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Beyond the Hub - Becoming Youthful Presbyterian Churches
By Rt Rev Leow Khee Fatt
Sep 2014

Presbyterian Churches have been in Singapore for over 170 years! The meaning of 'Presbyterian' in Chinese is that of being 'Elderly'. It could be the long history of Presbyterian Churches in Singapore or the meaning of it, that 'Presbyterian Churches' in Singapore may inadvertently portray a church environment for the old and elderly.

It is an undeniable truth that the memberships in many churches in Europe and America have fallen and most of the remaining members are the old and the elderly. The Methodists, Lutherans, Anglicans and Presbyterians have all suffered the same fate. From 1968 to 1994, the membership of the Anglican Church of America fell from 3.4 million to 2.5 million; that of the Methodist Church of America from 11 million to 8.5 million; the Presbyterian Church of America from 4.2 million to 3.7 million while that of the United Reformed churches fell from 2 million to 1.5 million. According to a Gallup survey, the number of believers from the established religious groups as a percentage of the total adult population of America had fallen from 51% in 1974 to a mere 35% by 1994 (C. Peter Wagner, "Churchquake!", Regal, 1999, p11).

The Peoples Presbyterian Church has planted a church in Sydney, and at the invitation of a local Presbyterian Church, is housed in their building which has over a hundred years of history. In the midst of singing hymns in Chinese to praise God, the thought of only 8 elderly folks from the original congregation joining in the worship, cannot but cause our hearts to ache!

How about us? The member churches under the Chinese Presbytery are also experiencing such a phenomenon. The Chinese-speaking churches are not to be blamed; it is the change in our public educational policies, which has resulted in many members going over to English-speaking churches, inadvertently blessing the English-speaking congregations. However, even for the English congregations belonging to our English Presbytery, it is undeniable that many of our youths have become attracted to the mega churches. Will the Presbyterian churches in Singapore slowly follow in the foot-steps of our European and American counterparts, moving in the direction of ageing and decaying?

There is indeed a need for the Presbyterian churches in Singapore to become more youthful. It was with this in mind that in December 2013, the Synod introduced the Synod Youth Internship programme (SYIP), which had a good response. This was followed up in June 2014 by the Synod Training and Exposure Programme (STEP), which saw 30 university students attending. But we should not stop here. Instead, the Synod, both Presbyteries, and the local churches, should actively pursue in this direction of being more youthful in our approach and outlook. How we retain our Presbyterian spirit and tradition, yet infuse the enthusiasm of the youths into our churches, will be our biggest challenge in the future!

To the Synod, the building of the Presbyterian Hub is visualized, not only as our headquarter, but also as a centre to attract youths and emanate their enthusiasm and creativity. We can work with the Asian Institute of Calvin Studies, to face the challenges of our time, and amidst the confusion of this world, to be the mouthpiece of God, declaring our beliefs and becoming the conscience of social issues. We can, through the Synod and the local churches, and through our many community services, live out the mandate of Christ – “To love others as ourselves” and through our missions endeavor, bless those around us.

My hope is that our children may experience the vibrancy of our Presbyterian beliefs from generation to generation!


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