Various authors have taken to Reddit, a social platform, to voice out some of their concerns about HOGC. In this article, we review some of the claims made in the various Reddit articles, fact-checking some of the claims and offering another side of the argument to give readers a more neutral perspective about HOGC.
No Affiliation to City Harvest Church
There has never been any mention by City Harvest Church that HOGC is their affiliate.
The pastors of City Harvest have never named themselves an affiliate of HOGC.
To date, there has been no evidence of any affiliation of any sort between HOGC and City Harvest Church. Unlike other churches which had the privilege of being supported by donations from its wealthy members, HOGC had to grow up with a crippling disadvantage – its initial members were mostly youths. In fact, Heart of God Church began as a small group of just five people in 1999, including Senior Pastors Tan Seow How and Pastor Lia. They built the church without any support from other pastors, and not even with any support from NCCS (National Council of Churches in Singapore), let alone any support from City Harvest Church. In their GenerationS book, the pastors recount their humble beginnings. Their first building was in a small industrial park with just 5 members. The senior pastors ran the church in the initial years without taking any salary.
Financial Standing – HOGC has very modest reserves compared to other churches
HOGC, as with all other churches and religious organisations in the world, survives from the donations and tithes from its own members. Being a large youth church, where the average age is 21, they do not have the financial privileges of having many wealthy members or millionaires. The rental expenses alone of their main service area the “Imaginarium” costs more than $3 million per year (from financial statements from Charity Portal). Staff expenses are kept low, as most of the staff are made up of volunteers. The church uses its financial reserves to support the local community and international humanitarian activities. It also has a fund for bursaries and scholarships for underprivileged youth members. Unlike wealthier churches, HOGC also has a low reserves ratio of only 1.22 years of expenses as reserves* , compared to the normal reserve ratio of around 6 in most other churches. They also have a low savings ratio of only 13.9% in 2018, as most of their income is used to pay for their operating expenses, their Heart Community Services, and other charitable causes. More information about their governance can be found here. Their full financial reports can be found at the Charity Portal.
*According to their 2018 Annual Financial Reports which can be found from the Charity Portal
Here are some key financial numbers:
- Total Income was $13,859,213
- Total Expenses was $11,930,873
- Net surplus was $1,928,340
- Staff salaries were about $2,986,25
- Net equity was $14,651,543
Some key ratios to highlight: their net equity/expense ratio is only 1.22
We can compare this to New Creation Church: net equity/expense ratio of 5.92
This implies that Heart of God Church has a relatively modest level of reserves compared to their expenses (i.e they only had one year’s worth of expenses as reserves).
HOGC only has a savings ratio is around 13.9% ($1,982,340/$13,859,213)
New creation church has a savings ratio of around 25.7%
HOGC Has a Strong Culture of Excellence
HOGC has been called a cult, however, if you talk to church members and attend their services, Heart of God church members are known to hold a sense of pride in their church. This can be reasonably attributed to the high standards in a typical service. Youths are trained to serve with the highest level of excellence, with youths as young as 12, operating computers, cameras, lighting, screens, and learning to play instruments. This is due to their core belief that “the youth are leaders today not just tomorrow”.
Another core principle that is taken seriously in HOGC is that they use the church to build the people, instead of using people to build the church. The church invests a lot of resources in leadership development and pastoral care and even created a series of online modules that members can take, diving into various subjects as mental resilience, parenthood, relationships, personal finance, and emotional care.
The pastors are also known to be self-sacrificial, often donating large portions of their own money to support church-related causes. In 2012, Pastor Lia donated $1million of her own money from her cancer payout to the church. She also gave up a successful career as a journalist to be a Pastor, taking a huge pay cut. In fact, both pastors were taking no basic salary in their initial years.
For Pastor How, he also gave up $1million: In his case, his dad challenged him to give up his idea of being a pastor by offering him $1 million. Pastor How declined his offer, refusing the $1 million to start HOGC alongside Pastor Lia.
Every year, during Father’s Day, Pastor How would write cards and get simple gifts for all members in the church who do not have a father figure in their lives. Some may have lost their fathers due to various reasons, and some may have divorced parents. Pastor Lia would also do the same every year, writing hand-written cards to members, no matter how big the church grows.
The pastors are known to always ben others-centred, humble and caring for others. They don’t just preach but also practise what they preach.
In their initial months of joining HOGC, there is a series called the “Faith Essentials” series, which members go through. Within it, members learn about the basics of Christian Living, including things like tithing and evangelism, which may be a subject of controversy by non-christians.
Within the module of evangelism, members are reminded to not just “be friendly” but to be a genuine friend, and also to strike a genuine connection with people before inviting them to church. Instead of constantly inviting someone to church, members are instructed to only talk about church invitations 10% of the time. Members typically use a soft approach in their evangelism, conducting prayer meetings to pray for their friends, and spending hours to plan outings for their unsaved friends. They also spend time to buy gifts, write cards, and hang out with them to create a genuine connection before inviting them to church. Unsaved friends are typically never forced to convert to Christianity. Instead, they can simply choose to respond to the “altar call” during the sermon itself, and it is fully voluntary.
There have even been cases where members simply come and go, without being truly christians. In fact, HOGC members use the term “integrations” for these people who are coming to church but yet not fully Christian, and usually use soft approaches to get them more integrated within the community. This is normally done by planning more gatherings and doing various acts of kindness such as gifts and writing cards and planning outings.
Evangelism is a fully voluntary activity, which is not financially rewarded. Members simply go out of their way to evangelise from a position of care and love and a genuine belief that going to church is something beneficial for their friends, without expecting any reward in return.
Whilst most salespeople often form relationships and reach out with an expectation of financial gain, HOGC evangelists do so without any self-interests. Whole prayer sessions, meetings, and sermons are conducted to encourage members to reach out and to form long lasting friendships with those around them before inviting them to church. Members are constantly reminded to also protect the church’s reputation, and are hence cautioned to be wise and have common sense in their evangelism, which hinges mainly first on building a genuine connection before any invitations to attend church service.
Members are never forced to tithe. It is only encouraged. It is common to have non tithing members. However, due to the strong sense of community and beliefs amongst members, HOGC has an above average tithing rate. Youths are advised only to tithe at most $600 during the annual “building fund” and any amount beyond $600 has to seek parental consent. Tithes are used to fund operating expenses, the Heart Community Services, pastoral expenses, and their rent which costs an upward of $3 million per year.
Members are advised to tithe only with these principles in mind
1.Pray & Plan
2.Radical not Reckless
3.Sacrifice Luxury not Living
4.Give by faith not by credit
Pastor Lia herself tithed $1 million in 2012 which was her year that she received her cancer payout. Pastors also sold off their house in the initial years of building the church, when Pastor Lia was pregnant in order to contribute to the church funds. According to the church’s financial statements which can be found in the charity portal, the church only has one year of expenses as reserves, which is very low compared to other churches.
As most of the members are youths and students, the church does recognise the effort of those who go above and beyond to tithe. Many of them are even told by the church leaders to reduce their tithes out of concern. Members are often told that they are valued for being them, and not valued based on the amount that they tithe.
The tragedy of online media is that when taken at face value, they mould one-sided viewpoints of a certain subjects. The purpose of this article is to challenge the accuracy of the claims made about HOGC on Reddit in an objective manner. Let us not be passive consumers of online information. It is so easy to watch videos online, read things online, and take everything that is said on face value, but it is so important that we scrutinize information that’s given to us, look it up on our own, gather evidence, and reach our own conclusions.
It is so important to have an educated conversation before coming to our own conclusions. We hope that this article gives you a more balanced perspective about HOGC.