The above report was published on the front page of the free tabloid, My Paper on 10 March 2009. The almost $19 million mentioned in the headline was the amount of money raised by New Creation Church on 15 Feb 2009 which was designated as "Miracle Seed Sunday" for its church members to sow into the new building project at Buona Vista.
I did not read the report from the physical newspaper but rather the online version. The difference between the physical and online version is that the online version allows netizens to post their comments on the report and predictably, there were a lot of mean spirited comments which can be summarized into the following points:
1. NCC does not need to have its own building
When I first attended NCC in 2003, average attendance was about 10,000 but now in 2009, it has nearly doubled to about 18,000 and continuing to grow. Presently, on a typical Sunday, NCC holds 4 English worship services at the Rock Auditorium at Suntec City Mall which can seat about 1,400 people. Live video is also fed to Eng Wah Cinema (for the first service only), overflow rooms on the 4th floor and 6th floor as well as at Gallery West in Suntec Convention Centre. The Chinese Church and Children's Church hold their services at various ballrooms in Suntec Convention Centre. All these premises are rented and cost NCC a lot of money.
However, whenever there are any major exhibitions held at Suntec Convention Centre, the Chinese Church and the Children Church will have to move to another location eg. Swissotel the Stamford and Marina Mandarin Hotel. This is very tedious for not only the logistics team but also church members who have children attending Children's Church and parents attending the Chinese Church.
The present situation is already not ideal but what happens if Suntec City is sold to new owners who have different plans and decide to redevelop the site? Where can NCC accommodate 18,000 members for Sunday services at short notice?
It is thanks to the foresight of NCC's leadership that it had thought over this problem for a long time and when the opportunity arrived, NCC took advantage of it and bidded for the One-North project and God granted NCC success.
2. NCC should not spend so much money building its own church
Many critics say that NCC should not be spending so much money (budgeted at almost $500 million) to build a church building; it is too extravagant. These critics do not realize the difficulty of constructing a church building in Singapore.
In the first place, it is very difficult to find a suitable piece of land, especially so in land-scarce Singapore. To build a church on the land, the land must be specifically zoned for religious purposes and it is not easy to find one that is correctly zoned and also in a suitable location. Moreover, land zoned for religious purposes have only a 30-year lease. For NCC's situation, the land must also be big enough to build a church that can house 20,000 members.
A case in point is City Harvest Church. In 2001, CHC built a 2,300-seater, titanium-clad church complex in Jurong West Street 91 for S$48,000,000. Apart from that, it has offices and schools in five different locations. If you visit CHC's church complex, you will find that it is on a rather small plot of land, and to maximize the use of the land, CHC built not only upwards but also downwards by incorporating several basement levels into its design.
However, despite the ingenious design, the church complex can no longer accommodate CHC's growing membership and CHC is now conducting its Sunday services at the Singapore Expo and also embarking on another church building project.
God has given NCC the opportunity to circumvent these problems with the One-North project at Buona Vista. NCC is not constructing a church building; it is constructing a commercial building in partnership with CapitaLand.
The One-North project allows NCC to solve the problem of "30-year lease for land zoned for religious purpose" because the land is now zoned for commercial purpose and thus have a 60-year lease. Moreover, because the project is a civic and cultural plaza cum shopping complex, the land is also conveniently located next to Buona Vista MRT station. This huge project allows NCC to incorporate a 5,000-seater auditorium into the design, which it will use for its Sunday worship services.
Constructing a commercial building requires a huge amount of money, much much more than for a church building. It was prudent of NCC to have brought in CapitaLand as a partner for the retail and entertainment zone of the complex while NCC takes over the civic and cultural zone.
One of the benefits of having a commercial building versus a dedicated church building is that when the church is not using the facilities, they can be rented out to generate income; if you do a tour of church buildings during weekdays, you will find many of them are just empty shells, sitting there looking holy.
3. NCC should not be building now as times are bad
The One-North project was awarded to NCC on 7 Sep 2007 and during that time, the economy was booming! In fact, the economy was running so fast that NCC had to revise its original budget of $280 million to almost $500 million partly because of the rising cost of construction materials.
Now that the economy is on a downturn, it is a blessing for NCC since the cost of construction materials will be coming down and the One-North project is also a blessing for the Singapore economy since it will be contributing to output from the construction sector.
Moreover, all glory goes to God when the project is completed because all this is achieved in a time of famine.
4. Some of the funds for the building project could have been given to charity
A church is not a charitable organisation. While a church should and does engage in charity work, its primary focus is not charity but the feeding of heavenly manna to the congregation.
Even though $19 million is a huge sum of money, it must be noted that it is just 3.8% of the $500 million budgeted cost. The $19 million was contributed by church members in response to the Senior Pastor's call to sow specifically into the building project on 15 Feb 2009. Church members contributed knowing that the full amount will go into the building fund.
While the One-North project is still ongoing, NCC has not been slack in giving to charity. On 14 Dec 2008, church members responded to the church leadership's call to contribute to the Boys Brigade Sharity Gift Box (BBSGB) project and NCC donated about $150,000 worth of daily necessities and household needs to the BBSGB’s beneficiaries.
Over the last 12 months, NCC has also made donations to the following:
Yayasan MENDAKI ($100,000 , 21/2/09)
Kampong Kapor Family Service Centre ($1,750 , 25/1/09)
Celebrate Christmas In Singapore (CCIS) 2008 ($100,000 , Dec 2008)
ChildAid 2008 ($50,000 , 3/12/08)
Football Association of Singapore’s (FAS) Golf Challenge ($10,000 , 9/11/08)
Mercy Relief ($50,000 , 20/10/08)
Sichuan Earthquake Charity Show ($100,000 , 25/8/08)
Myanmar Cyclone Relief through Feed The Hungry ($50,000 , 13/5/08)
5. The money to be spent building the church could be better utilized elsewhere
Some people argue that instead of spending $500 million to construct a church building, the money could be better utilized elsewhere. Some have suggested that the money could be used for missions work and evangelism.
Firstly, NCC is not constructing a church building; it is constructing a commercial complex in partnership with CapitaLand.
CapitaLand owns the retail and entertainment zone of the complex while NCC through its commercial arm, Rock Productions owns the civic and cultural zone. NCC's main interest is in the 5,000-seater auditorium which it can use for its Sunday worship services.
Secondly, the $500 million budgeted for the new building cannot be viewed in isolation.
The $500 million headline figure is a huge number but it must be noted that this figure is a conservative budget figure with provisions for cost increases and for a project with a 60 year lease. It must also be compared against the amount of money that NCC is spending every month (about $800,000 if I remember correctly from Deacon Matthew Kang’s presentation) to accomodate the 18,000 strong and still growing congregation.
Doing a simple calculation, over 60 years, assuming no increase in existing rental fees and no increase in renting space, this works out to about $576 million. When the congregation grows even more, more space needs to be rented which will then result in higher rental costs incurred.
We still have not considered the fact that the space that NCC is renting now is not guaranteed. As it is now, NCC’s Chinese Church and Children’s Church have to be conducted away from Suntec City once in a while due to non-availability of rooms which were booked for other conventions or trade shows.
Whether NCC builds or rents, about $500 million or more will be spent either way. However, the new building at One-North gives NCC the assurance of guaranteed space for the next 60 years.
NCC does not need to answer all those critics of its One-North project. NCC only needs to answer to its members and it had done so through several briefings in 2007. It has also posted a list of FAQs and periodic updates on its website.
It must be noted that NCC has never collected any funds from the general public. All the funds are contributed voluntarily by the church members.
I don't see why all those critics should make any noise since not a single cent of their money is involved. Imagine how you would feel if your next-door neighbour appears at your doorstep one day and starts criticizing you for the way you are spending your OWN money. What would you say to that nosy neighbour?
I can think of only two words ...