A Small Beginning: 123 Adults And 75 Children
In 1991, 123 adults and 75 children from Bartley Christian Church responded to God’s call to plant a church in Pasir Ris. On 18 August of that year, they met for the first time in No. 6, Loyang Besar Close. This church was born and was known as Bartley Christian Church (Pasir Ris Centre).
1988: The Challenge From Dr Keith Hinton
The history of RiverLife Church can be traced all the way back to Bartley Christian Church, the mother church that still meets at No. 4, How Sun Drive today. In the mid-1980s, the leadership of Bartley Christian Church made an initial decision to rebuild its sanctuary to accommodate growth. It was probably a cheaper and easier option. However, God had something else in mind.
In 1981, a man by the name of Dr Keith Hinton, a former Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF) missionary and a Singapore Bible College lecturer, conducted a church growth research on Bartley Christian Church. He was later invited back to comment on the church development plans in 1988. Dr Keith Hinton said, “I felt God prompting me to challenge them [the leadership of Bartley Christian Church] to steward their resources for forwarding the work of God — by planting a daughter church in an unchurched part of Singapore.”
This challenge was very similar to the conviction that one of the founding church pastors, Joseph Tang, had received from the Lord: that Bartley Church must multiply itself by planting a new daughter church! So after prayerful consideration, the leadership of Bartley Christian Church made a radical change to their development plans and took up Dr Keith Hinton’s challenge to plant a new church.
1988-89: The First Miracles – The Land Purchase, The People’s Giving And The Change Of Land Zoning
Not long after, God affirmed that radical decision through a series of miracles. Suddenly, a piece of vacant land at Pasir Ris was available for our purchase. William Lee, who was then Senior Pastor of Bartley Christian Church, recalls the first miracles: “When I first met the owner of this piece of land [this land which RiverLife Church is sitting on today], he told me that a property developer had already verbally agreed to buy his entire land for $23 psf, to build a retirement village. [But] God moved the man’s heart and caused him to sell a portion of his land to us at $22 psf (at $1 psf discount) to build a church building instead of a retirement village. We had to raise about one million in three months to pay for the land. God led his people to give generously and the purchase was completed without a loan. It was indeed a miracle!
Another miracle was the approval of our application for the change of land zoning from Residential to Worship and for us to build a new church on the site, notwithstanding that there is already another church built on our neighbouring land!
Founding Church Pastors – Vincent Lun and Joseph Tang
Soon after the land in Pasir Ris was purchased in 1988, the Elders Board of Bartley Church assigned Pastors Joseph Tang and Vincent Lun together with three Lay Elders, Dr Andrew Goh, Chen Chee Cheong and Lionel Goh to plant the new church. Over the years, this pioneer group of pastors and elders and new ones who rose up remained passionate about building the local church, which they see as the “Hope of the world.”
Pastor Joseph Tang recalls, “While praying about my new role then, the Lord gave me a vision called 2000:2000, that is 2000 worshippers by the end of 2000. The Lord also impressed upon my heart that Pastor Vincent Lun was to provide leadership over the new church because he had the right gift mix of a senior pastor.”
1991-1996: Early Transition – From Traditional Church To Cell-Church Model
One of the early milestones was moving from a traditional church model to the cell church model. Both Pastors Vincent and Joseph felt that for a church to grow strong and healthy, worshippers must be well cared for. So they started the structure to channel worshippers into small cell groups where they can receive personal pastoral care from lay leaders. Many committed members were trained and equipped to become cell leaders to care for newcomers. As a result, many visitors settled easily into church life and we were able to reach out to residents mostly in the east.
1999: The Second Challenge From Dr Keith Hinton – Autonomy For RiverLife Church
In 1999, Dr Keith Hinton resurfaced in the historical picture and challenged the leadership of Bartley Christian Church to release the church they planted in Pasir Ris to operate independently. He said, “It was a big task to hand over the legal ‘keys’ to all the assets but Bartley rose to the challenge. In subsequent meetings with the leaders of the new church, it has been a delight to see that the church has a strong evangelistic zeal, a healthy focus on maturing believers, along with a very balanced place to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. I sensed the Lord was pleased with what He saw.”
2000-2001: Incorporation Of RiverLife Church As An Independent Church
Our church was officially named RiverLife Church in 2000 when the leaders and members of Bartley Church voted for Bartley Church (Pasir Ris Centre) to become an independent body. Bartley leaders agreed to gift the property situated at 6, Jalan Loyang Besar to its daughter church.
On the Elders’ Board, Andrew Goh recollects this momentous part in RiverLife’s history: “For years, being an elder meant caring for both congregations, at How Sun Drive and Loyang Besar. But practically, you can only be at one place. It became obvious to us that each respective place needed a different and separate board and team to guide the pace of growth and emphasis. We are so grateful for the magnanimity of our brethren at Bartley Christian Church, for being attuned to what the Lord wanted for each location — same DNA, but eventually purpose-driven in our own ways.”
RiverLife Church was officially incorporated with the Authorities as an independent Church in early 2001.
God further showed us His pleasure by guiding us to get the property at Pasir Ris transferred from Bartley Church to RiverLife Church without the need to pay the full stamp fee. This was another miracle as we saved some $300,000 in transfer fee! God was indeed good to us!
1999-2004: The First Wave Of Renewal
Going back to 1997-1998, Bartley Church (with its two centres, Serangoon Centre and Pasir Ris Centre) faced a severe leadership challenge. After this crisis was resolved, the Senior Leadership at Pasir Ris Centre, (now RiverLife Church) sought the Lord with a contrite heart for corporate healing and restoration. For 18 months, we prayed earnestly for a fresh start. In 1999, the Lord was so gracious in pouring out His Spirit on the Church in an unprecedented measure. It was a pleasant surprise to all of us that the Lord poured out far more of His grace than we could ask for or expect.
As a result of this outpouring, many lives were healed and restored by the Lord. Worshippers got excited about the Lord and the things of God. They began to bring friends and loved ones for services and evangelistic meetings and the Church began to grow rapidly from 700 people to 2300 in 2004.
2000-2005: Phase 2 Building Project
As the church grew, it became clear to the leadership that it was time to build again. Phase Two Building Project became a reality in the year 2000. Freddy Boey, the Chairman of Elders Board then, said, “God gave us a simple word right at the beginning — raise faith, not funds — faith to move from our comfort zone into the unknown. We were acutely aware of many RiverLifers who were suffering from a sustained and unprecedented economic downturn. Yet, we never doubted that God would provide, simply because it is not we, but He who wants it built.”
God affirmed Phase Two Building Project through more miracles — the miracle of our first building fund collection of $1.03 million, despite the 9/11 tragedy the day before; the miracle of the $300,000 stamp duty waiver from Inland Revenue; the miracle of our neighbour’s generosity in opening up his land for us to park our cars and the miracle of our growing attendance despite construction work in-progress.
From 2004: Building Of People and Ministry Infrastructure
Parallel to the building of new facilities, God also started to build our people and ministry infrastructure. In 2004, RiverLifers committed themselves to a spiritual growth campaign that started to turn the church outward-looking.
Sarah Leung, campaign director for the 40 Days of Purpose said, “The 40 Days of Purpose campaign was a significant milestone in my life and in our church, as we are reminded again that life is not about us but about Him. We all grew many inches taller spiritually as we spent 40 days re-discovering God’s purpose for our lives. Yet, it was not the end. The campaign was only the beginning of our journey as a church to become a people of purpose — a people whose lives are consecrated to fulfil the Great Commandment and Great Commission. I continue to be energised by this mission as I serve full-time in RiverLife.”
2000-2010: A New Phase Of Growth and Consolidation
After the new extension, including the main Worship Centre was completed in 2005, God added more worshippers to our RiverLife family. We continued to prosper, as church members actively brought their pre-believing relatives and friends for the various evangelistic services. Many of these pre-believers came to faith and stayed on to become active members and leaders of the Church.
As we grew in numbers, we continued to build up our leadership core by enlisting committed members to attend leadership equipping courses so that they can grow to be cell and ministry leaders.
We also started to launch into the mission fields and the Lord established the work of our hands in ways that we never expected. We were able to bless churches in different nations with practical social projects, evangelistic training and rallies, and ministry and leadership equipping courses. Our desire was to strengthen church leaders in various nations so that they can fulfil God’s agenda in their land.
2011 to 2018: Releasing The Former and Pressing On To The New
Our founding pastor and first Senior Pastor, Vincent Lun, resigned following an impasse with the Elders Board. It was an amicable parting, and in honour and deep appreciation of his service for more than 20 years, RiverLife financially supported Vincent and Jenny in the first 2 years of their new church plant, Kingdom Community Church (KCC). Vincent and Jenny remain good friends with the Elders Board and members in RiverLife even today. Later on, God brought together Bartley Christian Church, Brighton Community Church, KCC and RiverLife to form the Bartley Family of Churches.
In early 2011, the Elders Board appointed founding Elder, Lionel Goh, as Lead Pastor, leaving the Senior Pastor’s role vacant as he felt called to be a faithful guardian in the interim until such time the Lord brings a permanent leader to fill the Senior Pastor’s role.
The church began to embrace this transition whilst the Lord constantly reminded the people that He is the Head of His church and it is He who holds all things together.
From 2014-2016, the Lord also provided Pastor John Koe to minister in the power of the Holy Spirit and impart the prophetic perspective in RiverLife. In 2015-2016, significant renewal took place at the Elders Board, which included our first Gen Y elder, Lee Ee Yang. Subsequently, Ps Lionel also assumed the role of Senior Pastor.
In early 2018, Pastors Ben and Dinah Lee, formerly senior leaders in Hope Church, joined our Senior Leadership Team (SLT).
In late 2018, the Elders Board and SLT took time to seek the Lord and review our church mission, vision and values as well as clarify the working relationship between the Elders Board and SLT. The outcome was fruitful and the Elders Board and SLT recommitted themselves to the Lord for the journey ahead.