City Harvest, Singapore Megachurches Using Pop Culture, Mass Consumption Model for Growth

The rise of megachurches in Singapore has been documented in a new report that reveals how they are modeling the pop culture and mass consumption structure of society to achieve financial success.

"Mega churches have been able to articulate Christianity in a very contemporary manner," said Terence Chong, a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in the report by Bloomberg News. "Being able to adopt the language of pop culture, mass consumption -- we think this appeals to the new middle class, people who are aspiring middle class."

Among several growing churches in Singapore, the report also highlights the rise of City Harvest Church, the non-denominational church founded by senior pastor Kong Hee, who is currently facing allegations of using donation money to further his wife's music career and for other personal purposes. Hee has denied the charges, however, and City Harvest is said to be standing by him as he awaits trial.

Since 2010, City Harvest has amassed more than 20,000 members, and like a number of other megachurches, is reportedly investing big in Singapore malls and other businesses. Its plans in 2010 included spending $248 million to invest in the Suntec International Convention & Exhibition Center, a major multi-use development center, as well as paying for rent and renovation costs.

City Harvest Church Executive Pastor Aries Zulkarnain apparently even "used PowerPoint slides to instruct churchgoers how to give offerings via cash, check and credit card, and highlighted the online donation system," according to Bloomberg. Zulkarnain reportedly shared in the presentation how the congregation had raised close to $18 million for the center since last year.

"The message here is: The more you give, the more you get back from God. It's like an investment," explained Gerard Ee, former President of the National Council of Social Service.

As for the spiritual connection, the Bloomberg report notes that megachurches are linking precisely the economic aspect of church building to people coming closer to God by showing their commitment to their church through their financial contributions.

"As they come forth Lord to sow, release upon them Father the power to get, to create, to receive wealth in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ," prayed Senior Pastor Joseph Prince of rising megachurch New Creation Church during one service. "Prosperity is right. Amen. We prosper to prosper others. We prosper to prosper God's kingdom, so come believing."

Prince's ministry is a prime example of a megachurch using all available forms of technology and social media to spread its message, and raise donations around the world, according to Bloomberg. The pastor speaks at no less than four sessions a day, and his iTunes podcast is set to reach millions of people across North America, Europe, Africa, Australia, Israel, and Singapore.

"Market-friendly ideologies associated with individualism and self-empowerment are often blended with selective Christian theologies to emphasize positive living and blessings, while deflecting overtly negative Christian doctrines such as suffering, judgment, sacrifice, hell or death from sin," commented Jeaney Yip, a lecturer at the University of Sydney Business School, whose studies focused on marketing practices of megachurches. "Their church services are scripted and 'produced' with deliberate use of contemporary music, sound and lighting."

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