Stay calm and rest in Him
The sensible thing to do is to stay calm and take stock, and gather the faith community for prayer, discussions and discernment. It seems like the government is hoping to address this issue by putting the onus on the landlords and developers so far. It isn’t expecting overnight changes. Churches need time to move and tenancy agreements require sensitive re-negotiations. The government is aware of this. Churches in industrial space (CIS), especially if they have not been reported in the newspapers need to stand still and look at the ramifications and discuss the possible scenarios and alternatives they have. There are legalities and ethical factors not just geographical factors to weigh.
Shelter in churches already with buildings
One of the alternatives to consider is the use of other churches in proper buildings and request to use those places temporarily or permanently during a Sunday afternoon, evening or a Saturday evening slot, where it may be available for rent. During crisis like this, churches need to open their doors in the love of Christ for the brethren. A shelter, even for a period of time, until a firmer direction can be set by the affected church, is an act of mercy and charity. It is what being church is all about.
Organic church and in the house
Another consideration which may seem radical is to take a page from the book of Acts and be church in the household (oikos). For the first three centuries of the early church, the believers deliberately refused to model themselves after the synagogue or the pagan temples, the main religious buildings they have experience of. There is something about the household that makes it an ideal environment for making disciples and growing the faith community (incidentally, when news broke, I was attending a master’s program that dealt partly with this, and I hope to share it in later posts). A small church of 70 would have seven homes where they could meet on Sundays and end with a potluck lunch. Of course the music will have to be Quaker style or catacombs style not contemporary style. On lazy mornings neighbours can be sensitive to “noise”, even a “joyful noise”. Alternatively, for the more radical, why not Saturday afternoon or evening, or even Friday evening for “church”. This could include a once a month, or bi-monthly or quarterly combined celebration in a rented hall. You could call this the organic alternative – no pesticides, no preservatives, no artificial colouring, no trans fats or cholesterol.
Well trodden route
Of course the well trodden route is to rent the space in hotels, private schools, cinemas, association halls, and other commercial space available. These were the main places of churches before they became too expensive and drove churches to consider industrial space. This does not need much elaboration, but it is a temporary alternative until a firmer direction can be set.
Going for commercial space or ventures is a fifth consideration. CIS are usually small churches and are not in the financial position to take the route of City Harvest Church and New Creation Church with their 8-9 figure budgets. There are however smaller business enterprises that could be used on Sundays for a church gathering. This way the property is used all week, unlike most churches which lie idle most of the weekdays. At the same time, a church that starts a business enterprise for use as worship place on Sundays also provides jobs for others and contributes to the economy or help society. Limitations include a space limit, a small percentage of total development, and usage for only two of seven days a week.
Community service arm
A more sacrificial path, and similar to the commercial path in that the building is used all week, is to do community service and start a centre that ministers to society’s pain and cries. Whether it is for the elderly or the very young, the addicted or the afflicted, there are many needs that the government would be happy for the church to lend a voluntary hand and a good inflow of finances.
Partners in development
Two other alternatives remain. One is to find several churches to partner and get all the cash and minds ready to go into a joint development of a private religious or HDB site into a multi-storey building that would cost close to 30 million dollars. This has been done before: twice in Yishun, in Clementi, in Jurong West. Perhaps the government could have a hand in this and release HDB sites specifically for several small and medium sized churches to share a building.
The last alternative is often last of alternatives for CIS to consider but the Lord may lead them to do so. The alternative here is to merge with another church of similar or smaller or bigger membership. This of course has to be done gingerly and with much wisdom and prayer, and with a match maker too, maybe a “social development unit” can be set up by Love Singapore, or EFOS or some other body, to professionally help such mergers or even acquisitions happen. Or the small churches should form a network, association, or co-operative to help each other. Such are the times where we will get to see the gift of apostleship manifest. Organizers and mobilizers we have many, but when the crunch comes, the spiritual fathers of the church will surface.
Pilgrims on a journey
The bottom line is that all faith communities pilgrims on a journey like our forefather Abraham. Steps have to be taken by faith with uncertainty as our shadow and Jesus as our constant companion. We face trials and difficulties but we are resilient and hopeful because our destination is sure, though not our route. The Lord God goes before us and causes all things to work for the greater glory of God. All that is temporal will in the end be shaken, but what is eternal and will be left standing is the unshakeable kingdom of God.