Reaching the Nations

Singapore

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 697 square km.  One of the smallest countries in the world, Singapore comprises a city which rests on the equator on a main island and several smaller islands off the coast of the tip of the Malay Peninsula.  The geography is flat and the climate is tropical.  Nature preserves protect remaining areas of tropical rainforest left over after widespread urbanization following independence.  Due to limited space for development, land reclamation projects in the surrounding ocean have increased the size of Singapore.

Population: 4,740,737 (July 2011)

Annual Growth Rate: 0.817% (2011)

Fertility Rate: 1.11 children born per woman (2011)

Life Expectancy: 79.53 male, 84.96 female (2011)

Peoples

Chinese: 76.8%

Malay: 13.9%

Indian: 7.9%

Other: 1.4%

The Chinese are the largest ethnic group in Singapore.  Chinese primarily arrived before independence or after 1990.  Malays were among the original inhabitants and Indians were brought by the British.     

Languages: 21 languages are spoken in Singapore.  Mandarin (35%), English (23%), Malay (14.1%), and Tamil (3.2%) are all official languages.  The rest of Singaporeans speak Hokkein (11.4%), Cantonese (5.7%), Teochew (4.9%), other Chinese languages (1.8%), and other languages (0.9%).  English literacy has steadily increased over the past couple decades and the government reported that 80% of the population over age 15 were literate in English.  In 2010, 52% of Chinese youth, 50% of Indian youth, 26% of Malay youth spoke English as their home language.[1]  Languages with over one million native speakers include Mandarin (1.63 million) and English (1.07 million). 

Literacy: 96% (2010)

History

Malay sultans controlled Singapore when in 1819 the British received permission to build a trading post on the island.  The entire island came under British control in 1824.  During World War II the island was invaded and held by Japanese forces.  An independence movement began in the 1950s.  Independence was declared in 1963 and the country joined the Federation of Malaysia. In 1965, Singapore seceded from Malaysia.  Due to its geographic location, free-market economy, and comparatively small population to other nations, the country was transformed into one of the world's wealthiest. 

Culture 

Singapore is known for its strict laws, cleanliness, urban and family planning, and ethnic and religious diversity.  Many crimes follow severe penalties, such as canning, imprisonment and heavy fines.  A chewing gum ban was in effect for over a decade in the 1990s and 2000s.  Due to limited space and natural resources, government pressured families to have few children in order to reduce the high birth rate following independence.  A large portion of the inhabitants are not permanent residents.  In order to reduce religious and ethnic tensions, strict laws are enforced banning persecution or harassment based on religion.  Military service is mandatory at 21. 

Economy

GDP per capita: $62,100 (2010) [131% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.846

Corruption Index: 9.3

Singapore ranked as the country with the fifth highest GDP per capita in 2010 and is among the least perceived corruption countries in the world.  Consumer electronics, pharmaceuticals, information technology products, and tourism are the major industries in the economy.  Singapore has an insignificant agriculture sector and a weakening industry sector.  Economic growth continues, with GDP rates increasing by 7% in the mid 2000s, which have sharply declined due to the global financial crisis.  Singapore has one of the lowest unemployment rates, at 2.2% in 2008.  Import and export partners are well distributed around Asia and developed nations.  Perceived corruption ranks among the lowest worldwide.

Faiths

Buddhist: 33%

Christian: 18%

unaffiliated: 17%

Muslim: 15%

Taoist: 11%

Hindu: 5.1%

other/unknown: 0.9%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  223,562

Seventh Day Adventists  2,616  7

Latter-Day Saints  3,337  9

Jehovah's Witnesses  2,000

Religion

Singapore has a blend of diverse religious traditions which interact regularly.  Buddhists form the majority due most Singaporeans claiming Chinese ancestry.  Muslims are mainly limited to Malays.  Taoists are Chinese and Hindus are Indians.  In 2010, 57% of Chinese were Buddhist or Taoist, 59% of Indians were Hindu, 22% of Indians were Muslim, and 99% of Malays were Muslim.  Christians comprise the largest percentage among Chinese (20%).[2]

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution allows religious freedom which is limited by the government to promote racial and religious harmony.  Jehovah's Witnesses and the Unification Church are banned and are fined for distributing literature as they are seen to disrupt social order.  Foreign Christian missionaries are allowed to proselyte.  Government closely monitors religious communities to maintain social order.[3]

Major Cities

Urban: 100%

LDS History

The earliest LDS presence in Singapore was established in 1960 when four members resided in the country.  In 1963, the first LDS meetings were held with British military and members from Hong Kong.  The first LDS missionaries were assigned in 1968.  In 1969, Elder Ezra Taft Benson dedicated Singapore for missionary work[4] and the Southern Asia Mission was organized with headquarters in Singapore.  In 1970, the government restricted missionary visas and proselytism resulting in local membership taking responsibility for missionary work.  The Singapore Mission was reestablished in 1980.  In 2003, the Singapore Mission Branch was created and headquartered in Singapore for members of the Church living in remote areas of the mission.  At the time the Singapore Mission included Bangladesh, Brunei, Diego Garcia, Malaysia, Maldives, Nepal, Singapore, and Sri Lanka.  In late 2007 the Singapore Mission was divided and to create the India New Delhi Mission.  In late 2009, the Singapore Mission also administered to Malaysia and Brunei. 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 3,337 (2010)

By 1970 there were around 100 members and by 1976 membership tripled to 309.  Growth accelerated, with membership reaching 960 in 1985 and 1,300 in 1990.  In mid-1993 there were 1,750 members.[5]  Church membership reached 2,000 in 1997, 2,162 in 2000, 2,265 in 2002, 2,385 in 2004, 2,612 in 2006, 2,890 in 2008, and 3,337 in 2010.  Annual membership growth rates between 2000 and 2010 ranged from a high of 13.6% in 2010 to a low of 1.7% in 2002 and 2009 but generally varied from two and six percent.  Rapid membership growth in 2010 may have been attributed to an influx in convert baptisms in groups operating in Brunei and Malaysia under the Singapore Mission Branch rather than in Singapore.  In 2010, one in 1,421 was LDS.

Congregational Growth

Wards: 10 Branches: 1

The first branch was created 1968 when the first missionaries arrived from the Southern Far East Mission.  A second branch was also created in 1970.[6]  By 1990 there were five branches and one district.  By the middle of 1993 there were seven branches in Singapore.[7]  The first stake was organized in 1995 and included the Bedok, Clementi, Singapore 1st, and Toa Payoh Wards, and the Singapore 2nd and 3rd Branches.[8]  By 2000 there were six wards and two branches in Singapore.  The following year both branches, which were not English speaking, were made into wards.  The Singapore Stake also included the Johor Bahru Branch in neighboring Malaysia.  Of the eight wards in the Singapore Stake in 2010, six were designated as English-speaking, one as Chinese-speaking, and one as Tagalog-speaking.  In 2011, two new wards were organized: the Singapore 4th (English) and the Chao Chu Kang Wards.  That same year, the two branches in neighboring Johor Bahru, Malaysia were reassigned from the Singapore Stake and made into their own district.

Activity and Retention

High retention and activity existed in the late 1960s when church attendance was greater than reported membership.[9]  Focus has been placed on teaching and fellowshipping youth through conferences and musical performances with hundreds in attendance.[10]  Inactivity and retention issues have presented challenges which have been addressed through active members inviting less-active members for an open house of the newly completed Singapore Stake center in 2007.  400 active and less active members attended the event.  600 attended the dedication of the building.  Most wards in 2010 appeared to have between 75 and 150 active members.  Active membership for Singapore is estimated at 1,200, or 35% of total church membership.

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: English, Chinese (traditional and simplified characters), Tamil

All LDS scriptures and most church materials are available in simplified and traditional Chinese characters.  The Book of Mormon is the only LDS scripture translated into Tamil.  Gospel Fundamentals, the Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith,  and a few missionary resources for teaching investigators are the only church materials translated into Malay. 

Meetinghouses

In 1990, a new meetinghouse was dedicated by Elder Dallin H. Oaks to serve three of the five branches in the Singapore District.[11]  The Singapore Stake center was dedicated in early 2007 and housed six wards.  Two additional meetinghouses service wards in Singapore; one of which was completed in 2011.

Humanitarian and Development Work

Church members in Singapore have conducted humanitarian and charity work for their own country and other less prosperous nations.  In 2004, LDS women donated quilts to an orphanage.[12]  Tsunami relief aid was assembled by members in early 2005.[13]  80 youth cleaned a beach in Singapore as part of a youth conference in 2006.[14]  In 2007, LDS women knitted 1,700 hats for newborns which were distributed to hospitals around Asia.[15] 

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The Church has maintained positive relations with the government, resulting in no obstructions to missionary work.  Many Christian churches in Singapore condemn the Church as un-Christian, intimidate converts and investigators, and send hateful letters to missionaries.  Opposition from other Christian groups pose challenges for the Church when conducting missionary work and public affairs.

Cultural Issues

The Church has the challenge of assimilating different ethnic groups into the same congregation due to differing religious and cultural backgrounds.  As greater numbers of Singaporeans joined the Church, non-English speaking congregations have been established.  The Church appears to have gained converts among many of the ethnic groups in Singapore and integrate them into English-speaking congregations due to the widespread use of English as a language of interethnic communication.  Challenges exist in retaining converts into the Church when large diversity exists in religious and cultural background.  Singapore's wealth has increased materialism, likely resulting in Singaporeans being less receptive to the Church than many other southeastern Asian countries.  High cost of living and mediocre receptivity have limited the number of full-time missionaries assigned and have likely prevented the construction or renting of additional meetinghouses.

National Outreach

Singapore is one of the only countries where the Church is not restrained by geography, resulting in the opportunity of reaching the entire population with few outreach centers.  Outreach is limited due to the diversity in the culture, language, and religious background of the population.  Although 58.8% of the population speaks a Chinese language, only one of the eight congregations in Singapore is Chinese speaking as many Chinese Latter-day Saints speak English and attend English-speaking wards.  Some areas of Singapore are lesser-reached by Latter-day Saints due to distance to meetinghouses.  Several planning areas have over 100,000 inhabitants and no LDS congregations such as Jurong West, Tampines, Hougang, Yishun, Sengkang, Bukit Merah, Bukit Batok, Pasir Ris, Bukit Panjang, and Serangoon.  Establishing additional meetinghouses to reduce travel times may enhance national outreach if feasible. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Member activity was strong enough to fill the needed callings to support a stake even though membership was smaller than most stakes when the Church created the Singapore stake.  Member activity rates are moderate for East Asia.  Higher convert retention rates than other industrialized Asian nations appear possible due to the active role of members in referring and fellowshipping investigators and new converts.  The operation of a stake despite few members and activity rates estimated at 35% indicate the devotion and quality active membership.  Convert retention appears moderate due to counterproselytism efforts from other Christian groups and the influence of materialism and secularism on society.  Many converts in the Church come from nations which have a small presence in Singapore and an even smaller or no Church presence in their home country.  This provides a great opportunity for converts from nations in which the Church is not established to return home and conduct missionary work among family and friends in preparation of the Church's arrival. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

The cosmopolitan atmosphere of Singapore and government policies aimed at maintaining ethnic harmony reduce ethnic integration challenges for the LDS Church.  Most countries in Asia have some permanent or temporary residents in Singapore.  Even the largest ethnic group, the Chinese, is an agglomeration of peoples throughout China which have arrived at different times.  The sole Chinese-speaking ward did not become a ward until 2001 and likely serves members who are not proficient in English.  Some new converts consist of temporary residents from lesser-reached nations including India, Indonesia, and Myanmar. 

Language Issues

Widespread fluency in English among Singaporean residents simplifies LDS outreach.  Notwithstanding this advantage, few speak immigrants and migrant workers speak English with enough competence to learn the gospel and have meaningful church attendance.  Misunderstandings and lack of communication between migrant workers and permanent residents has likely contributed to modest member activity and retention rates. 

Leadership

Singapore has built strong local leadership over the past several decades, resulting in the creation of a stake in the mid-1990s despite few congregations and a small church membership.  Oftentimes the first stake created in a country has leaders who also work for the Church, yet the first Singapore Stake presidency revealed the strength of active male membership, with neither the president nor his counselors working for the Church.[16]  The stake presidency was reorganization in 2003[17] and 2008.  The latter reorganization resulted with the new president also working for the Church as the CES country director.  The new counselors did not work for the Church.[18]  Leadership is challenged to serve the needs of the ethnic diversity in membership and developing leadership among ethnic minorities.  The organization of two additional wards in 2011 indicate increasing numbers of leadership manpower.

Temple

Singapore is assigned to the Hong Kong China Temple district.  Temple trips occur regularly but require planning due to travel costs and times.  President Hinckley stated in 2000 that members should continue growing the Church in Singapore that a temple could be built.[19]  In 2009, the Singapore Stake President reported to members in stake conference that they had the numbers needed to support a temple, but members needed to learn to be more charitable and forgiving before a temple would be announced.  A potential temple in Singapore could serve Latter-day Saints throughout Southeast Asia.

Comparative Growth

Slow to modest membership growth has occurred in Singapore in the past 50 years compared to other East Asian nations.  Greater membership and congregation growth in the Church occurred in Hong Kong during the first 50 years, after which there were 20,700 members, 39 congregations and a temple.  Singapore experiences substantially higher member activity rates compared to Hong Kong despite many cultural similarities and today Singapore is one of the countries with the fewest Latter-day Saints with a stake.  Differences in member activity and convert retention rates appear due to differing mission policies and convert baptismal standards.  The LDS Church in Singapore experienced one of the highest membership growth rates among industrialized nations in the 2000s and early 2010s. 

Other Christian groups have had difficulty establishing themselves in Singapore.  Jehovah's Witnesses were banned by the government, yet meet privately in homes and manage to have an estimated 2,000 members.  Seventh Day Adventists have also seen growth comparable to the LDS Church, indicating that Singaporeans are cautious about joining Christian religions seen as untraditional.  Slow growth in Singapore is likely related to the rise of secularism and the complex religious and ethnic demography.  Other Christian denominations may have hurt the LDS Church's image.

Future Prospects

Slow, steady growth will likely continue for the LDS Church in Singapore.  A second stake may be organized in Singapore if additional congregations are created.  Additional language-specific congregations may be created, such as for Tamil and Indonesian speakers.  A young single adult unit or differentiated Chinese-speaking congregations (Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkein, ect.) seem likely possibilities.  However additional congregations will likely only be created as membership is strong enough to provide leadership and if functioning congregations are operating at capacity.  As hinted by President Hinckley and a Singapore Stake President, Singapore is a likely location for a future temple.


[1]  "Singapore Department of Statistics - Press Release," Singapore Department of Statistics, 12 January 2011.  http://www.singstat.gov.sg/news/news/press12012011.pdf

[2]  "Singapore Department of Statistics - Press Release," Singapore Department of Statistics, 12 January 2011.  http://www.singstat.gov.sg/news/news/press12012011.pdf

[3]  "Singapore," International Religious Freedom Report 2005, retrieved 27 June 2011.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2005/51529.htm

[4]  Tice, Richard.  "Singapore Saints," Liahona, December 1990.  http://lds.org/liahona/1990/12/singapore-saints?lang=eng

[5]  "Singapore," Country Profile, 2 April 2011.  http://newsroom.lds.org/country/singapore

[6]  Tice, Richard.  "Singapore Saints," Liahona, December 1990.  http://lds.org/liahona/1990/12/singapore-saints?lang=eng

[7]  "Singapore," Country Profile, 2 April 2011.  http://newsroom.lds.org/country/singapore

[8]  "New stake presidencies," LDS Church News, 22 April 1995.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/26764/New-stake-presidencies.html

[9]  "Friends in Singapore," Friend, September 1975, 14. 

[10]  "Musical youth are singing in Singapore," LDS Church News, 22 May 2004.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/45604/Musical-youth-are-singing-in-Singapore.html

[11]  "Asia area: Elder Oaks visits Singapore," LDS Church News, 11 March 1989.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/18481/Asia-area--Elder-Oaks-visits-Singapore.html

[12]  "Making quilts for orphanage," LDS Church News, 18 September 2004.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/46163/Making-quilts-for-orphanage.html

[13]  Weaver, Sarah Jane.  "Emergency response is appropriate, immediate," LDS Church News, 15 January 2005.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/46735/Emergency-response-is-appropriate-immediate.html

[14]  "Singapore youth serve," LDS Church News, 29 July 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/49250/Singapore-youth-serve.html

[15]  "Singapore sisters knit beany hats for babies," LDS Church News, 30 December 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/49965/Singapore-sisters-knit-beany-hats-for-babies.html

[16]  "New stake presidencies," LDS Church News, 22 April 1995.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/26764/New-stake-presidencies.html

[17]  "New stake presidents," LDS Church News, 17 May 2003.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/43772/New-stake-presidents.html

[18]  "New stake presidents," LDS Church News, 5 April 2008.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/51796/New-stake-presidents.html

[19]  "Pres. Hinckley completes tour in Pacific Rim," LDS Church News, 12 February 2000.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/37174/Pres-Hinckley-completes-tour-in-Pacific-Rim.html