Five years ago, former pastor with City Harvest Church Singapore, Derek Dunn and his wife Susan followed God’s call to start a church in America. On March 26 this year, City Harvest Church in Orange County celebrated its fifth anniversary. City News caught up recently with the lead pastor of CHC’s affiliate church in America.
City News: Congratulations on reaching the five-year mark of CHCUS! How did the church celebrate?
Pastor Derek Dunn: We can’t believe it has been five years already. Time sure flies! We had a wonderful fifth-year celebration service. I preached on not forgetting God’s benefits (Psalm 103), stressing on remembering His faithfulness in our lives and church. We presented special items from the various ministry departments and had a carnival after-party, where we catered a taco truck and pizza for the members and friends after the service. It was a beautiful time of fellowship and celebration!
When you look back at the vision God first gave you for CHCUS, what aspects of that vision have come to pass?
After 16 and a half years at CHC Singapore, God put it in our hearts to see strong local churches planted once again in America. We see the DNA of CHC at CHCUS, where there is not just strong ministry from pulpit but also strong relationships and unity amongst the members. The members embrace the CHC ethos that every member is a minister. We have established the vision of “raising up strong disciples of Jesus Christ that love God, love people and love life” and saw a strong core grown in CHCUS these last five years. This year, we really sense a greater sense of destiny and greater momentum.
CHCUS is in a season of growth and releasing leaders into ministry. Both are necessary for the church to move forward. We cannot just have growth without developing leaders who can care for the people and make disciples. The early years were very much about bringing a strong DNA to the church and seeing God bring healing and restoration to broken people. We sense that now is the time for the activation of leaders and for reactivation of those who have experienced restoration.
Can you please share with us how the church has grown in five years?
There were only 47 people on our first Sunday. Now, we are averaging 140 people and have two full-time staff. Susan and I are still volunteers; we run our businesses and trust God to provide for our families through the marketplace.
In the beginning, we only had a Sunday service, children’s church and ministry of helps. Over the last five years, we have launched connect groups, men’s and women’s ministries, youth, marketplace ministry, City Harvest Training Center (a six-month Bible School) and Little Big, our daycare program. We have seen growth in ministry involvement: 80 percent of our members serve in ministries.
CHCUS is very much a multiracial and multicultural church; we have 13 nationalities in the church. There is a good mix of children all the way to mature adults in their 60s. When we first started in the cinema across from the University of California, Irvine, we were primarily a college-aged church. After moving into our current lease premises during Easter 2016, we saw more families coming into the church due to the facilities that could better cater to the children and youth ministries.
CHCUS has an exciting social media presence! You started a mid-week minute on the church’s Instagram feed—how did that come about?
The mid-week minute idea came from one of my spiritual sons who is passionate about media. The idea was that most people need a boost during the week. As Instagram only allows us to upload one-minute videos, we came up with the mid-week minute.
We have had great feedback from people who were blessed so we have continued to produce seasons of the mid-week minute to bless and impart faith to people. The theme is really about bringing faith, hope, and love to people, to encourage them to trust God in the midst of their challenges: “It is still going to be a great week!”
Summarizing the message into one-minute segments can be harder than preaching but I try to keep to the point. I need to keep the idea simple and share encouragement from a principle or specific Scripture. We normally shoot a season in a single day, over four hours. Sometimes, I forget what I shared and when I listen to it on Instagram, I get blessed and encouraged myself!
What is the church atmosphere like in CHCUS? We see that in the US churches are going through some issues with each other concerning the country’s leadership. Do you experience any such dilemmas and how do you deal with them?
In CHCUS, we have a strong spiritual atmosphere of faith and purity that is similar to CHC Singapore. Our worship experience is Spirit-filled; we worship in tongues and encounter God. This tends to be out of the norm for most churches nowadays because praying publicly in tongues or worshiping freely in the spirit is considered counter-growth productive. CHCUS is strong in the Word and Spirit and we focus on each member encountering God in each service.
During the US presidential election in 2016, we were careful not to endorse any specific candidate but presented the members with the stands of each party on crucial issues and encouraged them to vote their Biblical values. Regardless of who is in power and whether we agree with them, we encourage our people to be obedient and to follow 1 Timothy 2:2, that is, to pray for whoever is in power. The media tends to sensationalize many of the issues and what is heard overseas may not always be what is actually happening on the ground. We keep our people focused on Biblical values and not to get distracted. Ultimately, the hope of America is not the government, but the Church.
How are Pastor Susan and your family?
Pastor Susan is doing well and her ministry has grown. Before, in Singapore, she was a lay sub-zone leader, but in the US she has grown into a lead-pastor role and co-leads the church together with me. She has great wisdom and the people she leads love her. Every church needs a spiritual father and mother—it brings a healthy balance to the church. She still runs her business in Singapore; God has been faithful in that area as well.
Ethan, Erin, and Erika are all doing well and have transitioned back to the US well. We have been back for six years now and God’s timing is always perfect. Due to the fact they were still young when we returned, it was easy for them to make the transition culturally and academically. They doing well in school and scoring A’s. It must be the Asian genes (laughs). We have always included our kids in the vision and stressed that we are called as a family and that they have a role to play. They have taken ownership of the youth and children’s church and they always make a point to reach out to the newcomers and to make them feel welcome.
As far as advice in this area, I would encourage parents to include their kids and to make them feel they are an important part of the family. It is important that we have open communication with our kids so that they feel comfortable sharing things with us.
In this day and age, we definitely want to be the first voice in our kids’ lives so that every other voice is filtered through the parental voice. I always tell our kids that our first cell group is our family, before anything we do in church. Susan and I take the responsibility to disciple our kids in the Word and prayer; we don’t just leave it to the children’s church. It is our role to train our children in the ways of God so that when they grow old they won’t depart from it. (Prov 22:6)
Pastors Derek and Susan Dunn will be back to visit CHC Singapore in July.