A Singapore church sustains a youth movement for more than two decades.
At age 15, Stefan runs the soundboard at his church. He is the youngest sound engineer at Heart of God Church in Singapore, working complex equipment that enables roughly 4,300 people to worship each week. But he is not the youngest member. Across the entire church, the average age is 22. Young people lead and run virtually everything.
Stefan’s story is typical. “Before I knew God,” he reflects, “I was often found in the discipline master’s office at school. In the afternoons, I would play video games for up to seven hours. I was purposeless.”
Then someone invited him to church. As he responded to the message about Jesus, his life changed. Over time he joined the sound ministry. “My trainers met with me for hours at a time, teaching me not just technical skills, but also the attitudes behind volunteering. Now my life has changed for the better,” he says.
Heart of God Church describes itself as a youth church—and it has done so for all 21 years since its founding. “Youth are leaders today, not just tomorrow” is an often-heard phrase championed by husband-wife team Tan Seow How (Pastor How) and Cecilia Chan (Pastor Lia). It’s been reality since they started the church when both were in their mid-20s. Initially How would preach to the group in the living room, and Lia would run children’s church in the room upstairs.
IT STARTED WITH NINE
Heart of God Church today has an unwavering focus on reaching, discipling and training young people. This commitment started when Lia spotted a group of nine teenagers that was fast getting too old for children’s church. She was burdened for them, and she kept pondering Isaiah 58:12, a verse God spoke to her when she herself was a youth: “You shall raise up the foundations of many generations.”
So she started what she called a connect group for those nine youths. While investing in and discipling them, she and her husband fostered in them a heart for others. Little did anyone know that little teen group would grow into thousands of young people. Some have even become the next generation of pastors at Heart of God Church. “We believed that God could and would use these youths to be world changers and history makers,” Lia reflects.
The church’s name is based on Acts 13:22, where God spoke of King David as someone “after my own heart, who will do all my will.”
CONSTANT SMALL GROUP DISCIPLESHIP
The church has outgrown facility after facility. It first met in an industrial park, repurposing the office of How’s father’s business. In 2013 and 2016, the church launched campaigns that each resulted in over 1,000 decisions for Jesus Christ.
The church’s emphasis on connect groups continued with each stage of growth. “We believe that as our church grows bigger, it has to feel smaller,” How says. Connect group members frequently hang out together after each worship service every weekend. Volunteering is also an expectation.
Today more than 70% of regular attenders are first-generation Christians, more than 80% attend connect group meetings, more than 80% serve in ministry actively. The leader-to-member ratio is a low 1:3, which affirms a strong, ongoing emphasis on leadership development.
In fact, the training has spilled over to the greater church, with several immersive experiences and internship opportunities that draw people from many countries now part of the church’s annual cycle.
HOW TO FINANCIALLY SUSTAIN A YOUTH MOVEMENT
When it moved into its third location as an 8-year-old church, regular attendance was about 120 adults and about 700 young people. Those numbers suggest financial challenges that How quickly affirms with a smile. “Pioneering a church is hard enough, but building a church with youths is bordering on stupidity. Youths come with empty pockets and even emptier stomachs.”
As with many church planters, the financial sacrifices were personal from opening their home to paying out of diminishing savings to bus kids every weekend to and from the gatherings. Buying a guitar or a computer was an exercise of faith and prayer. But youths and their parents grew in financial discipleship, even as the church continued to reach new people.
Plus there were many miracles of God’s financial provision. One significant avenue of support came from How’s business. Initially, he gave up his father’s business to become a pastor, but 14 years later at his father’s death, How reluctantly took over the business when it was deeply in debt. Through an incredible series of turnarounds and miracles, the business is now a multimillion-dollar company making a solid profit.
“I make money from the world to give to the church. I don’t make money from church members so that I can enjoy the world,” says How, who views himself both as a pastor and a businessman.
KEEPING THE BAR HIGH
“Train them, lead them, give them vision.” Armed by that value, Heart of God Church lets young people lead and entrusts them with significant responsibilities. “Our mantra is ‘Generations are not replacements. Generations are reinforcements,’” Lia says. “Forming a deep bench of generations of quality ministry volunteers has become our key to running sustainably and serving God at a high level.”
Indeed, they’ve been at it long enough now to see the fruit across Singapore and beyond. “Raise up generations of people who are willing to give God the best years of their lives, and God will use these generations to impact all levels of society and all walks of life,” How says.
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HEART OF GOD CHURCH
Co-Pastors: Tan Seow How and Cecilia Chan