Derek, Alastair, and Matt return in the new year to talk about Hillsong.

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Posted by JF Arnold


  1. Alastair J Roberts January 26, 2016 at 6:35 am

    This post needs a link to the article we were discussing: What Would Cool Jesus Do?


  2. I’m an Elder at the “nameless fantastically hip Orange County church”. I obviously can’t speak for Hillsong but I appreciate the charity you provided in reflecting on the issues that come with size and demographics.

    To be sure, your concerns are reflected on at our church. We certainly aren’t landing on them in the same place as an Anglican but it’s not without some discussion. We recognize the attractional nature of our services and aren’t satisfied to leave it with “as long as people heard the Word, everything is good.” We create ways for people to belong to the community as something more than concert goers and regularly call them to into it.

    As far as Alistair’s critique that there are people in such churches that have a great enthusiasm but a shallowness of understanding that needs to be discipled. . . I agree. But I don’t know that traditional liturgy has spared all that many congregants of shallowness. I’ve met plenty of members of liturgical churches that have no idea what they are doing or why they are doing it. Discipleship has to be a part of every church. The drum kit and hair product aren’t any more or less an instrument to quality discipleship than a robe and a candle absent a plan toward making disciples.


    1. Well, if you are at the particular one I’m thinking of, let me just be clear that I love that church. I grew like crazy there, made great friends, and received the call to ministry there. Big fan.


    2. I think you posit a false dichotomy – with hip churches on the one hand and dead liturgical Anglican churches on the other (all Anglican churches were liturgical, who knew?).

      My critique of the hip, is that to a large extent its not a ‘natural’ place to be – it’s contingent on the majority of the congregation being in a particular stage in life – in ways that are similar to dramatic manifestations of any social movement. I think attempts to ground this is a normative model ignore this huge elephant in the room.

      Additionally, it ignores the extent to which these models of churches are fundamentally grounded in the business models of the surrounding culture – essentially these are startups in all but name, with much the same personality types leading both – with many of the same failure modes and casualties.


  3. How exactly is Hillsong “cool”? Maybe by evangelical standards.

    Hillsong is certainly a franchise church but so is almost every other evangelical church these days. There’s no escaping the consumerist impulse and congregations that have self-segregated along race/class/age lines. Mere Fidelity regular, Andrew Wilson leads another ‘McChurch’ – only one that serves a different consumer base. Anyone who doesn’t like the New Frontiers way of doing things won’t hang around in his church for long. This is not to say that those who do like the worship style there and have the same cultural background/preferences as Wilson won’t also commit to being active members of his congregation (i.e. serving others).


    1. Joe, did you read the GQ article?
      We’re not the ones who originally dubbed it “cool” church. This is a secular, progressive, etc. writer for a mainstream publication that mediates a great deal of regular, non-Evangelical “cool.” And I think she’s pretty clear about the reasons.

      And yes, there’s a certain amount of “by Evangelical standards” dimension to things. And that’s part of the point of the conversation.


      1. Derek, I skimmed the article (but will re-read it).

        I was more interested in the comments made by the podcast team. Alistair remarked that Hillsong appears to be “more of a group of professionals with an audience” than a church. It’s difficult not to get that impression if you visit a Hillsong service (of course, “visiting” a church isn’t the same as joining one). My view is that Hillsong exist in their current format because there is market for it. The kids who go there probably come from or still attend multi-generational ‘home’ churches but go to Hillsong for the concert like atmosphere. I very much doubt Hillsong are pulling in unchurched or unreached young people because they offer something much cooler than the traditional way of doing church. They are just siphoning off bored evangelical teenagers and young adults who will drift back to their home churches once they grow too old for Jesus concerts. Their home churches might have a better understanding of “what it means to be a congregation” but none of those churches (and by implication the churches that the podcast team lead/attend) are going to be particularly ‘diverse’. Sunday is the most (self) segregated day of the week along class/race/cultural lines (if less so by age).

        How do Christians pick a church? Firstly, they make shortlist based on theology/denomination. Then they opt for a place where the congregation is ‘just like them’ and does church in a ‘compelling’ way. They are often shy about admitting the second part but this consumerist impulse – Christians shopping around for the right set of fellow believers and preferred service style – shapes every evangelical congregation today. Hillsong is one of the more obvious examples of it because they also allow for self-segregation by age.


        1. Hi Joe,
          I was interested in your comment, but have limited scope for replying because I know little about Hillsong other than what I have read and what I heard on the podcast. I have just one comment about part of your post: ‘…this consumerist impulse …shapes every evangelical congregation today’. My experience has been different from that. I was initially drawn to the CofE church which I have attended for over 22 years, and where I was baptized and confirmed 21 years ago, mainly because of the focus on the cross. In fact the rood, which is in a prominent position in the church, was the focus of controversy soon after I was confirmed, and a church court finally decided that the rood could remain. Before I became a worshipper at my current church I attended a house church which was very charismatic and very ‘happy-clappy’ – but I heard no mention of repentance and no mention of the cross. I was initially drawn to the house church after a friend (and colleague) from that church prayed for me in tongues, and I am deeply thankful to this friend and to all the members of the house church. But I was concerned about the apparent lack of interest in repentance and the cross. I made the decision to attend my current church as a ‘baby Christian’, following a conversation with the father of one of my pupils. He said he would pray for me. It’s a much longer story than this, but I won’t enlarge on it here! However I do believe that some people are still drawn to the church of their choice by the Holy Spirit, and not by a ‘consumerist impulse’, though I would not be surprised if I have a minority viewpoint in this respect.
          I will pray for your brother, whom you mentioned in an earlier post here.


          1. Hi Christine, I appreciate your perspective, I don’t want to imply that charismatic forms of worship are in any way opposed to “repentance and the cross”. ‘Happy-clappy’ churches are as theologically conservative as their more sombre Reformed brothers and sisters. Hillsong is no different in this respect.

            I was referring more to the cultural distinctions that set churches/congregations apart – preferred styles of worship and the ordinary conversations people have over coffee rather than theological differences. Churches/congregations also go their separate ways over these secondary issues – and there is no stopping this because the “consumerist impulse” is in all of us. The local or parish church model (everyone within a geographical boundary) died a few generations ago.

            For me, criticism of Hillsong, and it’s successful formula of a rock concert for Jesus, or as Alastair says “a group of professionals with an audience”, is half the story without similar spotlight on the equivalent self-segregating (cultural) habits of every other evangelical church.

          2. Hi Joe,
            Thank you for replying. Firstly, your final paragraph – although I know little about Hillsong, Alastair’s comment about ‘a group of professionals with an audience’ struck a chord with me because it sounds as if the focus of attention at Hillsong is the leaders, rather than Christ, and as if the people who attend the services are regarded as an admiring audience, rather than as members of the Body of Christ, and therefore fellow-worshippers. I am aware, for instance, that music groups can sometimes be regarded as ‘star performers’, with people in the congregation apparently worshipping the ‘worship group’ more than they worship the Lord! I am one of the musicians at our church and we are all agreed about this: “We are here to worship God, not to worship ‘worship’ ” (I can’t remember who first said this, but I think it’s good.)
            Our church has been described as ‘low evangelical’. In my experience evangelical churches in the CofE do draw people within a geographical boundary, though some people come from outside the parish. With ‘free’ churches it is sometimes a different story. One church leader I know compared the attraction of some ( but not all!) mega-churches to the growth of supermarkets and hypermarkets – they ‘steal’ their ‘customers’ from the ‘corner shops’ – so there’s another consumerist analogy!

        2. “Their home churches might have a better understanding of “what it means
          to be a congregation” but none of those churches (and by implication the
          churches that the podcast team lead/attend) are going to be
          particularly ‘diverse’”

          Hillsongs isn’t particular diverse either.


      2. I read the GQ article again. To be honest. I found most of it to be pretty cringe-worthy – especially the author’s need to say the right things (virtue signal) about gays.


    2. I’m glad someone else pointed out the parallel with New Frontiers – which definitely as a movement positions itself (consciously or not) in a consumer niche.

      One of the fairly standard models is to set up near a university/college, attract university students with a high natural amount of energy, and then – hopefully – keep them on as young marrieds, and these churches end up with a preponderance of people who are either changing course from that set by their parents church, or are new converts and who subsequently don’t have a lot of context about historic Christianity to draw from.

      That in itself need not be a bad thing – but everything tends to work until it doesn’t.


      1. I’m not knocking New Frontiers. My brother will be moving to Eastbourne soon. I would recommend King’s Church (I’m an avid consumer of Wilson’s online articles) but my brother would probably say that their services are too happy clappy and the congregation are too “uptight” in their Christianity. He’s not a Christian (more a spiritual seeker) – so he’s unlikely to notice anything other than the social profile of a congregation. I don’t know how middle-class Wilson’s church is, but if everything at King’s is geared towards social grade A/B cultural sensitivities (as is so often the case in British evangelical churches) that would put him off as well.

        He could, of course, get converted. I want to believe that genuine faith is all it takes to feel “at home” in any particular church but… maybe not. LOL


        1. As I said – it doesn’t have to be a bad thing – but sometimes the lack of depth tells.

          Experience has shown me that many people burn out of such social situations – and often because they then diagnose the same lack of depth that the movement holds more generally. The unlucky ones lose their faith because they confuse the particular manifestation of the movement with christianity.


    3. Hi Joe, Derek let me know this comment was here, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to ask: what about Kings is “McChurch” and/or “uptight”, out of interest? Most visitors don’t give that kind of feedback, so I’d love to hear your reasons (and change things, if needed!) Thanks :)


  4. I really enjoyed listening to this podcast and also reading the linked article. I was interested in your reflections and concerns, but what came over to me most was what seemed to me to be your considerable goodwill towards the writer of the article, the leaders at Hillsong, and the people who attend the services there. One of you (Matthew?) mentioned Vineyard Churches and I do have a special place in my heart for those because my younger daughter and her husband attend Trent Vineyard, UK – they were married there a year ago. I frequently attend services there and, at age 71, I am by no means the eldest person present (and most certainly not the youngest – babies and toddlers crawl and toddle around happily at daytime services!) I am struck at these services by the faithfulness to the scriptures, and the passion for the Lord. It is a mission church, not a parochial church, and its outreach work with many of the homeless people in Nottingham maybe accounts for some of the hundreds who are drawn to the church. This is a pretty ‘mega’ mega-church.
    I don’t know much about Hillsong, but if it is anything like Vineyard, I would say that although the folk there, like the rest of us, don’t know everything, they long to know, and they seek …and they find.
    My own background, briefly: although some think of me as ‘traditional’, that rather makes me smile because I became a Christian 23 years ago after a friend prayed for me in tongues. I was baptized and confirmed in the CofE two years later. At that time I was the only Christian in my family – some of them kindly tolerated the fact that I’d ‘gone religious’ :-)
    Thank you again for a very thoughtful and magnanimous discussion.


  5. I think a fundamentals discussion on the nature and purpose of corporate public worship would be edifying in this regard as one would then have a basic toolkit for both sides to clearly see their disagreements


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