Sunday, July 1, 2012

City Harvest Saga continues. Analysis into the wealth of City Harvest Church (part 2)

It has been two years since I wrote an analysis on the wealth of City Harvest Church (CHC). This week, news broke out that the Pastor has been arrested over alleged misuse of church funds. It is really amazing that the most fervent defenders of the Pastor are the very victims whom he was alleged to have abused - the stakeholders of City Harvest Church. A business with such loyal following among its stakeholders can easily survive adversities. From this single characteristics springs forth strengths that I shall outline in the subsequent paragraphs. Again, please read this article as a business analysis and not an insinuation that CHC is acquiring wealth through questionable means. I apologize upfront if some readers are still offended.

My observation of events that followed after the arrest has reaffirmed my belief on the wonderful business characteristics of CHC. In addition to the 14 points raised in my first article, I have more to add here;

15. Extremely forgiving customers who will keep coming back for more no matter what

CHC members have taken plenty of battering from the public this week. The moment a person reveals he is from City Harvest Church, people will look upon him like a brain-washed idiot who is unable to see the obvious "truth" (verdict is not out yet, so nobody knows the truth. Wait for Pastor to tell his side of the story first).  The mere association with CHC brings embarrassment.

When a business has such a firm grip on its customers that they refuse to go away despite suffering lots of abuse, this business is on solid ground.

Any business(even reputable ones) that has been in existence long enough will eventually make a big screw-up or even get indicted in scandalous frauds. However, if that business has loyal and forgiving customers like CHC's, it can be assured that its customers will probably keep coming back. It is very hard to erode its customer base as they can take a lot of beating before saying goodbye. Such a business is certainly built-to-last.

16. Very easy to raise money from loyal and trusting shareholders

CHC has a special characteristic in that the customers are also the shareholders because CHC raises funds from its church members.

In my first article, I concluded that if CHC were listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange, I will surely buy it. With the benefit of hindsight, some netizens sneered at this conclusion. They said that I would have lost lots of money this week if CHC were listed as a stock. If CHC were an average business, I would certainly have lost my pants. Most stocks would have crashed on allegations that the Founder has defrauded its shareholders. Shareholders will sell first and ask questions later. Not CHC. Its loyal and trusting shareholders will probably buy on the dips/crashes and no need to ask questions at all. Their faith alone in the company is enough.

With such loyal shareholders, it is very easy for a company to raise new funds for future expansion. It can set up building funds to buy new buildings to house its ever-rising membership. In fact, this was exactly what CHC did 2 years ago when it bought Suntec City.

17. Highly motivated and loyal employees who will work for little money with great passion

City Harvest Church has a unique stakeholder characteristic. The extremely loyal customers and shareholders as mentioned above are also the same group of people who are the employees. Therefore, it naturally follows that CHC has a very loyal team of employees.

HR departments like to say our greatest assets lie in our human resource. Nothing can be more true when this is applied to CHC. Some CHC members (or employees) work as volunteers for little or no money but carry on their work with great passion and sacrificial spirit. Internet stories abound on how much personal time some members devote to church activities. It is a compliment to CHC members on their self-sacrificial spirit in volunteering their free-time for church work (provided they do not neglect their earthly family duties).

These dedicated volunteers are not paid a salary but perform essential operations for the church. This results in tremendous cost savings for operating the company. The company does not need to pay for this voluntary workforce and yet enjoy amazingly high staff morale. I challenge readers to find me another company in the world with such an amazing workforce. Where can you find a passionate voluntary workforce who not only are not paid a salary but actually are encouraged to pay until tears stream down their cheeks in order to have the privilege to work for the company? Little or no salary, high staff morale, work with passion and dedicaion, even pay to work ... WOW!!

The heavy commitment and sacrifice put in by the employees serves yet another advantage to CHC. The more time and money and sacrifice a person puts into an endeavor, the harder it is to let go when the turn of events suggest that he may be wrong. Once he has invested too much, it becomes very hard to "cut loss". A person faced in such a situation may resort to self-denial as a form of psychological defense mechanism to protect himself from facing the pain of meeting reality head-on. It is this defense mechanism which plays an important role in strengthening employee loyalty to the company in crisis times.

CHC enjoys another advantage with the employee pool. In 2010, 47.3% of its members are below the age of 25 and the majority are young professionals aged 25 to 35. The young workforce injects awesome energy and dynamism into the business at little or no cost because they are mostly volunteers.

Having a young membership works towards enhancing corporate loyalty for a church business. When it comes to transmitting a set of beliefs, it is preferable to start with the young as it is easier to shape and mould young minds. Some friends have jokingly suggested starting an Internet church preaching prosperity gospel to get rich (let's ignore the morals of such an enterprise for the sake of discussion).It will not work. To have a firmer grip on the minds of its stakeholders, the church should ensure that members' lives revolve around the church. The more social interaction, the more time/effort put in, the lesser exposure to outside influences from other churches (or even disapproving parents), the tighter will be the bonds. Left alone in front of the computer, people are more discerning and analytical without social pressures from the crowd. Just a few simple searches on Youtube turns out videos highly critical of Prosperity Gospel.

Full-time CHC employees are loyal for a good reason. They are very well rewarded financially. Although CHC is registered as a charity, in the 2008 financial statement, CHC distributed $2.9m out to charity and spent 3.2 times more ($9.29m) on its own employees. This will motivate its volunteer workforce to work hard to get a chance to join its full-time staff.

To sum up, with the extremely loyal team of employees, shareholders and customers, CHC as a business is unbeatable.

18. Need not incur any expense to deliver on customer promises

This business characteristic distinguishes City Harvest from all other businesses I have encountered. If a customer entrusts huge sums of money to a bank which promises 30-fold, 60-fold, 100-fold returns and the bank does not return a single cent, the customer can sue for fraud. If a Prosperity Gospel church makes similar promises and fails to deliver, the customer will have to die first and find out the truth on Judgment day. In the mean time, the Church can cite the Bible story of Job and tell its followers to be patient. Better still, a sharp businessman can turn adversity into opportunity by telling its followers the reason they are not prosperous is that they have not given enough to the Church. Did you give until your heart breaks? Did you give until tears stream down your cheeks? If not, do not expect God to repay you with prosperity in Harvest proportions.

The CHC business is able to collect revenue on a service offering that does not require expenses to be incurred in its development. Even better, if delivery quality falters, tell the customer it is his fault because he did not pay enough. The customer has no way to verify on this claim. He probably will pay more eventually. What can be more wonderful for a business than that?

PS: Throughout history, religious organizations have a strong controlling power over their followers because they can make claims that cannot be proven (obey me and you shall go to Heaven), promises that need not be delivered (give me and you shall be prosperous) and threats that cannot be verified (defy me and you shall go to Hell). Under such uncertainty, even intelligent people lose their critical faculty to discern out of fear and greed. Christian crusaders were told they will go to heaven if they die in war. Same goes for the Muslim terrorists. More than a thousand years ago, the Roman Catholic Church claimed it could forgive sins on behalf of God so that rich donors can enter the Kingdom of God if they donate enough money to the Church. Behind every great fortune probably lies a great sin, this was great business.

Who knows for sure if they are right? There is no way to know until Judgment day. What we can be sure is that the interpretations of the holy book certainly suits right for those manipulative and self-serving religious leaders (who are exceptions rather than the rule). I believe religions are good with the best of intentions for their followers. Having a religion has its advantages but be mindful of manipulation by people who use religion as a tool to advance their own interest. I have no doubt these people truly believe in their own message, otherwise they could not have been so convincing. Intelligent and even kind people have a way of inventing reasons to convince themselves to justify means that benefit themselves at the expense of others. All of us are guilty of this sin to some extent, including myself.

We are blessed by God with a brain to think for ourselves. European civilization was held back by their religious leaders because they let the religious leaders do the thinking for them for the benefit of the few at the expense of the rest. Try to think freely but fairly for yourself. We can interpret the Bible our own way if we feel uncomfortable with that of our religious leaders. Why should I donate 10% of my income if what is left is insufficient for my parents and personal savings? Instead of 10% of my revenue (salary), would it be better if it were 10% of free cashflow (salary - necessary expenses for my earthly obligations and survival)? In all fairness, family obligations have to come before the church. It is not fair to our parents if we give more money to the Church than them.

I cannot agree with the Prosperity Gospel. It insults my concept of a loving God. If a God who claims to love me rewards me only after I have to give until my heart is broken, then He is lesser than my parents who has been giving to me starting from the moment I was born even before I knew how to give at all.


  1. Hi Buddy. Excellent write-up. Really enjoyed reading it and I hope that your attempts to look purely at the business side of things will lead to more rational discussion and comments. Your Post Script does take a certain stand on prosperity gospel (that I agree heartily with!) and it could well attract some criticism from Church members! Hope to see more analysis from you on this issue. Cheers!

  2. I do not accept 100% to say that all love money. They are peoples like Truman, David Marshall, Mother Therisa etc.
    What was shocking and surprising are that the parishioners are people of high intelligence, fromcapt. of industries to officials and ministers.
    If left uncheck govts can fall.What is the difference of this and Falonggong in which China stops it in its tracks.
    Alot of hypocracy when one enrich oneself in the name of God and uses his name in vain.The Devil must be laughing all the ways to the bank banking on the human weakness of GREED.
    We should look more closely inwards to ourselves and reflect back on the basic of common sense and our own conscience and lead our lives in that sense.How can any parishioner accept that a Pastor,supposed to be a man of God who are more interested in material wealth lead
    us the parishioners to the after life when he is interested in thematerial comforts of this life.Isnt this the worshipping of the GOLDEN CAlf GOD AS HAS BEEN TAUGHT TO US DOWN THE AGES.

  3. Samuel Caleb Wee on "Death of A Halo: Of Kong Hee, CHC and Christianity"
    Published by The Online Citizen on June 29, 2012

  4. Anybody seen this?

  5. The prosperity gospel is the offshoot or the fruits of Christianity. The entire tree is diseased. Everyone who is caught in the Christian narrative, many are sincere, has barked up the...wrong tree

    You judge a tree by its fruits

    1. judge a tree by its fruits.

      I am not a member of CH, but I believe its members are 'tolerant' because their church has saved numerous souls through their outreach, mission trips, etc.

      To evangelical Christians, the crucial thing is conversion because they believe that whoever does not "believe" will go to hell.

    2. ...also, the Bible, original texts in Greek, Aramic... is damn hard to interpret.

      Eg, Christian scholars have been arguing even the fundamentals of Protestantism vs Catholicism (apart from Jesus' saving grace) for 500 years!! Each side can cite abundant Biblical references (which the 'lay' churchgoers on the other side is oblivious to, or decide Not to explore for fear of 'corruption').

      There's Biblical basis for the 'prosperity gospel'. There's also basis for All the other interpretations of the mainstream Christian denominations.

      I would cut the CH pastor some slack, for only God judges. Besides, most outsiders of CH (I'm not a member) don't understand the how donations can legally be channelled to grow more money.

      (I'm not saying the pastor did not overstep the legal lines.)


  6. As a CHC member here's my response


  8. As a CHC member here's my response

  9. Hi One Punch Inch,

    I am grateful to any reader who take the time to read my long analysis on City Harvest. I feel even more grateful to have someone who not only read it thoroughly, but created a blog to write a long point-by-point rebuttal. For this, I am very grateful to you. I am indebted to reply you.

    The thrust of my analysis lies in laying out the reasons for the immense wealth of City Harvest Church. Your response does not contradict my conclusion that City Harvest is a wonderful business. I am glad that a customer of City Harvest emphasize several times that his giving is out of free will. No business is sustainable if the customer is coerced to pay. He will pay once and that is the end. A good business is one with customers who keep paying for the services and still feel very happy about it.

    A really excellent business is one in which customers not only pay but even defend it when it is under attack. You are an excellent example of such a fine customer. You have reinforced my belief that City Harvest has a very good business model because of great customers like you.

    I could sense from your post that you benefited as a member of CHC. The decent thing to do then is to stay loyal to the church which you have demonstrated. A decent person should return favors and repay moral debts. However, repayment of moral debts should be fair. There is a perception among netizens that some CHC members are paying more to the church than to their own parents. This is totally out of line with our sense of fairness, Christians or non-Christians. If it is fine with you, I would like to hear from a CHC member on this issue. Thank you.


    2. Hey friend, I am very impressed by your write up, not least they occurred to me time and again during some of my reflections about CHC. It is rare to find someone who bothers to sit down and think objectively about some recent controversies, be it rage against foreign talents, against pap, or religious entities. I sent you an email and if you don't mind lets exchange social media details. It would be great for an overseas singaporean like me to have pen pals like you!

  10. This person is seriously shallow in his understanding of Christianity.

    In this super long email, the person quoted the bible TWICE and from a very narrow and skewed context. Everything else is "Pastor says"...

    I would suggest he read up

    (especially the passages that other Christians have quoted against prosperity gospel and using the Church as a place to conduct business)

    1. This wasn't a theological debate hence no Bible quotes. If you need I can show it to you but I dont think its gonna change your take anyway.

  11. So far I can only see that CHC pastor Kong has produced many warriors.After their pastor was hauled to Caesar's court,thier warriors were extremly busy going around and issued challenges.Apparently they have forgotten,Matthew 22:22

    "Caesar's," they replied. Then Jesus said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

    1. And I bet you didn't give to either one of them.


  13. Hey friend, I am very impressed by your write up, not least they occurred to me time and again during some of my reflections about CHC. It is rare to find someone who bothers to sit down and think objectively about some recent controversies, be it rage against foreign talents, against pap, or religious entities. I sent you an email and if you don't mind lets exchange social media details. It would be great for an overseas singaporean like me to have pen pals like you!

  14. Read this from the Online Citizen: This is defitely not a Roman vs Christian session all over again. It is about a group of members who have used deceitful means to manipulate the use of church money for thinly-disguised personal aggrandisement and vanity, if there had been no wongdoing, why concoct investments in bonds of unheard of/dubious companies? If there had been crimes committed, repent and take the wrap. Stop enriching the lawyers' pay packets, own up and repent just like a real pastor would expect of his flock of sinners.

  15. You can never understand Bible objectively. Merely quoting one or two phrases to represent your understanding of Christianity is not enough. You need to understand the context, the history, who wrote this and who are the targeted readers?
    Christianity is about Faith, and you accept by Grace.
    If you put Jesus at the centre of your life, good things like wealth, blessings, healing will follow. Not the other way round.

  16. Let There Be LightAugust 28, 2013 at 11:22 AM

    I have the feeling when the truth and verdict is out, things will get ugly.

    I say this as an ex-CHC member who has left the church and one who had access to the management. Not going to say much except that when I left CHC, there was a stack of NDAs I had to sign in the presence of the leaders and their lawyer, and once out, I've been branded a Judas till this very day so much so friends and family members who remain true to CHC shun me.

    So be it. I can only pray for the truths to be out. Arguable that the laws of man are not the laws of God, but at least there will be some sort of closure to this whole saga.

    If I sin, it shall only be because there is a thought in my head about how I would like the outcome to be.

    Yes, I am making a presumptous judgment here, but I don't think anything I say constitutes as a perversion of court findings and such.