What did it take to make last weekend’s online service happen? Thirty-six hours, a united team and a congregation that loves to worship, no matter where they are, as evidenced by the 15,577 logins. BEHIND THE SCENES PHOTOS BY MICHAEL CHAN
It was not an easy decision to make, but when City Harvest’s church leaders decided to take the weekend services online in the face of the growing COVID-19 situation, it was swift.
“On Wednesday night (Feb 12), we had a meeting to tie down what we would need in order to have an online service some time in the future,” says Danielle Ho, head of CityTV, which brings all CHC’s services to screen—live at church during the weekend, and on your laptop and mobile phone screens via The CHC App and the church website.
By Feb 13, that possibility became distinctly real. “At 8.30am on Thursday we were told we might do online service that very weekend,” adds Danielle. “By 12 noon, it was confirmed that we would. My first thoughts were, WOAH! I know we were talking about it last night, but it was nerve-wracking to know we now had to actually put everything in place immediately!
“But the team was great. We came up with a plan and a schedule, and then we communicated along the way.”
The CityTV team and other teams—worship, music, events, visual communications, lights, audio, IT and IS (information systems) among others— got into action, starting with preparing the announcement that church would not be at Suntec or Jurong West the weekend of Feb 15 and 16, but would be broadcast via the online platforms.
By 2pm, the senior management of Pastors Sun Ho, Bobby Chaw, Aries Zulkarnain, Wu Yuzhuang and Audrey Ng were recording a video announcement to inform church members of the decision. By 8pm the information and this video were sent out to the members by WhatsApp, email and on the church website.
Filming the online service on Friday basically meant that everything had to be brought forward a day—including Pastor Bobby Chaw’s sermon.
The teams spent the early part of Friday, Feb 14—also Valentine’s Day—filming the preliminary segments of the service, such as the welcome message by Pastor Sun, and the announcement from Pastor Aries about the upcoming observance of Lent. “From 6.30pm onwards, we filmed the praise and worship and then the preaching,” she explained.
Although the teams made the finished product look so smooth, there was a lot going on behind the scenes. “I think communication was the biggest challenge,” she says. “Because there were so many things going on at the same time involving so many people! We really needed the teams to keep up with the ever-changing plans and things to do.”
The English service was only finished, that is, edited and approved for airing, at 3pm on Saturday—the first broadcast was at 5pm.
“I’m very grateful that everything turned out well, and the broadcast went out with no glitches!” she exclaims. “From the planning stage, all to the way to when the video was broadcast on Saturday, I had to keep praying—it was our first time doing this, and expectations were high because, well, the newspapers reported we were going online with service.”
“I don’t know exactly how many staff and volunteers changed their Valentine’s Day plans just so filming could happen, but a big thank you to all the girlfriends, boyfriends and spouses!” adds Danielle.
The work hasn’t stopped for the team, who are now looking at how to improve the process from the camera angles to the editing timeline. “Last week was just survival mode and we did whatever it took,” Danielle shares. “We want this to be sustainable for the team too.”
Currently, plans are for online services to continue till the end of February. The leadership and staff are looking forward to resuming live services across its two campuses, as soon as the situation allows.
WORSHIPING TOGETHER FROM HOME
CHC’s first online-only service was well-received by many: there were 15,577 logins to the services with members watching the service on the website and The CHC App, and listening to it through the app.
Wendy Chua, 40, and her husband Marco Lee usually send their children to Harvest Kidz before heading to the main service on the weekend. So last weekend was a new experience for the family.
“Church service is being wherever God is,” she says. “The presence of God is not limited to the four walls of the church. We watched the service, cast on our TV screen, last Sunday. The kids were singing out loud during worship while watching the service. They also asked questions during the sermons when they didn’t understand certain parts. Though distracted by all these questions from the kids, we enjoyed the service as a family in a relaxed setting. The distance away from the church doesn’t mean distance away from God.”
Ginna Leow, 34, watch the Chinese Service online at home, together with her mother and her husband. On a normal Sunday, she would not be able to worship with her mom because Ginna attends the English Service at 10am, while her mom attends the Chinese Service which happens at the same time.
“She didn’t know how to use The CHC App, so I had to help her stream the live service,” Ginna explained. “Since she was saved in last year June, I haven’t been able to watch her grow spiritually. This was the first time I’m worshipping God together with my mother. Watching her clap and lift her hands, worshiping God, not just for others to see, but for God, showed me that her faith has really grown. I feel very encouraged.”
Lynn Chua enjoyed the online service last weekend. “It was awesome! I could felt the presence of God as if I’m in church worshipping God with every of my church members in that atmosphere!”
But she admits she still prefers being in Suntec in person to do church. “I do prefer to—I’m desperate to go to church! It’s not the same as worshipping together with my church family. I do feel God wants us to worship together in His house and follow the example of the first church. Just like in Acts 2:1, ‘on the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place.’
“But at this point in time, many people can’t attend church as due to the outbreak. I’m glad we can experience church via technology. It’s a wonderful tool in an emergency,” she says.
Jason Chin, a School of Theology graduate from 2019, is a member of Grace Assembly of God church, which had a cluster of 16 COVID-19 cases. The church could not carry on its services last weekend. Pastor Bobby Chaw, the principal of SOT, called Jason to encourage him and his church.
“With all of my 70 church pastors and staff under home quarantine order, no service could even be recorded by my church,” he explains. “When my SOT classmate Lynn (Chua) reminded us on our chat group there is CHC service online, I remembered that I had The CHC App on my phone.
“I am grateful that my wife and I were able to participate in the praise and worship, just like our daily morning worship at SOT, and also being able listen to the message by Pastor Bobby. This reminded me I am part of the SOT family, and I have a second home. Praise Him!”