Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Hillsong is a global phenomenon. As I type this, the band has more than 5.3 million Facebook friends, 982K followers on Twitter and its YouTube channel has been eyed by close to 50 million viewers. According to the Gospel Music Association:
Hillsong was awarded five GMA Dove Awards in 2014, including Song of the Year, Contemporary Christian Performance of the Year, Worship Song of the Year and Pop Contemporary Recorded Song of the Year for “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail),” as well as the coveted Artist of the Year award. In addition, Hillsong UNITED was the first Christian act to ever sell out Los Angeles’ Staples Center and has sold out additional notable venues, including Seattle’s ShoWare Center, New York’s Radio City Music Hall, Chicago’s Sears Centre Arena, Denver’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre and Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl. More>>
You can find them on virtually every Christian radio station and sung Sunday morning in churches all across America. So what’s not to like?
Last year when I heard Hillsong was opening a church in Los Angeles at the historic Belasco Theater (just a hour away), and that lead pastor Brian Houston was coming, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to see what all this was about for myself. The following is what I heard and observed. A friend of mine recorded the service on his iPhone…not the best recording, but feel free to listen the best you can. Look for the speaker icon to jump directly to a certain point I’m referencing.
Hillsong Is A Family Affair
Son Joel Houston is a musician, songwriter, pastor, and leader in the Sydney-based band Hillsong United, son Ben Houston is the lead pastor of Hillsong LA, mother Bobbie Houston co-pastors Hillsong Australia with her husband Brian Houston.
In the service I sat in, Joel did MC-ing, Ben lead the worship, mother took the offering (well worth a listen ) and Brian did the preaching. It was very clear as the service progressed, Hillsong United and Hillsong the church are one in the same. There is no separation between the two. In the same way Jesus Culture is a ministry of Bethel Church, Hillsong United is a ministry of Hillsong Church.
Hillsong Is A Movement
Hillsong Church is a Pentecostal megachurch affiliated with Australian Christian Churches (the Australian branch of the Assemblies of God). It is one of the world’s fastest-growing ministries with a 100,000-plus strong congregation throughout campuses in Australia, London, New York City, Los Angeles, Paris, Stockholm, Moscow, Kiev, Barcelona, Germany, South Africa and Copenhagen.
In an article in the Australian Courier-Mail, Richard Sauerman (noted brand expert) says:
“Hillsong is huge. It is a movement. It is global. They brought the message through music. Music is very powerful; it communicates in deep ways, if you are religious or not. And that’s what they do; it’s rock music and people dig it. It connects. It is contemporary, it is modern, it is now. And it’s working. Hillsong is really on the pulse.” More>>
As I studied Hillsong as an organization, they seem to be organized around Six “C”s
- Churches (Hill Song Church plus International plants)
- Concerts (Tours)
- CDs (Extensive discography Amazon.com)
- Conferences (Hillsong Church Conference, Women’s Color Conference)
- College (Hillsong Leadership College)
- Cinema (Hillsong Movie)
From a marketing and communication perspective, this is genius! Each one is designed to feed the other. Hear the song in church? Buy the album. Like the album? Come to a Concert. Like the Concert? Come to a Conference. Like the Conference? Attend our college, join our church, etc.
Hillsong Music Funds Hillsong Church
It’s not a secret that Hillsong music is very profitable “arm” of Hillsong Church. In fact:
“In marketing terms it is a gold mine, given music represents 18% of the $60 million revenue the church receives annually. None of the rich music revenue goes into Houston’s pocket, but to fund the ministry locally and abroad. In a candid interview with Channel 7 in 2010, Houston admits he is paid $300,000 from the church.” More>>
I had to pull out a calculator…that’s $10.8 million dollars per year. That was in 2013. It’s only gotten bigger since.
This is called a Cash Cow. And a very lucrative one at that.
Hillsong Preaches The Prosperity Gospel
“What God births in your heart, he will manifest in your life.” – Brian Houston
One of my big takeaways from attending the Hillsong grand opening was the clarity in which Brian Houston taught the Prosperity Gospel. While it was a subtle shift from the traditional “bigger car, more money, gold in your teeth” we’ve seen on TV, it has been changed to dreams, hopes and aspirations that turn into incredible exploits, kingdoms business and social justice endeavors. *
How about infertility? Solved, just like Hanna in the Old Testament. (Later in his presentation, he gives a modern version of the story. The reason, according to Brian Houston, “What God started in their heart, he finished in their life.”
* If you disagree that this subtle twist isn’t the real “prosperity theology”, don’t worry…Brian makes himself perfectly clear in his book entitled You Need More Money.
I firmly believe that the Prosperity Gospel is either a perversion of the true gospel…or falls so far off that it is “another gospel” (Galatians 1:8, 2 Corinthians 11:4) and has no place in the church or a true Christian’s worldview.
Please let me clarify…
The true gospel is a message of YOU CAN’T…
Our heart is evil and full of deceit and desperately wicked. (Jeremiah 17:9). We need to lead our hearts…not follow them. We are dead in our sin (Colossians 2:13-14), separated from God (Isaiah 59:2) and there is nothing we can do about.
The GOOD NEWS is that God CAN…that Jesus paid the price (Romans 3:24) and that for all who turn from their sin (Acts 3:19), repent and call the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13). The message of the Bible is that we will be transformed through the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). God wants us to learn contentment (Philippians 4:11-13) and bring our hearts desires to him. That our true desires are ultimately fulfilled in Christ alone. We are called by him and kept by him…and that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
Singing Hillsong Furthers Their Mission And Their Message
In 1995, Brian Houston wrote a vision piece called The Church I Now See. I highly recommend you read it. It clearly layouts out Hillsong’s strategy as well as tips their hand to their theology. Interesting to note “lead / leader” is mentioned 11 times…while “serve” is mentioned once. One part that stood out to me:
“I see a church committed to an innovative NETWORK that connects hundreds of thousands of pastors and leaders and equips them to flourish. A network committed to the apostolic anointing of leaders who are desperate to see the Church of Jesus Christ rise up to live the un-lived life within her… His glorious Church.”
Every time we sing a Hillsong song, we promote to our congregations the Hillsong brand, send them money, and, in effect, join them in their network and help them spread their message.
Think Before You Sing
My goal of writing this is to challenge churches and worship leaders to think seriously about not only WHAT they are singing, but to also consider where their songs come from and who (and what) they may be unintentionally endorsing in the process.
All MOVEMENTS have an agenda and need to be scrutinized…much more than a solo songwriter.
When it comes to worship, why are we taking our cues from a movement where we don’t align on some very fundamental doctrinal issues?
- Apostolic Authority
- Second Blessing
- Prosperity Gospel
- Women Lead Pastors
- A church that offers a non-committal answer when it comes to homosexual marriage.
In the same way your theology informs your MINISTRY, it also informs your WORSHIP. It can’t help it. Worship is more than just expression of our hearts…it is instructive to the mind as well. We teach our people through singing.
In effect, there are two sermons that go on during Sunday morning, one that is sung, and one that is preached. While we would never put these men in our pulpits, we in effect, invite them to lead our people in worship every Sunday.
Know what you are promoting and who you are partnering with.
It was tremendously helpful for me to have the chance to experience Hillsong and hear Brian Houston personally…straight from the horse’s mouth so to say. As for me, I do not align with Hillsong, their teaching or their theology. Therefore, no matter how popular they are, or how I might not take issue with a particular song, I do not think it is wise to partner with them in worship. There are enough good songs out there that don’t have the baggage. We have a choice…we can sing something else.
The volume of the music was SO LOUD, the iPhone couldn’t record it : )