 43, is married to pop singer Ho Yeow Sun.

Congregation size: About 23,000

Income: $30.9 million last year.

Income source: Tithes and offerings from church members.

NUMBER 3: FAITH COMMUNITY BAPTIST CHURCH

fcbcLocation: Holds its services at the Singapore Expo and Marine Parade Central.

History: Founded in 1986 by Pastor Lawrence Khong.

Led by: Senior Pastor Khong, who was awarded the Public Service medal at the National Day Awards in 1998.

Member strength: Close to 10,000.

Income: $27 million last year.

Income source: Tithes and offerings.

NUMBER 4: TRINITY CHRISTIAN CENTER

trinityLocation: Adam Road and Paya Lebar Road.

History: Founded by American missionaries Reverend Glen Stafford and his wife in 1969 with 10 people.

The church now has a congregation of about 5,500.

Led by: Reverend Dominic Yeo, 46, who chairs the centre’s eight-member board.

Income: $14.2 million last year.

Income source: Tithes and offerings by congregation.

Some observations

As I look in a cursory manner at these figures all kinds of observations and questions come to mind. Firstly, where are the Roman Catholic churches? Which is the richest church in Singapore? It has to be the Roman Catholics when it comes to assets. The properties, especially the land they own is estimated to be worth S$18 billion. Just think of the churches you know, and the location of the property and you will believe they are together worth billions.

Secondly, New Creation Church raised more funds than City Harvest Church even though the latter is bigger by 7,000 in attendance. My surmise is that this is probably due to the fact that NCC is now in the midst of a mega building project, and God’s people are willing to give to a specific desirable purpose. They have many businessmen and I think they are tired of queueing up! However, news of an impending fund-raising for a new church facility in the central south of Singapore will mean CHC will be raising the hundfreds of millions, in the next quarter.

Thirdly, what happened to the Methodist Churches -also reputed to be rich? The Wesley Methodist is much vaunted to be the dwelling place of the rich and famous. Their giving should pass the $10 million annual income category but it was not so. Some say Barker Road Methodist Church has overtaken Wesley in this respect, but I think they have more luminaries than treasury.

Fourthly, the image of the “working class” Pentecostal has been broken, by the inclusion into this category, of the highly organized Trinity Christian Centre, an Assemblies of God church, an attractive magnet for the Pentecostal who has surpassed his parent’s roots in the working class. One other reason is also they are still rasing funds for the new church campus in Paya Lebar.

Its been a year and a half since the report was published and I do not think things have changed much.