The Hosanna Evangelical Free Church (Hosanna) in Ipoh marked the 30th year of its existence last year (2012), but humanly speaking, there was little to celebrate about.
“It was an unusually muted event considering that we had just completed three decades. With an active population of fewer than 15 registered members and a smattering of occasional visiting guests and supporters, this (muted event) should be understandable,” said church secretary Khen Lim.
Lim added that the small congregation faced such a severe financial situation that in May 2012, the church treasurer had to issue this warning: Unless members stepped up their regular giving, it would certainly face a yawning deficit that could lead to serious consequences.
Some of our members may breathe a sigh of relief that 2012 has passed. The church had never seen an incident as nerve-wrecking as what occurred on May 20, 2012, when church members finally had to confront the possible demise of this church that was planted by Rev. Loyd Childs and his team in Ipoh Garden East.
“We finally succeeded in convincing our congregation on the utmost importance in tithing and offering, without which there is no way for any income. We consider May 20 as an important watershed date to remember,” said Lim. “Nonetheless despite this eventful outcome, our congregation number has remained very discouraging.
In fact, one founding member decided to leave after that incident as he disagreed with our direction in the area of giving.”
Where growing numbers (or otherwise) are concerned, Hosanna has been struggling for quite some time now and there are no signs that their predicament will end soon. At the height of its “success”, attendance peaked at nearly 70. That was when it was renting a double-storey corner shoplot just opposite the present premises. When Hosanna was forced to shift to the present premises about 10 years ago, the attendance started to decline.
“We’re not quite sure why and what we can do to overcome this but in the end, leaving it to the good Lord unfailingly remains the best option since we’re stewards and not owners of His church,” Lim stressed.
The present congregation is now down to a dozen only for this English-speaking church, which resembles more like a cell group.
“The attendance has nothing to do with a long weekend or otherwise (when people go away). In fact, it gets worse during festivities and holidays, unlike other small town churches where attendance would balloon during holidays when people return to their hometowns. The young people in our church would go elsewhere, such as Kuala Lumpur, for further studies, and they seldom come back after that,” said Hosanna’s pastor, Simon Tham.
Hosanna has been led by Tham for more than 18 years now. “While it’s easy to say that he has become a part of the furniture and fittings, we prefer to see him as someone who cares, someone who continues to bravely fly the Hosanna standard and whose dedication can only be admired and respected. In view of the difficulties involved in finding good pastors, we, the wee church of Hosanna, consider ourselves truly blessed,” Lim commented.
At one point, EFC Malaysia (EFCM) sent people from Kuala Lumpur every week to assist the church. When Pastor Siew Woh was helming PJEFC, he used to send a team from PJEFC once a month to encourage the congregation.
Hampered by small number
Hosanna’s small congregation, as well as a glaring absence of youths, means that service does take its toll as inevitably, there are only a few members who can be called upon to serve. “It is extraordinarily difficult to be creative in terms of what ministries we can support, what activities we can host or what forward planning we dare to undertake. As such, we frequently end up being less ambitious and more conservative in our approach. Over the past few years, most, if not all the activities, that we run are in the hands of the same people who number less than a full hand. When it is the same few people who are doing the work all the time, they get tired and jaded,” said Lim “In fact, we have scaled down our activities since 2011. Many years ago, during Good Friday services, we used to do dubbing, and we would all dress in sobering dark. We do have ideas, and it was all very ambitious, but it is now difficult to carry it out. For example, one can expect to see the same worship team week in, week out,” he added.
“We have absolutely no plans for events like Easter, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and so on. In fact, last Christmas, we combined our celebration with a nearby Presbyterian church. And we are not even thinking about this Christmas. I suppose larger churches would already be panicking at this stage.”
The only ministry left is the weekly prayer meeting that used to take place on the first Saturday evening every month. On other Saturday nights, it alternates between Bible Study and lessons in church history. “At any rate, attendance at these meetings can best be described in one word – appalling. Other than the usual few (less than five), most of our members quietly avoid attending. Disappointing, yes, but that has been the pattern for a long time now,” Lim lamented. “Still, we remain in servitude to God and leave the disappointment to Him.”
What next for Hosanna? Will it fold up, or will it be re-planted? The church is now conferring with EFCM on how it should proceed.
“We really can’t see any dramatic difference in 2013 but of course we speak from a human view – God might have other plans. Nonetheless, there is absolutely no reason why any of us at Hosanna should worship Him with any less intensity, enthusiasm or commitment. Our faith lies completely in Him who loves us so intensely that He offered His Son whose death on the cross is everything we needed to be saved,” Lim concluded.