CITY HARVEST CHURCH (CHC) TIMELINE
1989: With the help of twenty youths, Kong Hee founded a new congregation on May 7 at Peace Center, Singapore.
1992: City Harvest Church (CHC) was set up as a society.
1994: CHC’s training school, the School of Theology (formerly known as City Harvest Bible Training Center), was started.
1995: CHC started holding its services at the former Hollywood Theatre and continued there for another six years.
1996: Kong Hee and his wife, Sun Ho (Ho is the last name), began Church Without Walls, a community service project.
1996: Ho founded a social work agency, City Harvest Community Services Association.
2001: The church built a church complex at Jurong West Street 91 and moved into its first permanent location.
2001: The church claimed to have 10,310 attendees at its fifteen weekend services. It also had offices and schools in five different locations.
2002: The church launched the “Crossover Project,” aiming to reach the secular world through Ho’s music.
2002: The church supported the founding of City College, a social enterprise committed to providing alternative education for young people.
2003: Ho was named “The Outstanding Young Person of the World” for her humanitarian efforts.
2004: Ho was named an “Ambassador of Love” for the Children and Youth Foundation of China.
2005: Kong took himself off the staff payroll and began serving the church as the honorary founder/senior pastor.
2005: As the church grew, CHC rented another worship site at Singapore Expo for the weekend English service.
2006: CHC started O School, a street dance training school for young people.
2008: CHC began a Christian news portal, City News.
2009: CHC claimed to have a congregation of 23,565 people.
2010: CHC announced that it had purchased a significant stake in Suntec Convention Centre, located in the Central Business District, which it would use for its church services.
2010: CHC claimed to have an average attendance of 23,256 with forty-seven affiliate churches and six Bible schools in Asia.
2010: Sixteen individuals linked to CHC, including Kong and Ho, were investigated by Singapore police for possible falsification of accounts and criminal breach of trust.
2011: CHC moved to the Suntec Convention Centre and claimed to have a congregation of 20, 619.
2012: CHC reported a congregation of 19,819. There were also 5,937 students from at least thirty countries who were graduates of its training center.
2012: Kong and five other church leaders were arrested and charged with misuse of funds.
2012: Ho led a new management and board, which ran the operations of the church. She initiated a new church vision, called CHC 2.0, which was formulated by Kong.
2013 (May): The trial began; it continued for over two years.
2013: CHC claimed a congregation of 18,192.
2014: CHC claimed a congregation of 17,522.
2015: Kong and five other church leaders were found guilty of falsification of accounts and criminal breach of trust. Kong initially received as sentence of eight years in prison, the heaviest sentence among the six who were charged.
2015: Ho was ordained during CHC’s twenty-sixth anniversary celebrations and became the leader of the church.
2015: CHC claimed a congregation of 16, 482.
2018 (February): The Court of Appeal upheld a decision by the High Court to convict the church leaders of less serious criminal breach of trust charges.
2019 (August 22): Kong was released from incarceration after serving two years and four months of a three-and-a-half year sentence.
Kong Hee [Image at right] was born on August 23, 1964, in Singapore. He was the fifth child of Kong Leng, an engineer, and Toh Poh-Eng, a diamond trader. He graduated with a degree in Computer and Information Sciences from the National University of Singapore in 1988. Upon graduation, he worked for a short time in a local publishing house. In 1989, Kong became a staff evangelist with Christ for Asia, a mission organization based in the Philippines. When an opportunity for Kong to pioneer a new church in Singapore arose, Kong returned to Singapore and helped set up a new congregation of twenty youths, with the support and encouragement of some senior pastors in Singapore. On May 7, 1989, City Harvest Church was founded as a department (known as Ekklesia Ministry) of Bethany Christian Centre (Assemblies of God).
The church was set up as a society in 1992 and was registered under the Charities Act on October 16, 1993. In 1994, with the purpose of training pastors, missionaries, and church workers in Asia, the church started its own training school, the School of Theology. For six years from 1995, the church rented the former Hollywood Theatre on Tanjong Katong Road and held its services there. Then in 2001, it moved to a permanent location at Jurong West Street 91. The 2,200-seater, titanium-clad church complex, which cost S$48,000,000, is one of the largest church buildings in Singapore. In 2005, as the church continued to grow, it had to rent another worship site at Singapore Expo for its weekend English congregations. On March 6, 2010, the church announced that it had purchased a significant stake in Suntec Convention Centre, which is located at the center of Singapore’s business district, and it would be using these facilities for its church services.
Kong’s wife, Ho Yeow Sun (popularly known as Sun Ho), is as (or more) popular and significant to the development of the CHC as Kong. Ho was born on June 2, 1972 in Singapore. [Image at right] The couple got married in 1992 and Ho became involved in the church from its inception. She was one of the youth leaders that helped Kong establish the CHC church. She served as the director of the church’s community services and also led its Creative Department from 1992 until late 2000. In 2004, in recognition of her contributions to the building and betterment of schools and educational facilities in China, Sun was named an “Ambassador of Love” by the Children and Youth Foundation of China.
When Kong and Ho began to promote the idea of “Cultural Mandate” in the CHC in 2002, one that encouraged the church members to excel in the marketplace, they started the Crossover Project to demonstrate their desire to reach out to the secular world. With Kong’s support, Ho resigned from her church position and began a singing career. According to Kong, the plan was for Ho to break into the music market as part of the church effort to do evangelism through her pop music (Miller 2014). By selling over 50,000 copies of her debut album of Mandarin pop, Sun with Love, which was followed by two sold-out concerts at the Singapore Indoor Stadium in June 2002, Ho had the opportunity to advance her career outside of Singapore, and to Taiwan and China. In 2003, she moved to Hollywood to pursue her singing career. Ho’s seven years in the U.S. were glamorous years for her. Local news and church reports showed that she received private dance lessons from top choreographers and worked with top artists, directors, and producers in the U.S. on her music videos. Ho worked with veteran record producer and sixteen-time Grammy Award winner David Foster, who helped produce her debut English single, Where Did Love Go. The song reached the top spot on Billboard’s dance breakout chart (Sen 2015) .
Nevertheless, throughout her music career, she faced serious criticism. Her boldness in trying new things received polemic responses, even though many of her church members adored her. As one of the reports on the church’s online magazine describes her:
…with strik ing blonde streaks highlighting her tender-brown tresses…and with her very J-Lo but not as revealing dressings… have defied all prior definitions one may have had of what a pastor ‘should’ be like (Harvest Times, v.17 March-June 2002).
But there were also many who were perplexed by her seemingly contradictory “pastor-singer” roles. One of the most notorious examples was “China Wine,” a song depicting her as a Chinese exotic dancer in Jamaica, and “Mr. Bill,” i n which she sang about killing her husband. In the China Wine movie she was “ gyrating furiously to the music in a low-cut, midriff-baring top and nothing shorts” (Miller 2014). According to the report, “…horror, scorn and disdain were the primary reactions [towards her MTV]; at their mildest, puzzlement and skepticism at how such a song could help spread the gospel.”
Also, since the beginning of her career, Ho faced criticism that she used her church’s support to aid her album sales. Rumors have been rife that her ventures into local and international stardom were largely engineered and sponsored by Kong and that the church’s leadership using the church’s financial resources. Questions have been raised in regards to the suitability of the church in supporting her pop career by, among other things, reporting her news in the pulpit or in church magazines and requiring church members to buy her CDs as well as to participate in her concerts. Many people raised eyebrows when her luxurious lifestyle in Hollywood was exposed. According to The New Paper, Ho rented a Hollywood Hills mansion for $20,000 per month . It is noted that the property is worth $5,600,000.
Ho’s singing career ended in 2010 after the police began probing into sixteen church leaders, including Kong and Ho, about the misuse of funds at CHC. Following a 2012 arrest and a trial beginning in 2013, there were allegations that Kong and five other church leaders were illegally funding Ho’s singing career and then using another $26,000,000 Singapore dollars to cover it up. Reports also revealed that her success in the Mandarin-speaking market was exaggerated as two of her Mandarin albums sustained significant losses, and church members had to buy 32,500 copies of her unsold albums (Sen 2015).
The trial ended her pop career but not her leadership in the CHC. On October 21, 2015, Kong and the other five leaders were found guilty of all charges. Two days before the verdict came out on Oct 19, 2015, Kong posted on Facebook that Sun Ho had been ordained as pastor. She was never charged and is now replacing her husband as the leader of the church.
City Harvest Church’s Essential Faith Doctrines are seventeen Bible-based statements which are
1. We believe in the plenary-verbal inspiration of the accepted canon of scriptures as originally given. The scriptures are infallible, inerrant and the sole and final authority for all matters of faith and conduct (2 Timothy 3:16; 1 Corinthians 2:13).
2. We believe in the eternal Godhead who has revealed Himself as one God existing in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, distinguishable but indivisible (Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14).
3. We believe in the creation, test and fall of man as recorded in Genesis; his total spiritual depravity and inability to attain to divine righteousness (Romans 5:12, 18).
4. We believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of men, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born by the Virgin Mary, very God and very Man (Luke 1:26-35; John 1:14-18; Isaiah 7:14; 9:6).
5. We believe Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again the third day, and personally appeared unto His disciples (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 4:25).
6. We believe in the bodily ascension of Jesus to heaven, His exaltation and personal, literal and bodily coming again the second time for His Church (John 14:2,3; and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
7. We believe in the salvation of sinners by grace, through repentance and faith in the perfect and sufficient work of the cross of Calvary by which we obtain remission of sins (Ephesians 2:8-9; Hebrews 9:12, 22; Romans 5:11).
8. We believe in the necessity of water baptism by immersion in the name of the eternal Godhead in order to fulfill the command of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:34-36; 19:1-6).
9. We believe in the baptism in the Holy Spirit as a real experience at or subsequent to salvation, with the scriptural evidence, namely, speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance (Acts 2:1-4; 8:14-17; 10:44-45; Galatians 3:14-15).
10. We believe in the operation of the gifts and ministries of the Spirit as enumerated in 1 Corinthians 12-14 and Ephesians 4, as manifested in the early Church.
11. We believe in the Spirit-filled life, a life of separation from the world and perfecting of holiness in the fear of God as expressing the true Christian faith (Ephesians 5:18; 2 Corinthians 6:14; 7:1).
12. We believe in the healing of the body by Divine power, or Divine healing in its varied aspects as practiced in the early Church (Acts 4:30; Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 12:9; James 5:14) and by deliverance in the name of Jesus (Mark 16:17).
13. We believe in the table of the Lord, commonly called the Communion or the Lord’s Supper, for believers (1 Corinthians 11:28-32; Matthew 26:26-28).
14. We believe in the reality and personality of the Devil and eternal judgment in the Lake of Fire for the Devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:14-15).
15. We believe in the eternal life for believers (John 5:24; 3:16), and eternal punishment for the unbelievers (Mark 9:43-48; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Revelation 20:10-15).
16. We believe that there is one true universal Church, made up of genuine believers, but this one universal Church is also composed of many local Churches in given localities. These Churches are under the sovereign headship of the Lord Jesus Christ, exercising autonomous government under Him, administering all its local affairs and ministry, as well as the propagation of the gospel (Acts 15:22; Matthew 16:18; 18:15-20).
17. We believe that Government is ordained of God, and the powers that be are ordained as ministers of God to us for good. To resist the powers and the ordinances is to resist the ordinance of God. We are subject not only for wrath sake but for conscience sake, rendering to all their dues, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. We declare our loyalty to our Government and its leaders, and will assist in every way possible, consistent with our faith in the scriptures as Christian citizens (Romans 13).
CHC embraces a conventional and evangelical theological stance just like most of the Chinese P rotestant churches in Asia and the U.S., along with charismatic/Pentecostal beliefs. Salvation is based on a personal relationship with God and baptism is reserved for adults who have made a decision leading to conversion. Sanctification is the integration of life and belief resulting in a new lif e style. In terms of its charismatic and Pentecostal beliefs, CHC emphasizes, as mentioned in its Mission Statements, “the baptism in the Holy Spirit as a real experience at or subsequent to salvation, with the scriptural evidence, namely, speaking in other tongues as the Spirit gives utterance,” “the operation of the gifts and ministries of the Spirit,” and “the healing of the body by Divine power.”
There are a few rather distinctive teachings and values of the church, which are largely responsible for the uniqueness of its ministry and its rapid growth in size and fame. One is its emphasis on Cultural Mandate. In the church’s Mission Statement, for example, it is mentioned that the church goal is “to build a church….to obey the Great Commission and the Cultural Mandate.” This shows the equal importance of the gospel mandate along with the Cultural Mandate, i.e., evangelism and cultural mandate mean being salt and light in the marketplace/secular world. Indeed, the church describes its DNA as the Great Commission, Great Command me nt, and the Cultural Mandate. Since 2002, Kong began to teach about the Cultural Mandate, and many of his teachings and sermons have been based on the idea that believers should excel in the marketplace and that the church should not limit itself to “within the four walls” but rather should engage in the world. As he mentioned in one of his writings (Kong 2007):
Let us decide to be relevant to our society. We shouldn’t be afraid to engage a world that God has created and always loved. We should not be fearful to engage culture by being as creative, as colorful, and as progressive as we could possibly be for the glory of God. We mustn’t shun the sciences and arts out there in the marketplace. Rather, we should work hard and excel in the arena of life God has planted us in. As you do that, you will become the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Ultimately, you will bring many into the kingdom of God!
The Cultural Mandate message targets primarily, as mentioned on its website, “believers who are successful in the business arena and the entertainment world.” Also, “many successful business people and celebrities have discovered a newfound passion for their secular endeavors” and “have been inspired to harness their platforms” to further the kingdom of God.
Both Kong’s and Ho’s lives have been the most successful models of how believers can engage in the secular world. In his writing “Discovering your purpose in the secular,” Kong said:
Sun has always felt drawn to the world of arts and entertainment. Maybe because of the Indonesian-Chinese blood in me, I have always been drawn to business and the corporate world. In the last few years, as we engaged our society more as salt and light, we began to discover our purpose: which is not to be a stereotypical religious couple confined within the four walls of a local church, but to take the kingdom of God into the marketplace of society…Sun got into her singing career and I became a businessman.
Soon Kong and Ho began the Crossover Project, which involved reaching out or crossing over to other cultural strata unreached by Christian faith, and in their case, the “pop culture.” The Crossover Project aims to “redeem” the popular culture through embracing, utilizing, and mastering it as a means of reaching out to the world, and hopefully, remaking it to be an alternative and relevant form of Christianity to the (post)modern world. With Kong’s strong endorsement and the support of the church, Ho embarked on her music career and has become one of Singapore’s leading Mandarin pop stars. Very soon Ho had already scored a number of hits in the Mandarin pop scene, had performed to packed stadiums in Taiwan, and had produced double-platinum selling CDs. Meanwhile, as he was still serving as the senior pastor of the church, Kong also stopped receiving a salary from the church and became like a lay person who volunteered in the church. In doing so, he became free to cross between the two worlds of sacred and secular. Kong was a board member of Dr. David Yonggi Cho’s Church Growth International (South Korea) and Dr. Luis Bush’s Transform World (Indonesia). Also, he and his wife once owned several companies, including International Harvest, Skin Couture, and boutiques.
Another related and equally important value of the CHC is its emphasis on “excellence, success, and prosperity.” Worldly success, as viewed by CHC, if not always a sign of grace, is an indication that one is going in the right direction with God. Some quotations from Kong’s writings include, “When your vertical relationship with God is strong, your horizontal relationship in the marketplace will be successful.” Kong said:
Make no mistake about it, God wants the world to envy us and say to us: “We must have your way of life!” Yet, how many among the unchurched are actually jealous of Christians today? Why aren’t the unbelievers rushing to church every weekend, or knocking on our doors saying, “Help me, I have to get into the kingdom of God! I want to be like you—happy, successful and creative!” (Kong 2007).
In the same writing, Kong, using examples from the Old Testament, mentioned Adam, who “plowed the ground, sowed his seed and reaped a harvest to feed his family, but he didn’t stop there. He explored the geology of the land, dug deeper into the ground, and discovered gold and all kinds of precious stones. The more you apply yourself and the harder you work, the richer you will become in life.” There was also Joseph, who “became so successful in his secular vocation that he was promoted to be the number two man to Pharaoh…” And then there were the Israelites, to whom God guaranteed that His laws would make them “wealthy and prosperous.” But, to be successful and wealthy, one needs to show excellence in one’s work.
In one of his writings entitled Understanding Excellence, Kong set the standard of excellence, which would be “to be superior in quality, greater in quantity, to transcend your job description, and to outdo yourself each time.” The values are to be demonstrated not only in peoples’ lives, but also on the corporate level. He adhered to a standard of excellence in constructing an “ultra-modern” church building in which even the toilets “exemplify the very meaning of style” (Harvest Times, v.18 July-December 2002) as well as the corporate office, which is located in the heart of Singapore’s central business district in Suntec City Tower. The church building project is a perfect and concrete manifestation of the value of excellence, as mentioned by Kong in the church’s publication:
…all the finer details of the entire construction were extremely vital to the church leadership. The cleanliness and hygiene, the greenery and landscaping, the positioning of our furniture, the comfort of our chairs, the color scheme and lightings of our halls, the quality of air in the building, the paint job, the cleaning of unsightly scratch marks, fingerprints and sawdust in the facility were all important details that reflect excellence (Harvest Times, v.17 March-June 2002).
The church has been successful in providing an attractive and distinctive religious experience and collective identity for its young attenders, who either attend a church for the first time or have been turned off by traditional religious settings, through effectively integrating rational structure, emotional expressivity, and consumer ethic in its Sunday services.
The church has multiple services, organized in different languages, on each Sunday. To ensure the high quality of each service, it is well-structured. The sermons, although preached by different pastors, have a common theme and application points. It is also carefully timed and programmed. For instance, in the case of serving the Holy Communion to thousands of people (the pastor reciting The Apostle’s Creed and offering his prayer, hundreds of ushers passing on pre-packaged pieces of bread and cups of drinks, which the congregation consumes and throws away spontaneously) all are accomplished in minutes.
The service is always bound up with expectation and entertaining, with its bright colors, garish signs, spotlights beam onto the stage, enthusiastic and contemporary music bounces through the hall, as well as well-harmonized vocals, a sizable choir, and a band. The whole environment is similar to a pop music concert. Thousands of people in the audience rise to their feet, at times shout and jump, at times weep and kneel.
Preaching is another main attraction of the service. Kong has been known as an anointed and popular preacher, both locally and internationally. Also, there are a number of international speakers who regularly preach at CHC. Unlike traditional churches, Kong’s preaching styles are very engaging in nature. His sermons are usually highly relevant and practical to its young audience, and are always easily remembered and inspiring. His preaching is also highly interactive. Instead of confining himself to the pulpit, Kong used to move around with passionate voice, gestures, and personal stories to engage the audience. He would normally encourage or even urge responses from the audience, such as repeating their words to their neighbors. Besides taking notes, the audience frequently show their support or agreement through a simultaneous “yeah” or “Amen” response or applause. On some occasions, after the preaching, Kong would offer an alter call and launch the service into a healing time. Hundreds of people would stream to the stage, to receive praying, miraculous healings and prophetic utterances, opening up their emotional and physical needs to be ministered in a unique and collective way. His preaching, through multiple television programs and internet webcast, have reached millions of viewers from hundreds of countries.
As already mentioned, the church emphasizes the values of success and excellence. To be successful in career and life, one needs to receive divine blessings through generous offering to the church. This practice is part of a belief in a “prosperity gospel:” that is, by giving to God as much as one can, the Christian will reap the fruits of his/her investments in higher returns, both spiritually and materially. Plenty of messages have been carefully built on this concept, and testimonies of many, including business, academic, relationship successes, have proved the message to be true.
In short, from the “proper” way of worship (when to raise hand, knee, shout, etc.), “proper” timing of responding to the sermons or whoever is on the stage (i.e. taking note, the unified “yeah” response after the preacher has said something interesting or challenging), to their weekly and monthly offerings, members receive cues that indicate what is expected of them. Disciplinary actions, taken mainly by cell-group leaders or pastors to correct uncooperative attitude, are not unusual. One can be censured for one’s disagreement with the church’s teachings or over one’s unwillingness to participate in the church’s activities, such as church building project. Discipline is even stricter for students of the Bible Training Center. For instance, according to its Student Handbook item no. 6.5.5., “Students are to be respectful and polite toward the pastors and leadership appointed over them in the Bible Training Center and in the CHC. All students must address all pastors by their titles whenever they meet. Failure to do so will bring about disciplinary action.” The Center had dismissed fifteen students in 2004 because of their problems of “integrity and honesty;” ten were international students (many were full-time workers in their home church).
The CHC [Image at right] is run as a centralized corporation with a Board of Director s that is legally responsible for the charter of the Church. Kongis at the top of the hierarchy, with all spiritual and practical authority, and below him are other ordained pastors and pastoral staff (there are twenty-two pastors and assistant pastors and sixty-five full-time staff) and hundreds of executive members (these are lay leaders, including senior members and leaders of cell groups), who interact most frequently with the congregations. But the ultimate authority resides with Kong. According to Chan (forthcoming), the church has no concrete church polity as it is still in the stage of development. For example, when responding to questions about ordination, the church leaders told Chan that there is no established rule or regulation on who is able to be ordained.
Judging from the size and operation of the church, Kong seems to have exhibited an outstanding leadership style, a combination of both rational and charismatic authority. The former includes his highly efficient management capabilities and his “logical and systematical” thinking, which he attributes to his training in Computer Science. In 2004, the business-savvy senior pastor brought the church one great leap forward by obtaining ISO 9001:2000, which makes it the first church in the world to be awarded such certification. The latter includes his very personal calling from God, which he describes in this way: God “ said the obvious to me, ‘Kong, raise me a new generation that will take Asia by storm’.” Also, there is his charismatic and visionary personality, which he uses to “both inspire and challenge people to dream big dreams for God,” and his preaching style, which according to his website, is “deeply modern” and “strongly aspirational.”
Seeing his own role as “ transformed from that of a shepherd to a rancher” (The Straits Times, April 8 2004), Kong formed the church on a small-group (cell groups) basis and depended mainly on the lay leaders to perform the regular activities. According to the 2015 annual report, the church has 544 cell groups, which connect 10,825 people with each other, and 665 cell group leaders. Divided into youth and adult cell groups, the meetings take place mostly on a weekly basis following centrally-designed materials. The church offers training and detailed guidelines in order to produce consistent and uniform leading and preaching style, on the one hand, and to equip the leaders with set answers for frequently asked questions, on the other. Likewise, the plans for membership (three levels including ordinary, ministry, and executive member) are neatly structured.
As for its ministerial coverage, CHC places equal emphasis on both evangelism and social services. In terms of its religious services, besides Sunday services, it offers Bible studies and various education classes/programs about the Christian faith in several languages and dialect s. The ministries cover programs from young children to older people, including services for the hearing impaired and mentally challenged people , the first church in Singapore which has dedicated special resources for this group. CHC also runs a School of Theology for local and oversea s students. The School offers seven months of theological and practical training for Christian leaders and pastors as well as ordinary believers. From 1994 to 2015, its cumulative student intake reached 6986 students. In the year 2015, the School had 324 students, most of whom came from Singapore and China.
In terms of social service, there are independently incorporated groups affiliated with CHC, which carry on various tasks: Citycare runs the local and international humanitarian programs including corporate training, and the City Harvest Community Services Association serves the local community. There are other services or businesses that are provided by the church, such as the City College, which provides alternative education pathways for young people , the O School which offers street dance training to young people, and the Little Big preschool which promotes early childhood education emphasizing “creativity, expression and exploration.”
In order to keep the organization running smoothly, the church has an expertly rationalized system in place. It sets quantified targets for each ministry and judges its success in terms of quantity, as highlighted in its annual report: “We count numbers because numbers count!” For example, in its 2015 annual report, everything is about big numbers: It claims that the church has a total of 6303 decisions (salvation and rededication), which includes 2189 adults and 4114 children; 4107 individuals have prayed the sinner’s prayer for the first time; 463 people have been baptized; and 705 people have participated in 181 mission trips to 87 cities in 16 countries. Also, the church has 49 affiliate churches and 29 associate churches in China. The total attendance within the “CHC movement,” including at its Singapore “headquarters,” is 49,032. Other numbers include the total number of patients, 2933, that have been seen by its four humanitarian teams; the total number of people who have attended its 386 mission conferences led by CHC pastors and staff, 120,910; the number of visitors to its website, 14,092,397; its webcast viewership, 576,023; its Twitter followers, 18,036; its Facebook followers, 41,430; total number of mobile app installations, 28,109; its city radio total broadcasting time, 25,710 mins; number of hits per week, 10,912; and so on.
The scandal involving the church was the biggest charity scandal in Singapore history (“City Harvest Church” 2019; Sin 2019; Tan 2019). It revolved around Kong and five other church leaders and fund or finance managers. A total of $50,000,000 Singapore dollars ($35,000,000) of funds were misused to support Sun Ho’s music career. Alarm bells were raised much earlier than the formal investigation, which began in 2010. In 2003, soon after Ho began her singing career, a church member went to the press with allegations of financial impropriety on the part of the church. But then he backed down and apologized after the church threatened to sue him (Wong 2015).
Several years later, on May 31, 2010, the Office of the Commissioner of Charities and the Commercial Affairs Department of the Singapore Police began investigating more than sixteen individuals linked to the church, including Kong and Ho, after receiving complaints . The police looked into financial transactions involving the possible falsification of accounts and continuing breach of trust, all of which dated back a number of years.
In 2012, after a review by the commissioner of charities uncovered “ misconduct and mismanagement in the administration,” Kong and five church leaders were arrested. In court, prosecutors outlined a complex web of sham financial transactions in which six church leaders misappropriated $24,000,000 Singapore dollars ($18,900,000) from one of the church building funds to support Ho’s pop music career. Ho herself was never implicated in the legal charges. There was also a second allegation of these six people taking another $26,000,000 Singapore dollars ($20,500,000) to cover up the initial embezzled amount. All six were serving in some capacity on the church board.
In 2015, all six initially were found guilty of criminal breach of trust. Kong was sentenced to eight years in jail as the “key man” behind the scandal and as the one who had led his five accomplices in the criminal breach of trust. Kong apologized for “unwise decisions.” The remaining five were handed prison terms varying from twenty-one months to six years.The case extended on for several years as there were several appeals. Ultimately, Kong’s sentence was reduced to three-and-one-half years; he served two years and four months. On August 22, 2019, Kong was released from incarceration. He returned to the church and was greeted by a cheering congregation (Tan 2019).
There have been longer-term consequences for Kong and the church..In 2017, Kong was permanently barred by the Commissioner of Charities from holding any formal management positions in the church or serving on its board. He does, however, continue to serve as the church’s spiritual leader. In addition, The Straits Times reported that more than twenty-five percent of the members left the church when news of the scandal exploded in 2010. In 2009, CHC had around 23,565 members (according to its annual report), but that number decreased to 16,482 in 2015. Nonetheless, City Harvest remains one of the largest churches in Singapore and in Asia.
Image #1. Photograph of Kong Hee, founder of City Harvest Church.
Image #2: Photograph of Ho Yeow Sun, wife of Kong Hee, and current leader of City Harvest Church.
Image #3: Photograph of City Harvest Church.
Chan, Kim-kwong. Forthcoming. “City Harvest Church of Singapore: an Ecclesial Paradigm for Pentecostalism in the Postmodern World.” In Global ReOrient: The Rise and Impact of Chinese Charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity, edited by Fenggang Yang, Joy K.C. Tong and Allan Anderson.
Cheong, Danson . 2015a. Controversy Over City Harvest Church’s “Prosperity Gospel.” The Straits Times, November 11. Accessed from htts://www.straitstimes.com/Singapore/controversy-over-city-harvest-churchs-prosperity-gospel on 10 May 2016.
Cheong, Danson. 2015b. Kong Hee “Key Man Behind Church Scandal” The Straits Times, October 23. Accessed from http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/kong-hee-key-man-behind-church-scandal on 10 May 2016.
“City Harvest Church: A timeline of Singapore’s biggest case in misuse of charitable funds.” 2019. Channel News Asia, August 22. Accessed from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/city-harvest-church-kong-hee-a-timeline-of-the-largest-case-11830638 on 10/1/2019.
Kong, Hee. 2007a. Discovering Your Purpose in the Secular. Accessed from https://kongheewiki.wordpress.com/2007/04/03/discovering-your-purpose-in-the-secular-by-kong-hee/ on 10 May 2016.
Kong, Hee. 2007b. Our Cultural Mandate (Part 1). Accessed from https://kongheewiki.wordpress.com/2007/07/03/our-cultural-mandate-part-1-by-kong-hee/ on 10 May 2016.
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