Love seems to be in the air for many of the red-shirted members of Hope Filipino. On this particular Sunday afternoon, the church-owned Nexus Auditorium, located in a shopping center in Singapore’s prominent Orchard Road, conveys the vibrancy of Valentine’s season. Instead of a familiar Christian song, setting the mood for the inflowing audience is one of Kenny G’s romantic hits, a tangible indication that this is not ordinary church. The Sunday service, redesigned for evangelistic purposes, expects a greater number of non-Christian visitors as a result of the pre-Valentine Matthew Care Group. With friends meeting and ushers greeting at the front door, the auditorium is in a warm atmosphere. A new form of Protestant Christianity is gaining influence in many parts of urbanizing Asia today. But it remains overlooked by the academe. Considering the rapid growth of many of these churches in America, Miller (1997) is convinced that this culturally adaptive form of Christianity is bound to shape the future of the faith. Precipitated by the global movement of believers and such cultural forms as music and literature it has influenced, the rise of new paradigm churches in many parts of the world – Asia included – becomes increasingly visible (see Miller 1997; Miller 1998; Connell 2005; Cruz 2006; Cornelio 2006). Seoul, Manila, Bangkok, and Singapore are some of the Asian cities sheltering new paradigm churches today. But as the available literature mainly looks at the Western experience (see Miller 1997; Miller 1998; Connell 2005; Cruz 2006), this becomes a notable inquiry for academics observing religion in Asia. By looking more closely at a new paradigm congregation in Singapore, this research attempts to one, provide a more enriching perspective on the rather limited material on new paradigm Christianity with specific emphasis on its social organization, and two, bring into academic discourse its contextualization within Asian modernity. The highly accessible social organization is characterized by a blurred distinction between clergy and laity, with the latter fulfilling many, if not all, important ministerial functions. New paradigm Christianity, in this sense, presents itself as a radical progression from the routinized forms of charisma one can anticipate in mainline Protestantism. The most pertinent sociological question deals with the ability of new paradigm Christianity to facilitate leadership development among its lay members so effectively that the church becomes central to the life-decisions of its adherents. How is church involvement viewed by its faithful? Do certain beliefs, principles, or thoughts condition social action within the congregation? What kind of social organization materializes out of these dynamics? A critical consideration is new paradigm Christianity’s promise of a postmodern reintegration of the profane with the sacred, a dichotomy generally reinforced by modernist consciousness in liberal Protestantism. Ensuing this reintegration is the empowering rereading of the belief in the individual priesthood of believers, which is further explained in light of late modernity or postmodernity. Enriching the current literature is the unique positionality of this research’s empirical subject– a congregation of overseas professionals in a commercially advanced society. The analysis draws from the experience of Hope Filipino Singapore, a congregation subsumed under 2,500-strong Hope Church Singapore, which belongs to a missionary-sending new paradigm movement that originated in Bangkok, Thailand. At nine years, Hope Filipino sees more than 500 attending its Sunday service and weekly care group and discipleship activities. A couple of members and leaders are non- Filipinos, particularly those that pioneered the congregation. Though young, it is determined to bring 1,000 Filipinos into church by 2007. Relative to the empirical subjects examined in the existing literature, the congregation’s small yet increasing membership base presents an opportunity for a systematically closer analysis of its social organization. I conducted interviews with individuals carefully selected to provide balanced representation based on gender, leadership position, and length of stay in the church. A participant observation of a Sunday service also forms part of the fieldwork.
Cornelio, Jayeel. 2007. “The Minister is Lay: Social Organization in New Paradigm Christianity.” Global Missiology. Vol.1, No. 5.