Spotlights beam onto the stage of City Harvest Church, lighting up flags from around the world that serve as part of the platform's backdrop. The enthusiastic strains of the praise and worship team compel the crowd to sing, shout and jump. Young and old alike worship the Lord with abandon.
Deep in prayer, the pastoral team walks onto the platform. Immediately, everyone in the congregation raises their hands, praying fervently in tongues. The thunderous sound builds a spiritual atmosphere that prepares the way for the Holy Spirit to move. And move He does. When the invitation for salvation is given, hundreds of people stream toward the front, waiting to be led in the sinner's prayer. Nearly 400 salvations are recorded every Sunday.
Welcome to my church: City Harvest Church in Singapore. Our 11,000-member congregation, which meets in a former movie theater converted into a church building, holds at least nine services each weekend. We conduct high-energy services with a keen spiritual purpose to reach young urban professionals, or yuppies, and their families for Jesus Christ.
Our church, which started with just a handful of people, is now one of the largest in Singapore and all of Southeast Asia. It has truly been amazing to watch how a small group of believers blossomed into a congregaiton that is used to touch so many lives in cosmopolitan Singapore, one of the financial giants in Asia boasting a population of 4 million.
Small beginnings. My wife, Sun, and I founded City Harvest Church 11 years ago. The church has since grown to a membership of more than 11,000 and has navigated itself to the cutting edge of soul-winning.
Effective evangelism has been the key. The converts first came in groups of 10, 30, 70, slowly rising to 150 and 250. Now almost 400 people each week accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Out of this number, an average of two-thirds are first-time decisions for Christ. And the average age of the church membership stands at 24.
Confidence is high among members as they bring their friends to church services. Surveys have shown that typically six out of 10 visitors give their hearts to God the first time they attend our meetings. This high conversion rate is only possible because the members themselves have been actively sowing acts of kindness into the lives of their friends long before they are ever brought to a service.
Though evangelistic fervor may be high among the congregation, their confidence for success is not reliant on one main church personality or system but on the simple concept of loving God and loving people. This is the basic tenet Sun and I strongly believe in with all our hearts, and it has been catalytic in the short but fruitful soul-winning history of our church.
I was saved in 1975 during the early days of the Holy Spirit renewal in Singapore. For the next 13 years I worshiped in a small Anglican parish. My plan was to become an Anglican priest. However, in 1989, after being caught in the middle of a church conflict, I became disillusioned with church politics and decided to be a missionary to the Philippines.
But that was not to be. A group of 20 teen-agers asked me to be their Bible study teacher. On May 7, 1989, under the covering of a local Assemblies of God church, City Harvest Church was born. The group of 20 would soon grow to 1,300 and despite the early years of inexperience and foolish zeal, people just kept getting saved. In retrospect, the reason was simple: The church was in revival and God was working for us.
However, for the next three years, the church ran into a wall. In spite of every effort we made, the attendance languished at around 1,300. So we turned our attention to consolidation and achieved a fair amount of success.
The people grew strong in prayer and even stronger in spiritual warfare and deliverance. Praise and worship took on a new front as the church started producing professionally mastered "live" CDs, which was a first in Asia. Bible education was growing with the birth of City Harvest Bible Training Center, at present, the largest international affiliate of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Overcoming the wall hindering growth. Although the church was known all over Southeast Asia as a ministry with strong, radical Christians, Sun and I sensed that something was dreadfully amiss. No matter what we did, the church simply would not grow.
After Bible conferences and seminars, Sun would often ask me, "Is that all there is to the Christian life and ministry? Is organizing event after event what a church is all about?"
Despite all the praying, worshiping and sermonizing, there seemed to be a lack of true purpose among our people. Both of us were in the depths of desperation.
By early 1995, we were crying out to the Lord for a breakthrough. In February of that year, I was invited to preach at a camp meeting in Honolulu. One night, while in the hotel room at Waikiki Beach, a strong presence of God came upon me and moved me to read Matthew 22:36-40. For the next hour, I read and meditated on this passage over and over again.
The Holy Spirit began working powerfully in my heart, revealing to me that Christianity in its simplest essence had one simple basic theme: loving God wholeheartedly and loving people fervently. Everything a church does and every direction a church takes must move its members to love God and people more.
It became clear to me that the way God loves people is by saving their souls. Therefore, if our church was to live out the will of God, we had to do everything we could to save the lost. I began to understand that soul-winning is indeed the primary purpose of God--everything else is secondary.
I saw how so many people in our church would get into deep intercession, and yet never win souls for Jesus. They would get so aggressive in spiritual warfare and so deep in the Word, and yet never lead others to Christ.
It dawned on me that while our congregation had the basic pillars of prayer, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and Bible education, these pillars were not supporting the foundational purpose of the church, which is winning the lost to Christ. That night, I got a fresh revelation about the need for soul-winning.
The final challenge came as God spoke very clearly to my heart: "From now on, everything you do in City Harvest Church and every vision you have must be based on these two principles of loving God and loving people. And if you can take the anointing I have put within your people outside the four walls of the church, then in one year, I'm going to double your attendance and bring growth beyond your imagination."
Thus armed with this new revelation in my spirit and mind, I returned home and ruthlessly evaluated all our church programs. Sun and I immediately discarded any program that did not fit those two aims of loving God and people.
Our prayer meetings started to have a focus on the lost. The songs we sang started to have a focus on the lost. Everything we did started to have a focus on the lost. Gradually, the spiritual atmosphere in the church began to change as a sense of destiny, purpose and faith surged through our people.
I discovered that many of our members, including church workers, simply did not know how to share the gospel with non-Christians. We had to teach everybody from scratch the basics of soul-winning.
The church also took up new challenges to reach out to the poor, the elderly, the AIDS inflicted, the street kids, the handicapped and the disadvantaged. We were determined to find a hurt and heal it, and find a need and meet it.
True to His promise, God started adding to the church in a dramatic fashion as we reached out to the lost. In the next 10 months, the congregation leapfrogged from 1,300 to 3,200 members.
Why had we stagnated for so long? As I looked back, I realized that during the first three years of our church, the Lord was working for us. It was a time of revival. Yet, we forgot that the whole purpose of revival was to empower the church for the task of the Great Commission. Yes, God wanted to work for us, but He would rather work with us.
In retrospect, it was great experiencing revivals, but sometimes revivals can make a church lazy. When we see God working so much for us, there is a tendency to just sit back and become passive.
The truth is that God wants to work with us. Mark 16:20 says that Jesus' disciples "went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the Word through...accompanying signs" (NKJV).
Effective evangelism: Finding needs and meeting them. Since that revelation from Matthew 22, the Lord has been working mightily among the people in our church. Since 1995, 2,000 new members have been added to the church annually. Today, 72 percent of the people in our congregation are first-generation, first-pastor converts. Relatively few are transferred from other churches.
The church now hosts a program called "Jesus for All Minds" (JAMs), a ministry to the mentally disabled. We run the largest children's church in the city with about 1,200 children. Every week, our volunteers minister to scores of HIV patients through our ministry to the terminally ill. Among others, we also run a community service center that provides marriage counseling, student tuition, health and homecare assistance to the poor and disadvantaged.
Like many other Asian communities, the city of Singapore places a great deal of emphasis on academic performance. To meet this need, our church implemented an unusual "policy," which states that any student who does not study 20 hours per week after school hours is not permitted to attend cell-group meetings or other church activities. Because these cell and church meetings are so exciting, the students are determined to finish all their class assignments just to be able to join them.
The result? Many young people who were previously failing eventually turned out to be in the top of their class. Every year, the youth of City Harvest Church consistently score higher than the national average in major 10th grade to 12th grade high school examinations.
Education is so highly valued in our society that many unchurched parents, after having seen the transformation in their children, were drawn to the church. They became open to the gospel, and eventually many got saved.
It is such loving, radical friendship evangelism that has helped City Harvest Church stamp a strong presence right through the fabric of its society. Both young and old flock to our services every week.
By God's grace, the church's influence is slowly beginning to be felt beyond the shores of Singapore into the whole of Asia. At present, we have planted nine churches in three other countries. A recent equipping conference attracted more than 3,200 pastors and church leaders, and is now sparking church planting efforts across the Far East.
HOW TO WIN YOUR CITY TO CHRIST
All of us in City Harvest Church believe in making a difference in our world--and there are several core beliefs that have propelled us toward this goal. Perhaps the steps we have implimented can help you in your calling to win your city for Christ.
1. Win the lost through relationship. The first motivating factor is based on Proverbs 11:30: "He who wins souls is wise." Our church leadership often challenges members to see that soul-winning is more than just preaching the Four Spiritual Laws to the lost. It really means winning the trust and friendship of the unchurched first to yourself and thereafter, in that process, winning them to Jesus.
The key to developing a soul-winning church is building relationships. We constantly encourage our members to evaluate their lives to see how many true friendships they have built and how they can improve their relational skills in order to have even more friends. When they have won friends to themselves, it will only be a matter of time before these friends will be won to the Lord.
Apart from friendship evangelism, we also encourage our congregation to demonstrate Christ's love by honoring and serving their respective family members. These displays of love have impacted many non-Christian parents and have brought healing, reconciliation and salvation to entire homes.
One of our members, Alice Chan, shared openly with the congregation on one recent Sunday morning: "Pastor Kong constantly preached about living a life of significance through relationships, challenging us to do something nice for our moms on Mother's Day. Sitting there, a question popped into my mind: 'Alice, you have always shown love to the lost and the unchurched without hesitation. But what have you done so far to demonstrate Christ's love to your own mother?'
"I have always prayed that God will change my mother's heart and cause her to be more understanding toward my commitment in church. But that day, I felt that I had to do something tangible for my mom. I purposed in my heart that I would make her the happiest mother in the world on Mother's Day."
Alice did just that. She cleaned the whole house, took her mother out for dinner, bought her a present and even composed a song for her. The gesture moved Mrs. Chan so much that she became very open to God and the gospel.
2. Go for "actual" souls. We get people involved in the "actual finding" of the lost. The parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin remind us that God does not believe in "token hunts." He goes after the one who is lost until He finds it.
There are so many songs we sing today about "revival in the land" and "pushing back the darkness." However, in reality, how do we actually push back the darkness in our land? How do we win our cities for God?
I see it this way: At conversion, a sinner is translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. Jesus says that every believer is the light of the world (see Matt. 5:14). As such, every time a sinner gets saved, a city actually becomes one soul brighter, or one soul less dark.
So at the end of every church meeting, camp-meeting and revival campaign, we really need to ask ourselves, "How much brighter is our city tonight?" If the lost are still unsaved, then nothing really has changed. All our efforts would have been in vain.
3. Create a strong spiritual atmosphere of faith and purity. In the parable of the sower, the reason why there was a harvest on some grounds and barrenness on others was the environment the seed was cast into. In the right environment, the seed will bring forth fruit, some thirty-fold, some sixty-fold and some a hundred-fold (see Matt. 13:8). Similarly, the right spiritual environment is vital to the reaping of the lost.
Every week, City Harvest Church members put in hundreds of hours in prayer and fasting, interceding for the unsaved and needy in the city. During the services, the power of God is often so tangible that the moment the first song is sung, new visitors immediately come under the conviction of the Holy Spirit for their sins. The spiritual atmosphere can get so strong that it is not uncommon to see newcomers weeping in repentance even before we give the altar call for salvation.
The pastors and cell leaders guard the spiritual atmosphere of the church "jealously." Dissension, murmuring, gossiping, blatant and gross sinning are dealt with swiftly, lovingly but very firmly, to keep the gathering pure and holy. Our leadership strongly believes that it is in such a conducive environment that the Holy Spirit is made to feel welcomed so that He can move freely among the people.
4. Make disciples, not converts. With an average weekly conversion rate of 400 new converts, it is very easy to get complacent in regards to the Great Commission. However, Sun and I constantly remind our workers and leaders that Matthew 28 is all about making disciples, not converts.
A convert is born again "by grace through faith" in an instant. But a disciple is only made through a process of molding and equipping. This is how we define it: A disciple is a trained worker with a great attitude.
It is not enough just to be trained or skilled. To be a true follower of Jesus, we must have the attitude to go along with it. I constantly remind my congregation that our "attitudes in life determine our altitudes in Christ."
Humility is an indispensable Christian attitude. Having a willing heart is important as well. Above all, a disciple of Jesus holds on to a happy and positive attitude in his or her life and ministry.
Hee Kong and his wife, Sun, pastor City Harvest Church in Singapore, one of the fastest-growing churches in Asia.
If you teach your congregation how to build good relationships, you will develop a healthy, soul-winning church. Following are the steps for effective soul-winning that we use at City Harvest Church:
1. Serve one another (see Mark 9:35) Show love by helping people whenever you can. Look for opportunities to serve. Jesus said if anyone desires to be a leader, he must be willing to be a "servant of all." Remember the J.O.Y. acronym: Jesus, Others and then Yourself.
2. Give to others (see James 2:15-16) Love is the benefiting of others at the expense of self. Be generous with your time, gifts and money. When you give, give good gifts--not what you cannot use anymore. Also, never give with a catch. Manipulation is the surest way of destroying a relationship.
3. Esteem others better than yourself (see Phil. 2:3) Always honor people. Treat others with respect. And when you praise, be extravagant in your praise. Measured praise is no praise at all. Remember, it is not flattery as long as you are sincere in what you say.
4. Show interest in people's lives (see Phil. 2:4) In your conversation, don't just talk about yourself. Show interest in people's achievements, hobbies and the things they are excited about. Make everyone you meet feel important and significant.
5. Encourage others (see 1 Cor. 13:7) Love believes all things. So, believe in people. Build them up with your words and actions. When you do that, ordinary people are transformed into extraordinary members.
6. Appreciate and thank others (see Rom. 1:8) Be a thankful person. The apostle Paul always appreciated the people he related to, even when they were backslidden: "I thank my God always concerning you" (1 Cor. 1:4, NKJV).
7. Learn to smile (see Prov. 15:30) Church growth experts have said that if church members simply learn to smile, church attendance will automatically increase by 20 percent.
8. Love your neighbor as yourself (see Matt. 19:19) Jesus talks about it. Paul talks about it. James talks about it. This is Jesus' commandment: Whatever you like to do for yourself, do it for someone else.