Hillsong Church is a charismatic Christian megachurch and Christian denomination originating from Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. The church was established in 1983, originally called Hills Christian Life Centre, in Baulkham Hills, New South Wales, by Brian Houston and his wife, Bobbie. The church is also known for its worship music, with groups such as Hillsong Worship, Hillsong United and Hillsong Young & Free. Formerly a member of the Australian Christian Churches (the Australian branch of the Assemblies of God), it separated from ACC in 2018.
Hillsong Convention Centre in the Norwest Business Park
|Weekly attendance||100,000 (World), 40,075 (Australia)|
|Senior pastor(s)||Brian and Bobbie Houston|
Hillsong is a megachurch that has been described by popular music scholar Tom Wagner as a "confluence of sophisticated marketing techniques and popular music". The music of Hillsong United and Hillsong Worship are credited with driving Hillsong's global popularity. It was founded in 1983 inside a warehouse as Hills Christian Life Centre by former window cleaner Brian Houston and his wife Bobbie Houston. Through the 1980s and 1990s the congregation grew from 45 members to nearly 20,000 and emerged as a significant influence in the area of contemporary worship music. This was a result of strategic marketing that targeted younger generations and Hillsong's success at establishing itself as a global music standard.
Originally, services were held at the Baulkham Hills Public School hall. In 1997 the church moved into its new building at Baulkham Hills' Norwest Business Park. A new convention centre at the church's "Hills" location, was opened on 19 October 2002 by John Howard, the then Prime Minister of Australia. During the 1990s, Kiev Christian life Centre, now Hillsong Kiev, and London Christian Life Centre, now Hillsong London, were planted from the Hillsong Church as independent churches.
In March 2007, Hillsong Kiev planted an offshoot church in Moscow, which started regular services in July 2007. It was announced in October 2007 that Phil Dooley and Lucinda Dooley would plant a Hillsong Church in South Africa in March 2008. Hillsong Stockholm, Sweden, formerly known as Passion Church, was planted in 2008-2009. In 2009, a third campus, in Campbelltown, New South Wales, and a fourth, in Mount Gravatt, Queensland, were added. In 2015, there were three campuses in Melbourne. In February 2016 a campus was added in Darwin, Northern Territory. 2017 brought a large expansion with Bali, Wollongong and Perth all being launched.
In 2017 Hillsong announced that it would be opening a church in Tel Aviv, Israel. Hillsong United featured Daher Nassar, a Palestinian Christian, in their music video Prince of Peace. The video was recorded live in Israel and shows a stone at the entrance of Nassar's farm which has the words "We refuse to be enemies" written on it.
In September 2018, Hillsong left the Australian Christian Churches (of which Houston had been national superintendent/president from 1997 to 2009) to become an autonomous denomination, identifying itself more as a global and charismatic church. According to both Hillsong and ACC, the parting was amicable.
The founders, Brian and Bobbie Houston, are currently the global senior pastors of Hillsong Church. The church is governed by a board of elders. The elders lead the church spiritually as well as act as a board of directors. The members of "The Hillsong Eldership" are senior executive staff and business leaders from Hillsong's congregation. Elders are appointed for one year, with renewable terms.
Hillsong's various ministries include Hillsong Music, Hillsong Kids, Hillsong Sisterhood, Hillsong Men, Hillsong Conference, Hillsong CityCare, Hillsong International Leadership College, Hillsong Channel, TV & Film, Hillsong Performing Arts Academy and Hillsong Health Centre. Their total facilities are estimated to be worth around $100 million.
Hillsong Young & Free
Hillsong Young & Free (also known as Hillsong Y&F or simply Y&F) is an Australian contemporary worship music group from Sydney, where they started making Christian music in 2012 at Hillsong Church. They have released two live albums, We Are Young & Free (2013) and Youth Revival (2016), the studio album III (2018) and two extended play recordings, This Is Living (2015) and We Are Young & Free: The Remixes (2015).
Bobbie Houston has been especially influential in Hillsong's ministry for women, called Sisterhood. She is a mentor to many of Hillsong's women leaders. Although Hillsong generally supports the traditional roles of wife and mother for women, the church's position is that their ministries "empower" women. Riches found via interviews with attendees that the ministries increased women's choice regarding around sexuality and child rearing; encouraged women to start small businesses and to take on promotions at work; facilitated women's participation in cultural events, as well as promoted women's voices in religious teaching and public life. Church members have described Hillsong's leadership development as a process that supports women's movement from timid, supportive wife into leadership roles within the Church. The Sisterhood is involved in issues like HIV, domestic violence and human trafficking. Their midweek gathering is primarily for women. It is attended by all female staff members and is the foundation of Hillsong's women's ministries. The Thursday meeting for mothers increasingly now includes businesswomen. They also have special quarterly "Sisterhood United" night meetings that include working women. Members of the church say that Bobbie's authority as a leader comes from "a pentecostal understanding of Spirit empowerment".
Hillsong City Care
In 1986 a social engagement program called CityCare was established offering various community services including personal development programs, counseling services, a health centre and youth mentoring. CityCare's "street teams" worked within the community to care for, feed and clothe the homeless. Also in 1986, the first Hillsong conference was held with 150 attendees. In 1999 Hillsong Church was founded when the Hills Christian Life Centre merged with the Sydney Christian Life Centre.
In July 2008, concerns were raised by some teachers, parents and experts about the Hillsong City Care Shine program for girls being run in New South Wales public schools, community groups and the juvenile justice system. The concerns include that the program is "inappropriate for troubled young women, that the under-qualified facilitators are reinforcing gender stereotypes and that some parents have not been properly informed" and that "the program encourages girls to be subservient by teaching them that they need to be attractive to men". Hillsong claims that parents are supportive and that the program breaks down barriers in a group situation. In a media response on 29 July 2008, Hillsong expressed strong support for their program and explicitly denied charges of using the program for evangelism.
Hillsong was formerly affiliated with Australian Christian Churches (the Assemblies of God in Australia), which belongs within the Pentecostal tradition of Christianity. The church's beliefs are Evangelical and Pentecostal in that it holds the Bible as the truth and authoritative in matters of faith. They believe that Jesus Christ is God Incarnate, and the only begotten Son of the Father, who reconciled humanity to God through his death and resurrection. The church believes forgiveness for the wrong it considers people to have done and being part of God's family can only be achieved through repenting of such wrongs, believing in Jesus as people's Lord and saviour, and submitting to his will for people's lives. They believe that in order to live a fruitful Christian life a person should, among other things, seek baptism in the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit enables the use of spiritual gifts, which include, and are not limited to, speaking in tongues.
Hillsong's positions on non-central doctrines of the faith are diverse, although individuals may have taken a public stand on many topical issues in contemporary Christianity is in keeping with mainstream Pentecostalism - e.g. opposing embryonic stem cell research and abortion based on a belief that human life commences at conception. Hillsong has also declared support for Creationism and Intelligent Design and believes this should be taught in schools. It also believes that homosexuality is contrary to biblical teaching but emphasises that it does not condemn homosexuals.
Hillsong's prosperity teachings have been criticised by Christian leaders Tim Costello and George Pell. Subsequent statements by Tim Costello indicated that he was satisfied with changes made by Brian Houston to Hillsong's teaching in response to criticism. Hillsong's teachings have been commented on favourably by Peter Costello, Tim Costello's brother, also a Baptist and a former Treasurer of Australia who has defended the church against accusations of unorthodoxy.
Hillsong Church has produced over 40 albums, which have sold over 11 million copies. Albums are produced for different target audiences including Hillsong Kids for children. Hillsong Chapel features acoustic arrangements, which are "quieter" than the electric guitar, keyboard and drums that are typical of Hillsong's music. Hillsong's albums are produced by Hillsong Music Australia. Hillsong's congregational music has been the dominant source of the church's influence in the Charismatic Christianity movement.
Music is central to worship at the church. Hillsong's worship leaders have generally enjoyed a high profile international position. Early worship leaders included Geoff Bullock and Darlene Zschech. Zschech was Hillsong's second worship leader and Hillsong achieved international acclaim during her ministry. Zschech's "Shout to the Lord" was an early hit for Hillsong in mid-1990s. In 2008, Reuben Morgan became Hillsong's third worship leader.
Hillsong's worship music has been widely influential not only in Pentecostal churches, but more broadly in Evangelical churches. Many of Hillsong's "worship expressions" have been incorporated into Evangelical services including raised hands, vocal utterance and dance. Hillsong Music has released over 40 albums since 1992, many of them achieving gold status in Australia and one of them, People Just Like Us, achieving platinum status. The church's 2004 live praise and worship album For All You've Done reached No. 1 in the mainstream Australian album charts (ARIA).
In September 2012, Hillsong produced The Global Project, a collection of their most popular songs released in nine different languages including Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Mandarin, Indonesian, German, French, Swedish and Russian.
Hillsong United is Hillsong's most popular band. Their song "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)" was number one on the Billboard Hot Christian Songs list for a full year. The New York Times described their music as "ornate mainstream arena rock but with God-only lyrics that are vetted for adherence to theology". Joel Houston, Hillsong's creative director, leads Hillsong United.
The Hillsong Worship albums, formerly led by Darlene Zschech and Reuben Morgan, all achieved gold status in Australia. The Live Album Series was recorded at the Sydney campus(es) and then edited and produced by Hillsong Music Australia. The worship series began as a compilation of songs and developed into studio recorded albums. To help take Hillsong Music mainstream an agreement with Warner Music Australia took place in 1999. In 2003 Sony Music Australia also signed with Hillsong Music to take the group even more mainstream. In 2018 Hillsong Worship won its first Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song for "What a Beautiful Name".
Hillsong Young & Free
Hillsong Young & Free was established in 2012 as a new branch of Hillsong's ministry. Hillsong Church has been successful at adjusting the musical style of their ministries to keep up with changing musical trends. Hillsong Young & Free was launched to attract postmillenial youth worshippers. The style of music in this particular ministry reflects features of musical genres that are popular with this target demographic, including dubstep and electronic music.
Hillsong Kids were children's songs from Hillsong's children's ministry. The albums Jesus Is My Superhero and Super Strong God were included on the "Best Christian Children's Albums" lists for 2005 and 2006, respectively. Hillsong Kids released an annual worship for kids album since 2004. Hillsong Music has released two Christmas albums, several compilation albums as well as recordings from Hillsong London, Hillsong Kiev and Youth Alive.
On 9 March 2016, the American religious broadcaster Trinity Broadcasting Network announced a partnership with Hillsong that saw their former sub-network, The Church Channel re-imaged as the Hillsong Channel on 1 June 2016, in line with Hillsong's American expansion plans.
Hillsong Conference is a mid-year week long annual conference in Sydney, London and New York later each year. First started in 1986, it has now grown to be the largest annual conference in Australia.
The conference is hosted by Hillsong Church and Lead Pastors Brian and Bobbie Houston, and involves a variety of guests from across the globe. Baptist minister Michael Frost described the conference as having, "a kind of electric, almost carnival atmosphere... the delegates were full of anticipation and excitement."
On 16 September 2016, the documentary Hillsong: Let Hope Rise, directed by Michael John Warren, was released to cinemas across the United States. The film explores Hillsong's beginnings and its rise to prominence as an international church. The main focus is on the band Hillsong United as they write songs for their upcoming album and work toward a performance at The Forum in Los Angeles.
Hillsong Church has attracted support from high-profile politicians, especially from the Liberal Party of Australia. In 1998, Brian Houston met with then Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, and most of his Cabinet, at Parliament House in Canberra before sharing prayers. In 2002, John Howard opened the Hillsong Convention Centre at the Baulkham Hills location. In 2004 and 2005, the then Treasurer of Australia, Peter Costello, spoke at its annual conferences. Mark Latham, the then Leader of the Opposition, declined Hillsong's invitation to the 2004 conference, although Bob Carr, the then Premier of New South Wales (from the NSW Labor Party), did attend the 2005 conference.
Liberal MP for Mitchell, Alan Cadman, and two Family First Party senate candidates, Joan Woods and Ivan Herald, who failed to win senate seats, were featured in a Hillsong circular during the election, with members being asked to pray for them.
Hillsong's high-profile involvement with political leaders has been questioned in the media, and publicly, the church has distanced itself from advocating certain political groups and parties, including the fledgling Family First party. Brian Houston has replied to these criticisms by stating, "I think people need to understand the difference between the church being very involved in politics and individual Christians being involved in politics."
In 2008, it was claimed by a Sydney inner city publication, Central Magazine, that Hillsong had donated A$600 to a Member of the Legislative Council, Kristina Keneally (ALP), for the tickets of a fundraising dinner, featuring the New South Wales' Planning Minister, Frank Sartor (ALP), as a guest speaker one month before the 2007 state election, despite Hillsong's own statement of corporate governance declaring that 'Hillsong Church does not make financial contributions to or align itself with any political party or candidate'. A Hillsong staff member, Maria Ieroianni, claimed that no donation had been made and that the dinner was not a fundraiser. Hillsong also issued a statement on their website denying that the money was a donation. According to the Central Magazine article, Keneally has described the dinner as a fundraiser and the money from Hillsong as a donation. The article also claims that these descriptions are confirmed by the records of the Electoral Commission.
Hillsong has been criticised at various times. Concerns have been expressed by politicians, media, community groups, Christian leaders and former members. Criticisms have covered Hillsong's use of finances, its ties to controversial organisations, its treatment of critics and its alleged involvement in vote stacking of the Australian Idol TV show.
Criticism of finances
Pushes for a charity commission in Australia have stemmed from claims that religious organisations like Hillsong avoid taxes by paying their staff in tax-exempt fringe benefits. In 2010, The Sunday Telegraph reported that the Houston family was enjoying a lavish lifestyle, almost entirely tax-free, including vehicles and expense accounts. Criticisms have been levelled at Hillsong in regard to its finances, especially its use of government grants when it reportedly made $40 million in 2004 and $50 million in 2010. It was alleged that Hillsong had paid staff members with money given as a government grant for the assistance of the Riverstone Aboriginal community. However, letters of apology from both the Riverstone Aboriginal Community and from the Minister of Justice and Customs, were later published on the Hillsong website.
Sexual abuse committed by founder's father
Frank Houston, the father of Hillsong Church founder Brian Houston, was a pastor in New Zealand and Australia who abused as many as nine boys over the course of his ministry. In the 1960s and '70s, one victim was routinely subjected to sexual abuse from the age of 7 to 12. In 1999, his mother reported the abuse to the church. Although Brian Houston was legally obligated to report the crime, he did not do so.:6:30 The victim later testified to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that Frank Houston offered him AU$10,000 as compensation at a McDonald's in the presence of Hillsong Church elder Nabi Saleh. During an internal church investigation, Frank Houston eventually confessed to the crime. The commission also heard that he was involved in the sexual abuse of other children in New Zealand. Frank Houston resigned from his church in 2000, which then merged with Hillsong Church. Contrary to what is stated in Frank Houston's resignation letter, he retired from the position of senior pastor of Sydney Christian Life Centre in May 1999 and was never employed by Hillsong Church. A further internal investigation by Assemblies of God in Australia, in conjunction with the Assemblies of God in New Zealand, found six additional child sexual abuse allegations, which were regarded as credible.:11:24
In 2015, the royal commission examined allegations that accused Brian Houston of concealing his father's crimes and censured him for failing to report his father to the police.:12:30 In November 2018, 60 Minutes aired a segment revisiting the sexual abuse scandal, because newly revealed documentation allegedly reveals that Brian Houston was deeply involved in a cover-up and that Frank Houston's abusive behaviour was worse than initially thought. Brian Houston allegedly used his position within the Assemblies of God in Australia denomination to conceal his father's serial child sexual abuse. The matter was referred to the New South Wales Police Force, which confirmed that Brian Houston was under criminal investigation for failing to report a serious crime.:14:01 Following the 60 Minutes story, Hillsong released a statement in response to the allegations.
Hillsong has been criticised for its involvement with Mercy Ministries, an evangelical charity with a right to life view and a conservative perspective on homosexuality. Complaints by former residents of Mercy Ministries include "emotionally cruel and medically unproven techniques", such as exorcism and residents being required to sign over social welfare payments to Mercy Ministries. Hillsong responded by praising the work of Mercy Ministries and stating that "we are not involved in the operational aspects of the organization." The church also said: "We have heard many wonderful testimonies about how the work of Mercy has helped the lives of young women facing often debilitating and life-controlling situations. Some would even say that Mercy Ministries has saved their life." Mercy Ministries was closed down on 31 October 2009, preceding which Hillsong had distanced itself from the organisation despite earlier funding and staffing elements of it.
Criticism from a former member
Hillsong's attitude towards criticism was portrayed negatively by one former member, Tanya Levin, in her book People in Glass Houses: An Insider's Story of a Life In and Out of Hillsong. Specific criticisms covered authoritarian church governance, lack of financial accountability, resistance to free thought, strict fundamentalist teachings and lack of compassion. In an interview with Andrew Denton, Levin further discussed her experience of Hillsong, which she described as "toxic Christianity". On 1 July 2015, Levin was arrested for trespassing while being interviewed outside the 2015 Hillsong annual conference at Sydney Olympic Park.
Alleged vote stacking in Australian Idol
In 2007 Hillsong was alleged to have been involved in vote stacking Network Ten's Australian Idol, a claim that Network Ten rejected. However, some Hillsong members and former members indicated that some level of co-ordinated support of church members on Australian Idol has taken place.
Michael Guglielmucci cancer scandal
On 20 August 2008, Michael Guglielmucci, a then pastor of Influencers Church who composed "Healer" from the album This Is Our God – a song about his experience of cancer – admitted he had lied about ever having cancer. Hillsong leadership told the press they were unaware of this situation and that the suspended pastor was seeking professional help. The ACC promised that all money donated by listeners inspired by the song would either be returned or donated to charity.
Stance on homosexuality and same-sex marriage
In 2014, Brian Houston discussed being more understanding of gay people. Later, he clarified his position after being criticised by some Christians for allegedly supporting homosexuality. In a statement released on Hillsong's website, he stated: "Nowhere in my answer did I diminish biblical truth or suggest that I or Hillsong Church supported gay marriage."
Mark Driscoll appearance
American preacher Mark Driscoll had been invited to attend the Hillsong Church 2015 annual conference. When it was revealed that Driscoll had made offensive comments about women, Brian Houston announced that Driscoll would no longer attend the conference. A pre-recorded interview with Driscoll was played during the conference.
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Homosexuals are, of course, unwelcome, but Houston says he's not a Fred Nile-type fanatic on these matters.
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In Hillsong Emerge's budget for the successful grant, $103,584 would go to the project co-ordinator's salary, $20,715 to the project co-ordinator's 'on-costs,' $46,800 to 'contract management, supervision and support,' $31,200 to 'administration, reception, book-keeping,' $8000 to 'evaluation,' and $7800 to 'IT-communications.' That accounts for more than half the grant, and the largest single allocation for actual activities is for 'sporting-recreational events at $18,000.
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Pastor Brian Houston said that his father spoke to him over a number of years about assuming the position of Senior Pastor at Sydney Christian Life Centre. In May 1999, Frank Houston suddenly retired from the position of Senior Pastor at Sydney Christian Life Centre and asked Pastor Brian Houston to take over his position. Pastor Brian Houston was the only nominee for Senior Pastor put to the Board of Sydney Christian Life Centre for approval. From May 1999 Pastor Brian Houston was the Senior Pastor of both churches for a period of 18 months. In that year the two churches merged and in 2001 were renamed Hillsong Church. Today Hillsong Church is an affiliate of the Australian Christian Churches, successor of the Assemblies of God.
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AHA said he saw a television address by Brian Houston, who was now the senior Pastor of the church, around the year 2000 when he told the congregation that his father had been involved in a minor indiscretion in New Zealand 30 years ago. He said he was appalled that Brian Houston did not reveal the extent of allegations against his father, including his case. "He avoided using the term paedophilia", AHA said. "I thought it was corrupt that he had used the phrase 'involved in a minor indiscretion'. "As far as I was aware Pastor Frank was still preaching at this time and was also doing seminars."
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Frank Houston, the founder of the Sydney Christian Life Centre, which merged with his son Brian's Hills Christian Life Centre to become Hillsong Church, wrote to churchgoers in November 2000, informing them of his resignation due to "retirement". "I hereby wish to tender my resignation from the staff and eldership of the City Hillsong Church as I feel it is time for (my wife) Hazel and I to enter retirement", he wrote. "It has been a privilege to minister in the church and to work with you all." Minutes tendered to the commission show that at a November 2000 meeting of the senior ranks of the Assemblies of God, now known as Australian Christian Churches, it was agreed that Frank Houston should be thanked for "his immeasurable contribution to the church". The provision of "financial support" for Frank Houston and his wife was discussed at the same meeting.
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- 'Today Tonight's been in there right from the beginning with the tough questions. They spoke to two former Hillsong members, "fallen angels in confession mode", about the church's tactics recently; how AOG pastors strongly urged members to watch Idol and vote for church-sanctioned contestants.'Jane Nethercote. "Australian Idol: Where are the singing Buddhists?". Private Media Pty Ltd, Publishers of Crikey.com.au. Archived from the original on 24 October 2007. Retrieved 10 October 2007.
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