Defending the Secular Space in Singapore
Defending the Secular Space in Singapore

 

 

“Through this agreement, CHC becomes a co-owner of Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre, and has a share in the annual revenues of all its facilities. The two floors CHC will primarily use are the sixth and seventh floors and include the CHC Auditorium which is column-free and can accommodate up to 12,000 seats. Early plans for this space reveal a stadium-style layout with a sizeable play area for children, and 10 meeting rooms. “All our morning prayer meetings, seminars and conferences will be held here in the future,” explained Kong.” Pastor Kong Blog Stream “CHC's New Home: Suntec Convention Centre, March 09, 2010

"Personally, I'm a little bit confounded as to the real reason behind (the guidelines) because I found that Singapore Churches has always been living behind guidelines” Faith Community Baptist Church (FCBC) senior pastor Lawrence Khong, 21 July 2010 in CNA interview

After the unprecedented and surprising write up and expose on the history, key leaders, and size of the various Christian mega churches on Saturday 17 July 10 in the Straits Times newspaper in Singapore, it was expected that the next news will perhaps be less positive on the churches.  The news on 21 July 10 nevertheless came as a surprise with the Government intending to set clearer guidelines on religious space use after what seemingly is a swamping of the large conference spaces in Singapore for dedicated and regular Christian services.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports issued a joint statement giving guidelines to the use of commercial space in Singapore including:-

  • Maximum space of 20,000 sqm or 20% of floor space for religious use of a particular commercial location
  • Maximum space 10,000 sqm for any one religious entity
  • Non exclusive use and maximum 2 days per week.

 

The above guidelines clarifies the legal requirements for Christian Church worship places not only in the CBD area but for the commercial spaces in entire Singapore.

Despite the claim by Lawrence Khong that churches in Singapore abide well within the guidelines hence there was no need for this new regulations, the current large mega churches in Singapore barely meet the guidelines. The future is even more doubtful when CHC moves into Suntec and during the overlap period where both NCC and CHC reside at Suntec prior to NCC’s move to OneNorth.

Churches

Current

Future

Within space Guidelines 10,000 sqm
20% of total space/20K sqm

Non exclusive use and maximum 2 days per week

Within space Guidelines 10,000 sqm
20% of total space/ 20K sqm

Non exclusive use and maximum 2 days per week

City Harvest Church

Yes,  10,000 sqm (Expo Hall 8).
Not sure, >20%/20K sqm of religious space use if other churches apart from FCBC uses meeting rooms eg Bethesda Community church

Possible non compliant -  regular weekday events

{1Q 2011]
a) Possible non compliant
12,000 seater at Suntec and 10 meeting rooms.
Suntec Convention Hall 6 – 10,600 sqm

b) Possible non compliant >  20K sqm if Suntec used concurrently with NCC during overlap period before they move to OneNorth

Possible non compliant -  regular weekday events

FCBC

Yes, 10,000 sqm
(Expo Hall 9)

Not sure, >20%/20K sqm of religious space use if other churches apart from CHC uses meeting rooms eg Bethesda Community church

Yes?

Yes, 10,000 sqm
(Expo Hall 9)

Yes

New Creation Church

Yes, 3400 sqm
(Rock Auditorium)
1200 Seater

+ overflow rooms in level 4 and 6.

Possible non compliant -  regular weekday events

{1Q 2011]
Possible non compliant >  20K sqm if Suntec used concurrently with CHC during overlap period before NCC move to OneNorth

[End 2011] 5,000 seater at One North.

Civic and Cultural Zone measuring over 30,000 sq metres possibly exceeding 10,000 sqm limit and 20% religious usage limit.

Possible non compliant -  regular weekday events

Bethesda Community church

Yes < 10,000 sqm Singapore Expo Conference Hall A-F (2nd level Foyer)

Not sure, >20% of religious space or 20K sqm use as FCBC and CHC uses 20% of Expo already or 20,000 sqm of the 100,000 sqm or 10 halls available.

 

Yes?

Yes < 10,000 sqm Singapore Expo Conference Hall A-F (2nd level Foyer)

 

Yes?

 

 From the above space usage calculations, we have the issue of the three large mega churches City Harvest, New Creation, and FCBC using the same available commercial spaces and venues thus potentially resulting in the breach of the guidelines. The future remains even more uncertain with the new CHC venue at Suntec expected to be much larger than their current 10,000 sq metre usage at Expo (if not much bigger, why move?). Although the new venue for NCC at One North is for mixed usage, the space usage for the 5,000 seater and other rooms will likely to be very close to the limit. 

However, what is considered a religious activity remains unclear and whether it includes not only prayer and worship, but children's ministry, bible study groups, Sunday book store, church offices, etc. There is also weekday bible studies and seminars held regularly which appears to contradict the holding of services only for 2 days per week.

The new regulations are obviously referring to City Harvest Church with the space guidelines not arbitrary but almost fitting exactly to their current usage at Expo and no more. We are all part of the body of Christ, and the new guidelines will likely impact the smaller churches and not the CHC and NCC in the short term. Consider for example, a church holding a service at Woodlands in a commercial shop house. Under the new guidelines, this can be considered exclusive use, and occupying 100% of the space although a very small area. Many are small churches with less than 100, and could not afford to rent multi-purpose commercial spaces just for the service on Sunday. We may all suffer as a result of the actions of a few.

The protection of the secular space is a reminder of the strong push into the secular marketplace that the mega churches in Singapore has been engaged in. It is an attempt to restrict religious entities to the religious mountain rather than be another major player in business, politics, media, arts, etc. disturbing the status quo.

If the letter of the law or guidelines are followed strictly, we are often liable to be guilty. We are reminded of how we apply the OT biblical laws so strictly to gays and far more leniently for us within the church. May we be shown mercy and grace even though we have shown very little to the gay community. For example, NCC Rock Auditorium is far less than 10,000 sqm but after including the very large overflow rooms, and the meeting rooms at the convention centre, the total space usage is arguable. How can NCC have regular bible studies during week day if this means that they are using the venue more than 2 days per week. For smaller churches, the 20% total floor usage and non dedicated use would be a major issue if they are leveraging on the commercial spaces.

The question remains whether CHC can indeed move to the much larger spaces at Suntec and stay within the guidelines, when they only just meet it in their current location at Expo.

Factsheet

Suntec

Exhibtion Halls – Level 4 – 12,000 sq metres that can be subdivided into 4 sections

Convention Halls – Level 6 – 10,600 sq metres of exhibition space
Rock Auditorium – 36,000 sq feet (3400 sqm), 1200 seats.

Singapore Expo  

Ten large multi purpose halls – each 10,000 sq metres, ie maximum religious use of 20,000 sqm

City Harvest Church – Hall 8,
Faith Baptist Community Church – Hall 9,  
 Bethesda Community church – Singapore Expo Conference Hall A-F (2nd level Foyer)

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