The City is my Parish? : Understanding the Hillsong Model
Among Pentecostal churches, Hillsong is the most widely known in Australia and internationally. The weekly attendance at its Sydney services alone is more than 20,000, making it the largest megachurch in Australia. There are some parallels in the Hillsong development to the growth of Methodism in the 18th century, and the Salvation Army in the late 19th century. Hillsong has remained highly focussed on having one or a few centres for worship in each major city rather than having many centres throughout suburban, regional and rural areas.
What do people think of now when they hear the word Hillsong? Probably, most people think of music. The Hillsong name was formally chosen in 1999 to reflect this way of branding the movement. Hillsong titles are used in churches throughout Australia and the world. The services allow for a variety of reflection, from full-on rock style, to general contemporary and also opportunity for milder and quieter reflection. Music has been the key to Hillsong’s development with the congregational music of Hillsong Live and the Hillsong United band.
Church members are encouraged to be volunteers, and do so enthusiastically, especially in relation to the services at the two main campuses in Sydney. Volunteers are encouraged to help at one service and attend another for worship. Volunteers also help with the range of Hillsong social and community services and events and ministries.
Church news at services and the use of video and music in all areas of the life of the church highlight the contemporary nature and their multimedia focus. Hillsong has its own television channel. Websites and music are all linked so they can draw and build on each facet of the organisation. They reflect the convergence of technology that is moving rapidly now where the TV will be the web, and iTunes and apps will be accessible in all ways. Live streaming was begun for selected Hillsong Conference material this year. Hillsong has a well-developed programme for children and youth, with different groups ensuring good age-appropriate learning and activities. It is also clear that Hillsong provides good facilities for families in terms of bathroom amenities and access arrangements. All the family can be at a service time, though in different parts of the facility, coming together to perhaps have meals or times with other families afterwards.
It appears to me that Hillsong has been taking more moderate Protestant theological positions than in the past, positions that would be acceptable to people from different denominations. They have been trying to make their presentation of faith understandable to those with little or no church contact or understanding of ecstatic gifts. The main campuses now hold special services and times for healing during the year. In ordinary services, people are invited to fill in cards for special prayer and healing before-hand and the cards are ‘offered to God’.
It will remain to be seen whether Hillsong Church will witness significant growth in future years. One form of growth may be as a broad umbrella-type organisation providing resources to and networking a wide range of larger and smaller churches in Australia.
For more information see: Pointers, Volume 22, No. 3, Pages 12-16