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Hillsong Convention Centre in the Norwest Business Park
|Denomination||Australian Christian Churches|
|Weekly attendance||100,000 (World)|
|Senior pastor(s)||Brian and Bobbie Houston|
Hillsong Church is a Pentecostal megachurch in Sydney, New South Wales, which is affiliated with Australian Christian Churches, the Australian branch of the Assemblies of God. The church was founded 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 bands, like Hillsong Worship, Hillsong United, and Hillsong Young & Free.
According to the church, over 100,000 people attend services each week at the church or one of its 80 affiliated churches located worldwide.
- 1 History
- 2 Network
- 3 Beliefs
- 4 Leadership
- 5 Ministry
- 6 Music
- 7 Hillsong Channel
- 8 Hillsong Movie: Let Hope Rise
- 9 Conferences
- 10 Hillsong International Leadership College
- 11 Criticism
- 11.1 Criticism of finances
- 11.2 Frank Houston and sexual abuse allegations
- 11.3 Mercy Ministries
- 11.4 Criticism from a former member
- 11.5 Alleged vote stacking in Australian Idol
- 11.6 Michael Guglielmucci cancer scandal
- 11.7 Stance on homosexuality and same-sex marriage
- 11.8 Mark Driscoll appearance
- 12 Political influence
- 13 See also
- 14 References
- 15 External links
Brian and Bobbie Houston moved from New Zealand in 1978 and joined the Sydney Christian Life Centre in Darlinghurst, pastored by Brian Houston's father, Frank Houston. They started Hillsong Church, which was then known as Hills Christian Life Centre, in August 1983 with services held at the Baulkham Hills Public School hall and with an initial congregation of 45. In 1990, the church moved from "the warehouse", which they had occupied since 1984, to hold services at the Hills Centre. In 1986, an annual conference was developed, now called Hillsong Conference.
In the early 1990s, praise and worship recordings from the Hills Christian Life Centre were released in Australia and internationally under the name Hillsong. The name is also used for a television show featuring clips from the videos of the recordings and a message from Brian Houston. In 1997 the church moved into its new building at Baulkham Hills' Norwest Business Park.
In the late 1990s the church realised that the name Hillsong was more well-known than Hills Christian Life Centre due to the branding of its recordings. The church was renamed Hillsong Church in 1999, about the same time its mother church, Sydney Christian Life Centre, was merged into Hillsong Church.
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. Due to the growth of the "City" location, in 2007 the church announced its intentions to develop a significant area of land on Rothschild Avenue, Rosebery into the new "City" location. In August 2008, Hillsong withdrew the development application they had lodged with the Sydney City Council after an independent report recommended against the council approving the development. In August 2009 it was announced that the site was for sale. Since then, Hillsong has opened up another City location in Alexandria.
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. Hillsong Church currently has twelve extension services across Sydney.
In 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. When Hills Christian Life Centre changed its name to Hillsong Church the international churches also did so.
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 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. The senior pastor at Stockholm is Andreas Nielsen.
As Hillsong has grown, other churches have joined and new churches established as extension services. Extension services are also held for cultural groups in other languages. These extension services are run by a team of people but look to Hillsong Church for leadership and support and join the vision of the church. There are currently 15 extension services across Sydney, many of which join with the "Hills" and "City" congregations for Sunday night services. In September 2007, Brian Houston's son Ben planted the 15th extension service in Mona Vale, known as the Northern Beaches service. In August 2008, Hillsong started a Sunday morning service at the Greater Union Cinema at Bondi Junction, this service being part of the City location.
As of 2016[update], the church has 80 affiliated churches in the World (27 in Australia). The weekly attendance is 100,000 (37,000 in Australia) and is present in the major cities of 17 countries of the world.  In its network, it counts the following megachurches; Johannesburg (12,000), London (8,000), Kiev (3,000), Tokyo (2,500), Stockholm (2,000). In 2016, there are two affiliated megachurches in the United States: New York City with 7,000 attendees and Los Angeles with 2,500.
Hillsong is 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 we've done and being part of God's family can only be achieved through repenting of our wrongdoing, believing in Jesus as your Lord and saviour, and submitting to his will for our lives. They believe that in order to live a fruitful Christian life a person should, among other things, seek the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit enables the use of spiritual gifts, which includes, and is not limited to, speaking in tongues. 
Hillsong's stand on many topical issues in contemporary Christianity is in keeping with mainstream Pentecostalism opposing embryonic stem cell research and abortion on the basis 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, a change which has been noted by the media. 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 is also 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. Leadership positions are made by appointment.
Hillsong Church runs many different ministries in addition to weekend services and events. Hillsong, like other churches, runs a small group structure named "connect groups". Groups of approximately 10-20 people meet on a fortnightly basis across Sydney. The main ministries of Hillsong Church include:
Hillsong Kids is the children's ministry of Hillsong Church. The church provides a children's program for all weekend services and for the Hillsong Sisterhood. Hillsong Kids is divided into five age groups for each weekend service, they are:
- Cubby House (12 months and walking to 3 year olds)
- The Ark (preschoolers; 4 and 5 year olds)
- Fun House (kindergarten to year 2)
- All Stars (years 3 and 4)
- Voltage (years 5 and 6)
Hillsong Kids runs children's programs during major conferences and events. During the Hillsong Conference there is "Kidsong" and during the Colour Your World Women's Conference there is "Colour Kids". Hillsong Kids have adopted two mascots, Max and Melody. Hillsong Kids has released seven albums: Jesus Is My Superhero (2004), Super Strong God (2005), Supernatural (2006), Tell the World (2007), Follow You (2008), Ultimate Kids Collection (2009) and Crazy Noise (2011).
Hillsong Young & Free
Hillsong Young & Free is a youth ministry of two different age groups that meet separately but have "Young & Free" nights when they come together. The different age groups are; Fuel from grade 7 through 9 grade and Wildlife from grades 10 through 12.
When Hillsong Church started in 1983, known as Hills Christian Life Centre, a youth group was established. The first youth pastor was Darko Culjak who was a Bible college student at the time. Donna Crouch was appointed as an assistant in late 1984 due to the expansion of the youth group. Donna Crouch became the youth leader in 1987. John King was then appointed as an assistant youth pastor. Phil and Lucinda Dooley became youth pastors in 1996 when the youth formed two age groups, Wildlife and Powerhouse. After a revival at the 1998 summer camp, the youth ministry began to have "United Nights" when both age groups came together. This is where the name of the youth ministry, Hillsong United, came from. When Sydney Christian Life Centre became the "City Campus" of Hillsong Church, they adopted the Hillsong United youth format, as have all extension services. In 2007, Paul and Andi Andrew became the new youth pastors, as Phil and Lucinda Dooley moved to Cape Town, South Africa to form what is today Hillsong Cape Town. The current youth pastors of Hillsong are Peter and Laura Toggs. It started with Brian Houston.
Hillsong Church runs a meeting for women entitled the Sisterhood. The service, hosted by Bobbie Houston, is for women of all ages. Hillsong Sisterhood runs on Thursdays at the Hills and City locations. Hillsong Sisterhood initiated the annual Colour Your World Women's Conference, which has become the Australian Christian Churches women's conference and brings together women from many different denominations across the world.
Hillsong City Care
Hillsong City Care (formerly Hillsong Emerge) is a non-profit organisation that aims to bring "social justice" to the people of Sydney. Overseeing Hillsong City Care is Hillsong Church executive pastor Donna Crouch. Around Sydney, there are many Hillsong City Care Centres and Hillsong Health Centres.[clarification needed] These centres are places that people can go to for help, support and also counselling. Hillsong Youth Services and Hillsong Children's Services conduct a range of community-based programs and services to encourage and empower young people and children. Hillsong City Care run several courses through the LIFE (Living in Freedom and Excellence) and SAFE (Sexual Abuse, Freedom and Education) programs that aim to help and educate people.
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 Church has a well-recognised music ministry with songs such as "Power of Your Love" by Geoff Bullock and "Shout to the Lord" by Darlene Zschech sung in churches worldwide. Originally published as "Hillsongs", Hillsong Church now produces its music through its own label, Hillsong Music Australia. 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).
Hillsong's most successful albums, the Live Album Series, led by Darlene Zschech and Reuben Morgan, have all achieved gold status in Australia and, since the inception in 1992 of the annual live praise and worship albums, Hillsong has branched out and released other albums including the worship series Hillsong United, Hillsong Kids, Hillsong London, Christmas albums and compilation albums. The Live Album Series are 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. The Hillsong United series and the Hillsong United band led by Joel Houston, contains songs from the Hillsong United youth ministry. Hillsong Kids has 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. 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.
Geoff Bullock served as Hillsong's first worship pastor. Darlene Zschech led Hillsong's music ministries as worship pastor from 1995 until 2008. Reuben Morgan is currently the worship pastor.
On 24 October 2010, it was announced that Darlene Zschech and her husband, Mark, would be taking over as senior pastors at Church Unlimited in Charmhaven on the central coast region of New South Wales, effective as of 23 January 2011. As of December 2011, Hillsong has sold more than 12 million records across the globe, following its first release in 1991 and a quarter of all contemporary songs heard in Australian churches in 2011 were written by Hillsong.
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.
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 Movie: Let Hope Rise
On 16 September 2016, a 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 their 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 holds four conferences annually.
The Hillsong Conference is an annual conference. Conferences are usually held during the first week of July at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney Olympic Park and are hosted by Brian and Bobbie Houston with worship led by the Hillsong Team.
The Colour Your World Women's Conference (also known as the Colour Conference) is an annual women's conference. The conferences were started in 1997 by Bobbie Houston, who hosts each conference, including the ones in London and Kiev.
The Hillsong Men's Conference was first held in 2002 and is hosted by Brian Houston at the Hillsong Convention Centre in Baulkham Hills.
It has been announced at Hillsong Conference 2017 that the first Hillsong Worship and Creative Conference will be held. This will be on the 15-17 November 2017 in Sydney, Australia at the Hills location of Hillsong Church.
Hillsong International Leadership College
Under the banner of Hillsong Church, the training offered by Hillsong International Leadership College includes leadership training, contemporary praise and worship and specialized youth, children's and media ministries. Since January 2006 the college, in association with Alphacrucis (formerly Southern Cross College), has offered the Bachelor of Theology degree of the Sydney College of Divinity (with a major in pastoral theology).
Hillsong has been criticised at various times for its understanding of the Christian faith and has also been censured for unethical conduct. 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 pay their staff in fringe benefits. 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. This appears to have been refuted by letters of apology, published on the Hillsong website, from both the Riverstone Aboriginal Community and from the Minister of Justice and Customs.
Frank Houston and sexual abuse allegations
Frank Houston sexually abused a seven-year-old boy, which came to light after his mother reported the abuse to another church. The victim told the Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that Frank Houston offered him $10,000 Australian dollars as compensation. 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 Hillsong Church in 2000. 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.
Hillsong has been criticised for its involvement with Gloria Jean's Coffees and Mercy Ministries, an evangelical charity with a similar stance on abortion and the former perspective on sexuality issues. 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 Australian Idol, a claim the TV show rejected. However, some Hillsong members and former members indicated that some co-ordinated support of church members on Australian Idol has taken place.
Michael Guglielmucci cancer scandal
On 20 August 2008, Michael Guglielmucci, a pastor 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.
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 former Leader of the Opposition, declined Hillsong's invitation to the 2004 conference, although Bob Carr, the then Premier of New South Wales (from the Australian 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.
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Frank Houston's resignation letter to the City Hillsong Church in November 2000 makes no mention of the allegations. "I hereby wish to tender my resignation ... as I feel it is time for (his wife) Hazel and I to enter retirement", says the letter.
- Nicole Chettle (8 October 2014). "Hillsong church head Brian Houston accused alleged child abuse victim of 'tempting' father, inquiry told". ABC News.
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."
- "Church failed to follow procedure for sex abuse allegations, royal commission hears". The Sydney Morning Herald. 9 October 2014.
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.
- "Submissions of Counsel Assisting The Royal Commission". The Response of Australian Christian Churches and Affiliated Pentecostal Churches to Allegations of Child Sexual Abuse Case Study 18. 7 October 2014.
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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