Loving People Where They Are

When Covenant Evangelical Free Church in Singapore built its first facility and was about to move in, Senior Pastor Edmund Chan met with Tan Kay Kiong, then-pastor of family life ministry at the church.

“We need to establish a [center for] community service and to love people with no strings attached,” Chan told him. 

As they prayed, the two men settled on the idea of surveying the community to identify felt needs the church could meet in the name of Jesus. Quality childcare rose to the top of the survey results, so what would become New Life Community Services Center (NewLife.org.sg) started in 2000 with taking care of children as its first ministry. 

“Some nonbelievers were wary of bringing their children to our church-based childcare,” Kiong says. “But others somehow believed that it could be good for their children.”

“Our move finally put us in a community heartland,” Chan explains. “We really desire to love people where they are.”

From Small Beginnings

That single, small-scale ministry launched 22 years ago. Today, Covenant Evangelical Free Church draws some 5,000 people each weekend to its three worship centers across Singapore, and its New Life Community Services offers 120 different ministries to the community. 

When New Life Community Services started, eight volunteers became the first board. Today, New Life has a larger staff than Covenant Evangelical Free does. Currently, New Life’s budget is about half the size of the church’s budget, with 20% coming from corporate donations and government grants, since it’s a separately registered “Institution of Public Character” charity. The remainder of the New Life budget comes from the people of the church and from income from programs and services provided.

Kiong, who succeeded Chan in 2012 initially as co-senior pastor, says, “When Pastor Edmund asked me to come up with a plan [for community service] back then, we were not able even to conceive where we are today.”

A Simple Plan

“From its beginning, our community service seeks to bless people of all languages, races and religions, with no strings attached,” Kiong explains. 

One of New Life’s medical programs, for example, began when people at the church observed that many hospital patients were being discharged before they were fully recovered, leaving them housebound and unable to return to work. New Life began sending medical professionals to visit these patients in their homes. If one of them expresses a spiritual need, the doctor or nurse might then ask, “Would you like a pastor to come and pray for you?”

The simplicity works because the church keeps addressing deeply felt needs, which often are voiced by the community itself. 

“One time a school called on us, asking if we would consider [creating] a literacy program for migrants, whose numbers are rapidly increasing in Singapore,” Kiong says. The goal was to help the children of migrant workers learn to read. 

“When children go from failing math and science to being able to learn, the parents come to us, sometimes crying for joy, thanking us for helping them,” Kiong says. “That often gives us an opportunity to explain the gospel.

“We don’t hide our motivation,” he adds. “Our biggest concern is to represent God well as we cross the bridge into our community and to welcome opportunities to invite Singaporeans to cross the bridge into our fellowship.”

Today, New Life runs three childcare centers, three student care centers, two youth hubs and a children’s program section. They emphasize imparting life skills and character values to the next generation through literacy programs, mentoring for children and youths, and more. In addition, a counseling and financial assistance department aids the marginalized and needy. Currently, New Life is developing active aging programs to support the needs of the elderly in addition to what is already in place.

Doing More Together

“The forerunners of community services in Singapore were the Catholics, Anglicans and Methodists who established needed hospitals and mission schools,” Kiong says. “We learned from them.” 

Evangelical Free Church leaders also learned what it means to serve the community when it joined with other churches and Christian leaders to form the “Love Singapore” movement, which focused largely on praying together as one church.  

“The impact made was not just a single community but the whole of the city itself,” Kiong says. “Together, we were able to do more for Jesus. We just keep building bridges into our community. It takes a lot of time and money, but the payoff is eternal.”

Senior Pastor: Tan Kay Kiong
Website: CEFC.org.sg
Founded: 1978
Attendance: 5,000

Warren Bird, an Outreach magazine contributing editor, is the vice president of research at ECFA, former research director for Leadership Network and author of more than 30 books for church leaders.

Warren Bird
Warren Bird

Warren Bird, an Outreach magazine contributing editor, is the vice president of research at ECFA, former research director for Leadership Network and author of more than 30 books for church leaders.