In definition, megachurch refers to any Protestant congregation with a sustained average weekly attendance of 2,000 persons or more in its worship services. They usually have a charismatic senior minister. Community Care (Social service) and outreach ministries are in multitude extend. In Australia, Hillsong Church (新頌教會) was celebrated its 25th year when we went to join their Sydney Hillsong Conference 2011 during 4-8 July.
Hillsong has regular attraction of 20,000 people to its weekend services in Australia. Its church growth doubled in size every 12 months for the past four years. With the emphasis of individual’s relationship with the invisible God, self-recognition of personal evangelism is essential. Fundamentally, it has word-of-mouth marketing on the quality music and upbeat services. In the “symbolic marketplace”, Hillsong’s size, rapid growth and commercial “success” has earned a lot in terms of finance, reputation, God’s power and presence.
We have to consider our threefold common commitment (to the church, to its mission and to its renewal). What can we learn from this megachurch Hillsong? I am looking from the windows of Hillsong. By reviewing the elements of Hillsong’s church growth, different areas including church leadership, political influence, reach and outreach, community care, worshipping & youth ministry, and support, are discussed in details with local Hong Kong examples. Church’s calling is to develop a Christian counter-culture rather than call to ape the world. “A living church” is our ultimate goal.
In Bill Hybels’ book “Courageous Leadership” says that excellence honors God and inspires people. Pastors are not CEO.
Senior Pastor Brian Houston and his wife Bobbie were the main leaders in Hillsong. Pastor Brian is a tall man with piercing blue eyes. “No worries” is his living style. His prayer and devotion alone with the Harley-Davidson stimulated cultural changes to Hillsong. He is attractive and has the charismas of being a preacher and church leader. Hillsong Church’s self-proclaimed mission: “To reach and influence the world by building a large Bible-based church, changing mindsets, and empowering people to lead and impact every sphere of life" is leading to the successful growth of a megachurch. Do we have charismatic pastors like Hillsong Church’s Brian & Bobbie Houston in Hong Kong?
In Hong Kong, most of the pastors in local churches are serious and always do not smile. About 90% whom I met are traditional scholar style. During the sermon, dignified atmosphere caused the congregants in stress. At least, these are my personal experience. In my opinion, there are a number of charismatic local pastors. Since the step down of Rev. Eddie Kin-Ming Ma from Shau Kei Wan Baptist Church (馬建明牧師 - 前筲箕灣浸信會, Web: http://skwbc.org/), his amazing worshipping with guitar and message were no longer been seen in the public. On the other hand, I really missed the vivid speech of Rev. Ping-Kwong Li of Methodist Church (李炳光牧師 - 香港循道衛理聯合教會, Web: http://pkli.com/), who had retired and he was my chaplain when I was in primary school.
The Hillsong (Leadership) Network (Web: https://hillsongnetwork.com/) launched with the objective of connecting individuals and churches finally to be partnership. Local church leaders were encouraged to join the Hillsong Network for continuous support and growth. Hillsong’s signature event – the annual Hillsong Conference in Sydney and its planted area welcomes local and even overseas church leaders to join. Resources, online training and courses are available.
Besides life-on-life discipleship, Christian education is important because “a living church is a learning church”. Looking around, some of our local churches already have their own training center, seminary or bible institute. For example, in Yan Fook Bible Institute of EFCC Yan Fook Church (中國播道會恩福堂 - 恩福聖經學院), they have special programs for the so-called three stages for each “seeker” (new believer). Rev. Patrick Wing-Chi So (蘇穎智牧師) emphasized that the establishment of a system rather than depending on a specific person. Because of group leader training and bible training, they raised many coworkers, deacons and elders. Pastor Geoff Surratt in his book also mentioned about the most and the first common mistake of pastors in hindering the church growth is “Trying to do it all”. It makes pastors overworked and underproductive. There is no biblical warrant for the so-called one-man band. I had heard about a half-jokingly parable from our Executive Director, who is based in London: “Don’t keep monkeys on your back”. The most important thing is to take a proactive approach to building the pastoral team with right people and work together following the biblical principles. “When you are the first person, you are a crazy guy; when you have 1 more person, you are a leader; then, 3 as a CLOUD!” (reference Matthew 18:20)
Other examples such as Church Institute in EFCC Tung Fook Church (中國播道會同福堂 - 教會學校) and 611 College of 611 Bread of Life Christian Church (611靈糧堂 - 611學房) are closed group for the training of church leaders and parishioners only. We nowadays have about 1,250 local (Chinese) churches in Hong Kong, where the majority of them had less than 100 people. The training of people to be servants of God in proclaiming His Word is the mission of seminaries such as Alliance Bible Seminary of C & M A (基督教宣道會 - 建道神學院), Evangel Seminary of EFCC (中國播道會 - 播道神學院), Divinity School of Chung Chi College of CUHK (香港中文大學 - 崇基學院神學院), and 20 others in Hong Kong.
In Hong Kong, we do not have a network like Hillsong (Leadership) Network for sharing of resources among pastors and church workers. In practice, we sometimes have difficulties to invite pastors of different denominations together to join a single event. If we are unity in Jesus, we could network pastors to share their experience in all aspect especially how to lead a church. Small churches might benefit from such valuable experience on how to establish a health church.
In Australia, Hillsong factor in political influence were hot discussion points. In 2002, the Prime Minister, John Howard attended the opening of Hillsong’s 3,500-seat auditorium at Castle Hill. Peter Costello, the treasurer, has spoken at Hillsong’s annual conference. The pre-election visits by politicians, Peter Costello and Bob Carr to Hillsong in 2007, were scrutinized by the public that these contacts were evidence of lobbying a church with 20,000-plus members. Hillsong’s influence in Australia’s politic has many adverse comments.
I had once joined the Purple Antelope Fellowship (Sisters Group) of EFCC Kong Fook Church (港福堂) during December 2008 to July 2009 (Web: http://www.kongfok.org/sisters/). And, I attended the Saturday or Sunday Service in Kong Fook Church with average of twice a month. In January 2009, parishioners were being asked to send an email or letter to “say no” to the Review of the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance. The Community Care Group of Kong Fook Church even sent every sister a powerpoint file to explain the circumstances surroundings, and asking to join the petition on 10 January, 2009 outside the Legislative Counsel.
In 2010, Rev. Daniel Chung-man Ng had a public speaking at a prayer meeting (「為香港求平安」祈禱會) on 7 February. There had noise about complaining that he was campaigning for voters to cast “blank votes" in an upcoming special election on 16 May, viewed as a referendum on political reform in the territory. The pastor in-charge of Purple Antelope came over and gave advance warning of the expected harass by protestors to church services on coming Sunday, 18 April. Various critics were coming from both inside and outside the church in the following months.
In fact, some of the government key persons, politicians and financial talents are members of Kong Fook Church. Although we were belonging to different cell groups, we could meet them on the Saturday or Sunday Services and annual Christmas banquet. As told by one of our Board of Directors, they have regular prayer meetings (political prayer breakfast) in the government office daily, weekly and monthly for different level of networking. Another example is, Senior Pastors of an English church and Christian organization’s management people had joint the monthly breakfast fellowship on the top bank’s Level 41 Turner Room. In workplace, Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International (HK) (香港國際全備福音商人團契, Web: http://www.fgb.com.hk/db/index.html) has members from more than 200 different churches. CBMC Hong Kong Limited (香港工商基督徒協會, Web: http://www.cbmc.org.hk/) now has prayer meeting in more than 11 districts. What is the reflection? To flourish the church growth, would God bless them to closely hear from Lord about their mission of evangelism in their professional field.
Pastor Brian’s speaking of people “see the growth of the church as a threat” and “they would feel is the growing of fundamentalism and what that threatens”, in certain extent could not apply to Hong Kong. In Chinese culture, the separation between church and government is traditionally unbreakable. In turn, Mr. Bruce Clemenger, the president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada had spoken of “Church should speak into politics rather than becoming a partisan” is a reminder to us. Because politicians are in public service and they care about their community, government, and nation, as church it is important to find the common ground and ways that we can serve Him.
A living church is an evangelizing church. A church should not be a closed-door, a four-walls and sacrosanct place. Gospel is not only for personal salvation, but it is for the salvation of the entire culture and society. We need to reach out to the community and the world around us (Reference Acts 2:44~45). Our church should ongoing to be the center of a community.
Megachurch Hillsong is facing with many critics. But, Pastor Brian’s belief of “ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in individual believers and holistic mission” had driven the church growth of Hillsong to mega even global reach to many countries. The global reach of Hillsong Church to London, Paris, Kiev (Ukraine), Moscow (Russia) and Berlin (Germany) in 2007 had church plants there. Meanwhile, it also has services in Cape Town (South Africa), Stockholm (Sweden) and New York City. Megachurch in multi-site model as interpreted by evangelical pastor Rick Warren as “one church, multiple locations. One church, multiple venues”. It is not a modern phenomenon, but a biblical concept.
The reaching of local churches however is planting principally in 18 districts of Hong Kong. For example, my mother church’s denomination member, North Point Alliance Church (宣道會北角堂http://www.npac.org.hk/intro/index.htm) had branch churches like Sun Oi Church (宣愛堂) and Sun Kei Church (宣基堂), which were already independent churches in Tseung Kwan O. Lok Fu Alliance Church (樂富堂), Discovery Bay Alliance Church (愉景灣堂), Tung Chung Church (東涌堂), Yan Tong Church (油塘堂) and Sun Lai Church (宣麗堂) in Ma Wan are branch churches in different districts.
English church like Evangelical Community Church (also known simply as ECC, Web: http://www.ecchk.org/) in Kowloon began a new church in Hong Kong island, which is Island ECC (Web: http://www.islandecc.hk/) in 1999. In October 2010, Island ECC planted a daughter church Watermark Community Church (Web: http://watermarkchurch.hk/) in Cyberport. Besides local planting, many churches have global reach to overseas. For example, 611 Bread of Life Christian Church has 5,000 congregation and it had already planted more than 10 branch churches in overseas, especially in Malaysia, Singapore, Macau and Philippine.
In the Sydney Hillsong Conference 2011, there was only one ‘offering’ talk that got our backs up. That speaker was not associated with Hillsong church. Initially in the video clip, it showed the story of a poor girl, who supported by an NGO since her childhood. She was educated, graduated and trained. Now, she was employed by that NGO as a ministry staff and helping kids like her childhood. After the video, this lady came up to the stage and appeal for the NGO. It is a completely “helping people to self-help”, then “helping people to self-serving”. “Tell stories” becoming the primary means of communicating beliefs, which adopted by many English churches in Hong Kong to broadcast congregant’s “My Story” on WEB sites.
There had complaint by conference attendees about raising the offering for poor. However, this is the purpose of the conference as told by Pastor Bobbie. And, calls for offering during each Hillsong Conference are part of the program and it is the ultimate goal of the church – helping the poor. Pastor Brian believed that the Spirit was upon him to reach hurting people. The sharing of environment, homelessness, slavery, etc. in the 2011 conference was tackled well. “The church is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body in which he speaks and acts and fills everything with his presence.” is the motto of Hillsong. These 15,000 delegates are coming from all around the world with different ethnic, cultural and denominational background to come together for worshipping and glorify Lord. We four people were one of them in 2011.
Outreach programs can be diversified. The Hillsong Foundation at 2007 supported many outreach activities. It closely works with Samaritan’s Purse, Watoto in Uganda, and Joyce Meyer Ministries. Hope Rwanda (Web: www.hoperwanda.org), which was founded by Darlene Zschech and her husband Mark in 2004. However, Zschech left Hillsong and her husband are now the Senior Pastors of Hope Unlimited Church.
In Hong Kong, we could simply co-operate with Red Cross in the blood donation activity. Although my mother church has about 400 congregations only, we had already held twice blood donation in the community center. We supplied snack and drinks for the donors. Our volunteers helped out to distribute flyers about church and chatting with them. We are telling people who we are in the community. In Mid-Autumn Festival, we have brothers and sisters to visit the elderly who are living alone or without families. Mini moon cakes are given away. Of course, some of them had been invited to join our church services.
People love to eat. Our Senior Ministry had hosted a dinner party for the elderly in last year. Most of them are living alone or referral by the social service centers. We share Jesus love with the community by host a meal. They joined our Saturday Afternoon Service, which is especially for elderly and worship with Gospel in Cantonese Opera. Praise the Lord that a few of them were baptized in these two years.
Many kids need a safe place to go after school before their parents get home from work. Sometimes, kids might even just need somewhere to go to do their homework. After school program like tutoring offered by church is most welcomed by parents. For youth, some churches have Students’ Study Room. Also, we might join the multi social service agency, St. James’ Settlement as volunteer to support charities, culture and civic activities. Let’s bring Jesus’ love into the community.
If you have passion to serve, you may go overseas outreach when holidays and budget allowed. A mission trip could help to bring unity to our world. If we take the church out into the world, the world will come into you. Megachurch like Yan Fook Church, they have some permanent outreach stations. You may help with disaster relief. For example, my girl-friend, Kman is a retired lady, who is now serving in Cambodia as lay missionary. Island ECC has over 200 outreach programs per year. Refugee Ministry of The Vine Church is another kind of outreach missionary program.
A living church is a caring and sharing church. Generosity has always been a characteristic of the people of God. This is kingdom-inspired generosity. Fellowship is the truth of both what we share in together and what we should share out together (Reference: Acts 4:32~37). Hillsong has teaching of “it is the responsibility of individual Christian disciples to take revival into the world”. (Matthew 28:19a). As church, we should be a community-gathering place as well and move into the neighborhood. Let’s minister to our neighbors and communities.
Hillsong City Care (formerly Hillsong Emerge) extends the community arm of Hillsong to help & support people when they need help. An example of Raelene & Rachel, whom be helped by Hillsong to start a fashion business and won $15,000 from the Social Ventures Australia “Big Boost” awards. Further surfing the current WEB site of Hillsong City Care (Web: http://myhillsong.com/citycare/citycare-course), there are more than that, for example, Counseling, Sexual Abuse: Freedom & Education Program, Emergency Relief, Health Center, Strengthening Families, etc.
In consideration of financial support, holidays need, mission in different context, etc., some churches in Hong Kong are actually doing a good job. For example, community center and social services center affiliated with Methodist churches, Anglican (Sheng Kung Hui) churches, Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, C & M A churches like North Point Alliance Church and Shatin Alliance Church, etc. provide community care and service.
On 2 April 2010, Rev. Peter Chi-Dik Ho (何志滌牧師) of EFCC Tung Fook Church at an Easter Joint Worship in AsiaWorld-Expo, he reminded the 4,000 congregation to follow Jesus to be salt & light, and learn from “A cup of water” (「一杯涼水」, reference Matthew 25:31~46; John 7:37~39). Christian social responsibility depends on socially responsible Christians. We have weapons for social change, such as prayer, evangelism, example, argument, action and suffering. Tung Fook Church’s social services are in wide range (Web: http://www.tungfook.com/tungfook/tfwv7/social.aspx). For example, they have run two Alpha for Prison courses in a year. They welcome ex-inmates to join the church and they have two baptized in last year. To care about people with intellectual disabilities, they have a “Gem Ministry” for them, including their parents and guardians. Another well-established gospel station for the handicap, The Ark Community (Web: http://www.arkcomm.org/home/) is formed by the Shatin Alliance Church and Breakthrough Corporate. It has worship and service, Sunday school, outreach programs, fellowship and evangelized activities.
In a survey released by the Hong Kong Church Renewal Movement, young people attending church had grown from 11,000 in 2004 to nearly 25,000 in 2009 (with 56% growth).
Youth is a missionary focus group. The development of youth work and the integration of church ministry with student outreach are now the focus of many churches. The youth tend to be impatient with the traditional structures of the church. The new cultural reality is searching of its soul. They prefer relaxed, spontaneous and liberated gathering. Many Gen-Xers no longer follow the religion of their parents. The postmodern values are experiential, spiritual, communal, creative, environmental, global, holistic, etc. The postmodern generations have simply chosen to ignore the organized (traditional) church despite the spiritual requirement or condition.
A living church is a worshipping church. The church worship should be both joyful and reverent. Hillsong Church members are mostly next generation consisting of young professionals. Facing the threat of post-modernism, this is somewhat a cultural matching with our youth, young adults and even Gen-X service. Hillsong started their Hillsong conferences regularly in church and school halls in 1985. The influence of Hillsong’s music to the contemporary Christians is incredible. Hillsong Church is taking music and message out of the church and into the lives of those in need. Postmodern worship embraces the experienced Word and brings the body back into the worship event. Worship expresses a Body & Mind Holism. Body movements and dance moves featured on Hillsong church music and Pentecostal-style congregational songs. In the Hillsong conference, it usually showed a typical Hillsong-branded depiction of the Great Commission. By the use of sophisticated moving visual picture and strobe lights showed Hillsong’s self-proclaimed mission.
Pastor Rick Warren said "A healthy body is made up of large group worship, small group fellowship." Irrespective of the style of worship, God is both audience and participant with us all the way. Congregations are not an audience watching the people on stage but entire congregation is actively and creatively engaged in offering worship. Did you ever sing the song “Shout to the Lord” with your congregants on the Sunday Service? This song was written by a famous worship pastor Darlene Zschech. Each week, it is estimated that 25 million Christians sing this song worldwide.
With their youth ministry and band, Hillsong United (Web: http://hillsongunited.com) had already released about 50 praise and worship recordings and selling worldwide. With such publicity, the Hillsong music penetrates other churches, and other denominations. With the model of event-style evangelism and using simple visuals, songs and multimedia, they focus in one purpose and passion: Worship. Hillsong was being criticized on placing their focus and energy on church growth by worshipping music and more of mega marketing in international entertainment. Congregational worship is one of the four “Truth Worship” as defined by John Stott (reference Psalm 149:1). Worship leads to witness and witness to worship. People come to Christ for worship and go for Christ in mission.
Everyone knows that Youth Ministry is the key factor in the church growth. For instance, there are numbers of local worship team and band are playing key roles in Hong Kong, for example, The Vine Band from The Vine Church (released 3 albums already, Web: www.thevineband.com), an outstanding guitarist & singer, Jonathan Pettigrew of International Christian Assembly (ICA), Island ECC (In 2010, the worship team also known as The Emancipated, released its first-ever worship album), Rev Maria Lai-Sze Lau of Methodist Tai Po Church and Pastor Wai-Kay Ng (Web: http://www.5kay.com/) of Spring of Elim Ministry (Web: http://springselim.com/), Rev Eddie Ma & his daughter Johanna Ma’s worship CD by Shau Kei Wan Baptist Church & many others. These are amazing gift from God.
As a youth worker in this postmodern context, we are missionaries and called to dance with the youth culture. With simple living in a holistic life, we are building the Christ-centered community and the body of Christ. I love postmodern and contemporary worship, for example, songs from Hillsong, Planetshakers, Delirious, Tim Hughes, The Vine Band, etc. I had attended many local and overseas churches. Except those traditional churches, I could find at least one song written by Hillsong at every worship service.
There were 5,000 volunteers in the Sydney Hillsong Conference 2011. The welcoming by ushers was warm and friendly. They turn the welcome space into a safe place for all delegates. They helped people to find available seats even when it was almost 99.9% full. In the event, you could see many delegates using headphones for live translation, especially Korean. And, all translators including sign language translation are voluntary workers. As commented by Brian Wallis, a UK Pastor attended the Hillsong Conference in UK were, the event was community-orientated and sophisticated. To host a megachurch activity, his major concern was the budget on IT, AV equipment, sound systems, venue, etc.
In general, many worshipping conference are held by organizations rather than a unique local church in Hong Kong. Every year, overseas organizations such as Stream of Praise Music Ministries (讚美之泉音樂事工, Web: http://www.sop.org/home/home.aspx) will have their annual tour to Hong Kong. Recently, they just finished one in July at Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. In some special occasion, like celebrating church or denomination anniversary, joint worship and service of megachurch will use venue like AsiaWorld-Expo, conference centers in Wan Chai and Kowloon Bay. But, this events are likely to be closed group.
We need hardware to support church growth. In 2004, the megachurch EFCC Yan Fook Church moved into a self-built high rise building "Yan Fook Center". Two auditoriums on 2/F and 18/F provided a capacity of 1,800 people (including the third floor attic) and 480 people respectively. In 2007, they celebrated its 20th anniversary in AsiaWorld-Expo. To serve 5000-member, their pastoral staffs were more than 40 and it had more than 20 ministry departments. In estimation, it had average number of 10,000 people participating on Sunday Worship.
The back office support of local churches in certain extent could not catch up the technology, which would probably modernize the workflow and administrative work in church’s office in turns helping the church growth. By visiting English churches and research on their Web sites, we could see their WEB-based services and applications advanced their connection with the congregants and probably the public (seeker). When you visit the Web site of most of the English churches in Hong Kong, you could probably see the waterfront of Hong Kong Island, with many commercial buildings in the headline picture.
PayPal is an e-commerce business allowing payments and money transfers to be made through the internet (Web: http://en.wikipedia.org/?title=PayPal). Nowadays, using PayPal as online money transfers serve as a means of donation method by many English churches in Hong Kong. However, it is uncommon in the local church network. Some pastors are still learning to catch the trend of internet. When we did cold call about ministry development to senior pastors of local churches, “Still learning to use internet” is a no surprise answer. These are whole new ballgame and the Web of belief.
“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” (Reference Ephesians 4:11~12)
There are no formulas for success in church growth. Sometimes, people take pride of being member of a megachurch. Others might jealous on the mega. I could not forget that a senior pastor was weeping on the phone when we were talking about how difficult to connect all the pastors in his district. Anyway, we do have a number of charismatic megachurch leaders in Hong Kong. They had a wonderful team of pastoral and administration. They fulfill missionary of preaching and teaching to congregants. Church leadership admittedly is the most important factor contributing to the church growth.
In general speaking, the separation of church and government is traditionally in the Chinese network. However, Christian in different government structure, financial organizations, non-government organizations (NGO), private companies, etc. are closely connected despite of their church or denomination background. Political and financial influence is building up inwardly among parishioners in workplace. In turn, it will smooth out the edges of church, government and finance, which will minimize the negative impact to hinder church growth. The diversified reach and outreach programs of local churches brings evangelism. If we can take the church outgoing into the world, so the world will come into us. Evangelism is a way of life, but not only an event. To parishioners or the “being evangelized”, both are win-win situation. God calls us to be a community of love. Evangelism comes through the local church. Looking outward, when our ministries go into communities and reaching our neighbors, it is undeniably contribute to the church growth. That’s why more and more churches are involved in community care.
In Hong Kong, we do not have church music like Hillsong-style congregational singing, large multipurpose auditoria, media-savvy, etc. We mainly are flowering by different music ministries, whatever they are local or overseas. Besides English, songs in Mandarin and Cantonese are not drab to younger crowd and their ministries are excellence in creativity, worship, multimedia, etc. It sustains excellence in bringing people to God. Whatever software or hardware support, church administration and event-driven evangelism will help the church growth into a health church.
Evans, Mark. “Studies in Popular Music : Open up the Doors : Music in the Modern Church”. Equinox Publishing Ltd (Dec 2006): 102~124. Ecumenical Information Network, WEB <http://hkabs.no-ip.org:2051/lib/ein/docDetail.action?docID=10342325> (accessed 26 July 2011). [Reading completed: 1 August 2011]
Gibbs, Eddie, and Bolger, Ryan K. Emerging Churches: creating Christian community in postmodern cultures. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2005. [Reading completed: 4 August 2011]
Leung, Luke. “EFC President: Church should speak into politics rather than becoming partisan
Luke Leung, “EFC President: Church should speak into politics rather than becoming partisan