Taking Revival to the World
Step into a Hillsong London service and you walk into the Dominion Theater, which seats 2,000 people. Choose a seat on the balcony or on the ground floor, and when the strobe lights and sophisticated video images begin flashing in the dim theater, you might wonder if you're waiting for We Will Rock You: The Queen Musical!, the show currently running at the Dominion.
Hillsong Church, which recently celebrated its 20th year in Sydney, Australia, is growing its global reach Sunday by Sunday. As the largest church in Australia's history, it regularly attracts 20,000 people to its weekend services. GOD TV, a Christian satellite channel, broadcasts many Hillsong events, boosting its potential audience to 400 million worldwide.
A member of the Assemblies of God denomination, Hillsong has burgeoning church plants in London, Paris, and Kiev, Ukraine. It has also been holding services in Moscow and Berlin. Hillsong's reputation alone is enough to generate huge interest. In London, a Saturday night service and three Sunday services are necessary to accommodate the 7,000 in attendance.
Hillsong is perhaps best known for its music. Its famous worship pastor, Darlene Zschech, wrote the song "Shout to the Lord." It is estimated that 25 million Christians sing that song each week worldwide.
Since the 1990s, Hillsong has released about 50 praise and worship recordings. Hillsong United, its youth ministry and band, has sold recordings by the millions in the American market. Hillsong United began its recent North American tour in Nashville, at the worship service of the Gospel Music Association's music week.
Last fall in London, 3,000 people gathered at the Excel Center for the first-ever Hillsong Conference Europe. On the first night, the crowd hushed and then broke into applause as the lights went off and words appeared on the video screens at the front: "The church is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ's body in which he speaks and acts and fills everything with his presence."
Applause broke out again as the music began. A lone guitarist stood in the spotlight. Beside the stage, Zschech stood drinking coffee, bouncing up and down in her heels. Hillsong's senior pastor, Brian Houston, stood front and center watching the screens flicker footage of a welcome from Sydney, Australia, to Paris, where a drummer played in front of the Eiffel Tower, to the slums of India to a crusade of thousands in Brazil to a choir in Toronto singing the Hillsong chorus "How Great Is Our God."
This event was a Hillsong-branded depiction of the Great Commission and a moving visual picture of their self-proclaimed mission: "To reach and influence the world by building a large Bible-based church, changing mindsets, and empowering people to lead and impact every sphere of life." And it means "every sphere"from church growth to politics to revival to social action to personal healing.
Hard to classify
In the summer of 1983, Houston and his wife, Bobbie, began a new congregation in northwest Sydney with about 45 members from Sydney Christian Life Center, the urban church that Houston's father, Frank, started in the mid-1970s. In a textbook example of how to build a megachurch, they increased its attendance 20-fold in less than five years. In 2000, the two congregations were merged and renamed Hillsong.
Marian Edeborg has been a member of Hillsong for 16 years, first in Australia and now in London. A member of the worship team, Marian remembers one of the first Hillsong conferences, which have been held regularly in the church and Sydney school halls starting in 1986. A logistical nightmare, the conference had to be split into different venues. She remembers standing in the cold school hall, waiting to practice their music.