Brief Background on Christ’s Commission Fellowship
The Christ’s Commission Fellowship (CCF) is a non-denominational church which began as a small evangelistic home Bible study in 1982. For 3 decades, the fellowship constantly transferred from one place to another 6 times before it found a permanent home in Frontera Verde, Ortigas in 2013. During the transferring period, CCF also expanded its reach by creating several satellites inside and outside the country. Today, it has over 60,000 believers and 65 satellite locations. Due to the large number of worship service attendees it has per week, CCF is considered to be an example of a megachurch.
Just like any church, CCF has its own set of beliefs and practices. In fact, their beliefs are very similar to those of the Roman Catholic’s. Worshippers of CCF attend an hour and a half long service every Saturday or Sunday. On Saturdays, there is a 6:00-7:30 P.M. schedule, while on Sundays, there is a 9:00-10:30 A.M.; a 12:00-1:30 P.M.; a 3:00-4:30 P.M.; and a 6:00-7:30 P.M schedule. During Sunday services, the pastors make use of the same bible – the one that has 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament – in referencing their discussions. Their church also believes in the same God that comes in three forms: namely the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For them, the use of water in baptism is also important as it symbolizes “an act of obedience to Christ’s command” (CCF, 2016).
This ethnographic research paper talks about our group’s first hand experience on CCF’s Sunday service. Last July 8, 2018, our group attended the 12 noon Sunday service in CCF’s Ortigas branch. We used participant observation in collecting data to better understand the culture of CCF and the people there. Our group was asked to arrive at 11:30 A.M., 30 minutes before the service, in order to manage good seats inside the auditorium. Getting inside CCF’s building was easy as anyone is free to enter. The only hurdle was trying to mix well with the regulars so as not to look lost. Upon reaching the auditorium, it was observed that during the time before the actual Sunday service (from 11:30 A.M. to 12 noon), a quiet time or reflection time is being imposed in order to prepare one’s self for the upcoming service. At the start of the worship, the audience is asked to stand up, sing and dance along to the songs that are led by multiple singers on stage. It is then followed by a short prayer and a short moment to greet one’s fellow worshippers. At this point, establishing a rapport is crucial in order to make the people around us comfortable having us around. The whole worship service that consisted of talks from pastors and personal sharings from worshippers lasted for an hour and 45 minutes (12:00 to 1:45 P.M.).
Offhand, the structure of venue reminded us a great deal of the Mall of Asia arena. From the escalators that were facing opposite sides of the reception area, to the amenities that await us inside the building (e.g the bookstore, cafeteria, coffee shops, basketball court, zumba area, gym, offices, and the auditorium to name a few). The place evoked feelings of warmth, belonging, and camaraderie as the people inside were very accommodating towards the participants for that Sunday’s worship. There were people who were well-acquainted to each other, families and friends who greet each other with wide grins plastered over their faces, but even so, the place did not feel exclusive at all, people from all walks of life joined together had one objective in mind—-the Sunday worship.
When we stepped inside the massive auditorium—a 3 level infrastructure with a 10000 pax capacity—-we were bewildered and stunned because we did not really see this one coming. We expected the place to be more intimate, modest, and subdued, yet there was this full blown production that included performers who sung in a lively song-prayer worship. The discourse was very much like a TED talk, at least in our frame of reference because of the ambience and the aura that it evoked—from the display monitors, the equipment, up to the content of the powerpoint presentation. It was interactive and it deviated from the traditional customs of the Sunday mass in a sense that it didn’t follow the ceremony/form that most of us, first century Roman Catholic Christians are familiar with. They had pastor/s for the speakers, and during that afternoon they tackled concept behind the act of mercy or being merciful. They affirmed that in order to achieve “legit happiness”, one must be full of mercy—-and that really puts thing into perspective. Other factors such as KCF which stood for kindness, compassion, and forgiveness were also discussed during the hour and a half long session. A first hand account sharing was also given by a couple who struggled with their marriage prior to becoming active in their Christian faith—-they openly disclosed the rocky path that they embarked upon, such as the husband’s infidelity in marriage and the wife’s apathy.
The community members were very welcoming, one instance that we had in particular was with this man that we sat next to during the worship, he extended his greeting by shaking Eunice’s hand when the speaker requested us to greet our fellow worshippers—this came as a bit of a shock to is because under traditional Catholic circumstances, we are often timid when it comes to greeting other people that we’re not all that acquainted with—-perhaps it varies from one Church community to another but it still came as a surprise nonetheless. People from all walks of life came and we can’t help but have this impinging need to calculate the costs of their production because technically, dropping by to participate to their Sunday worship was not subject to any admission fee/s whatsoever so quite literally, a person could drop by unintentionally and still get to enjoy and make the visit count without having to shell out as much cash.
Overall, the environment inside the CCF fostered a healthy safespace for people who wished to join and participate in their worship service. The community was very casual, upbeat, and welcoming and they did not sneer nor look down on us when we arrived the venue. Not to mention, the people we encountered and ran into were very nice, genuine, friendly, and accommodating and there was no room for exclusivity whatsoever. The place was filled with people who were dedicated and interested to learn not only from the pastor and his sermon, but from each other’s insights and personal experiences as well. Regardless of who you are, where you come from, what you believe in, or what your faith or religion may be, the whole CCF community will definitely make you feel more than welcome and part of the community. In fact, they have a Welcome Center by the main entrance, which is managed by young volunteers. The Welcome Center’s main purpose is to, of course, welcome first timers and new members of the community and entertain their questions regarding the worship service and to give them an idea of what to expect during the CCF worship service. It is also open to anyone who is curious and wishes to learn more about the CCF, as well as its community, worship service, faith, beliefs, etc.
Our key informant from the CCF Ortigas branch was Pastor Ickhoy De Leon, who was a former businessman who decided to leave his corporate career in order to serve full time at his Church as a pastor. Other than that, he is also the current head of the CCF’s Singles Ministry. During our visit and interview with Pastor Ickhoy, he shared with us how most non-Christians view the CCF’s worship ceremony as a “concert” because of the large auditorium filled with people dancing and singing lively. Besides singing and dancing, the CCF is still looking for more ways on how its audience and fellow worshippers may actively participate during their worship services. Another thing we learned from Pastor Ickhoy is that contrary to Catholic faith, Christians believe that receiving the Holy Eucharist every worship service is unnecessary, since they strongly believe that Jesus Christ is always present within them and that Christians do not follow and observe the Sign of the Cross. Moreover, he also shared with us how the CCF community celebrates their Sunday worship services. The worship service first starts with a Bible reading and a quiet prayer or reflection time, followed by praise and worship through song and dance, then the pastor’s sermon. After the sermon, families or couples who were invited by the CCF to share their personal experiences are asked to share it with the rest of the CCF community. Also, we learned from Pastor Ickhoy that the CCF worship service is open to everyone, even to those who practice and come from different religions.
During the worship service, we were not able to contribute that much to the program since it was planned beforehand and none of us in the group were members or part of the CCF community. However, because the CCF community practices active participation during its worship sessions and welcomes non-Christians to join and participate in their worship service, our group’s presence in the event contributed to the crowd’s participation in praising Jesus Christ through singing and dancing. Although we did not know much and were not familiar with the worship and praise songs, as well as the dance, we just clapped our hands. Through our own active involvement in the activity, our group was given the opportunity to also contribute to the overall ambiance of the worship.
Sociocultural Context and Background
The Christ’s Commission Fellowship (CCF) is considered to be one of the fastest-growing evangelical churches in the country. According to CCF’s website, anyone can participate in their activities. However, since CCF has a mission which is “To honor God and make Christ-committed followers who will make Christ-committed followers”, those who are willing to abide by this mission are encouraged to join. Their church also has certain beliefs, and the only way to join them is to “walk with God” and to understand the beliefs that accompanied this line of thinking. It is considered one of the fastest-growing Evangelical (non-denominational) churches in the country. We posit the claim that people gravitate towards this type of church or community because it breeds a sense of camaraderie that the traditional & oftentimes conservative roman catholic church would otherwise not be able to provide and/or develop. The Roman Catholic church tend to preserve the status quo and this element is intricate and deceptive because the religion follows a highly dogmatic approach. First century christians, such as the members in our group, lead lives by the book and at times this could feel a bit routinary or stagnant in the long run than its designated purpose of being a joyous/spirited celebration. By no means is this a derogatory assertion that we try to posit as religion is a conundrum—-with multiple layers and decades of history that defines its canon. To put it into context we are limited to the confines of the Christian traditional church’s customs; to have this unique community that is widely hospitable, with such cutting edge and top of the line facilities that seem too good to be true, it is a no-brainer that people could be swept away by the allure, the pomp, and the circumstance. With that in mind, it should not come as a surprise that Filipinos are indeed fond of communal celebrations that involves some sort of singing and/or dancing which ultimately cultivates a positive outlook on life—-the CCF worship is a manifestation of this code. Regardless of where a person came from or what their current standing in life is, they are free to join the worship and rest assured they will be treated just like everyone else–on equal footing.
1. What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?
Through our participation in CCF’s worship ceremony, we realized that our pre-conceived belief that Christian ceremonies were simply just “concerts” was a wrong assumption. By actively participating and immersing ourselves in the experience, each of us was able to feel our strong love for Jesus through the music and dances being performed on stage. The interactive discussions by the pastors made us learn more about what it takes to be truly happy. The use of audience participation, rather than having the audience to just listen and observe, made reflecting and learning more personal. Despite this service being a non-Catholic ceremony, CCF succeeded in inspiring us to open our hearts to our faiths through the use of active song and dance, insightful lectures from the pastor and through the story shared by a Christian couple about how their faith salvaged their dying marriage.
- What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
By coordinating with Pastor Ickhoy de Leon, our group was given the opportunity to understand and realize that although the Christ’s Commission Fellowship somewhat differs from the Roman Catholic religion in terms of its practices, traditions, celebrations, methods and rituals on worshipping and praising the Lord, both of these faiths and religions share the same goal and purpose, which is to love and serve God and to promote His love through our everyday actions. Other than that, we also learned from Pastor Ickhoy the different forms of worship that the CCF community observes and practices, such as Bible reading, prayer or reflection time, dancing and singing along to worship and praise songs, and sharing of personal experiences. Furthermore,
- What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?
By employing participant observation in our ethnographic research on the CCF’s worship ceremonies, we were able to see and witness for ourselves the commendable effectivity their church and worship service has in terms of inspiring and encouraging people to full-heartedly participate in their worship celebration. Through participant observation, the group was able to experience how Christians celebrate and worship Jesus Christ. Not only did we get to witness and observe the difference in the crowd’s eagerness to sing along and dance to the beat, but we were also able to observe how the pastor communicated his message to his audience and listeners. Furthermore, we were able to fully immerse ourselves in the experience of what it would be like to be a Christian and a part of the CCF sector. This is in contrast to the very minimal and shallow information we would have obtained, had we chosen to adhere to the interview, survey, or questionnaire method of conducting this ethnographic fieldwork research.
- For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
A questionnaire or interview would prove to be more effective than participant observation when one simply wants to conduct a survey or simply a casual interview for a feature magazine. On the other hand, participant observation was imperative and was key to close and address all of the floating questions that we had prior to our visit to the affluent and renowned worship community. Having or conducting an interview point-blank would leave us with blanket statements that we, as researchers, could view with a one-sided lens. It would not really echo well in our respective psyches to the extent that it would remain as a plain text and a bunch of jargon that we could not interpret for ourselves if we did not opt for a participant type observation.
- What insights did you gain about Philippine society and culture from the event that you observed and participated in?
In essence, Filipinos are always on the pursuit of happiness—of pure and utter bliss. They seek for the next best thing, even in terms of religion, a request that the CCF community heeded to. The idea of camaraderie, of shared feeling/s of joy that is carried out by singing and/or dancing is deeply embedded in the Philippine society. This is one of the driving factor/s that attributed to the CCF community and explicates why it gained prominence and reached a wider demographic in the first place. There’s also the convenience and the prestige that comes along with the patronage to the CCF community—it’s captivating and fresh and it transcends the confines of tradition and it sweeps Filipinos right off their feet.
The Christ’s Commission Fellowship. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.ccf.org.ph/