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.
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.