Not Big Enough: The Problem with Hillsong

In Your Church is Too Small, Sam Freney (editor of The Briefing) gives an excellent update on where the Hillsong movement is at, including some really positive and insightful reflections from his experience of attending the 2012 Hillsong Conference. And with a fair minded and refreshing perspective, he makes the challenging call to a movement that has spread globally: you still need to grow beyond yourself.

Freney acknowledges that the movement's strengths far exceed their pursuit of musical and artistic  excellence and events production:

"Behind the scenes—or at least out of the spotlight—Hillsong seems to contain plenty of faithful, enthusiastic Christians who want to see Jesus glorified in what they do, and who give Scriptural thought to what they do."

But despite the excellent way various individuals or ministries in the church operate, he shows how the church as a whole -- the overall architecture and construction of the church in grand view -- is still disappointingly dwarfed:

"There may have been 20,000 people in the room, gathered as one church under Christ, but the church was too small. It was too small because the gospel being proclaimed was too small: it was just about you and me, and how God makes our lives better."

This is an excellent article for any one who wants to understand the pros and cons of the Hillsong movement. But it sums up not only the immediate highs and lows of a church excursion to Hillsong; it also explains why in the end, we're left more than sad and grieved, but also dis-unified. Freney gets to the heart of what divides us -- why we can't fellowship and work together as 'evangelicals' with the broader Hillsong movement:

"From everything that I’ve seen and heard, at the conference and visiting Hillsong church on a number of occasions, there’s simply no guarantee that if you go or take someone along to church there that you’re going to hear the gospel. No doubt you will be drawn into enthusiastic fellowship with people who love being part of the church, and (literally) sing Jesus’ praises constantly. There’s no question you will meet many lovely, faithful, committed Christians. Yet I cannot see any reason to believe that if you go regularly that you will be taught God’s word, or be instructed to sit under it and let it change you and form and re-form you. In fact, I have good reason to believe that you will be taught something else altogether. 
You will hear an attractive message about the God of the universe, committed to you, promising you many good things you can receive if you honestly believe in them. You will hear about the blessing God has planned for you, the better job or bigger house or healthier future in store. But you are unlikely to hear much biblical, orthodox Christianity. 
I cannot in good conscience commend fellowship with Hillsong. I can’t recommend that anyone go and make this their church. I can also understand why many churches decide not to sing their songs, given that singing them profiles Hillsong and gives a tacit endorsement to their movement. The fact that there are good things about the movement and good people in the movement is not really the point; the gospel message championed by the church is distorted, and in the end being part of that is not the way that we love or care for people."

Freney's story and own beginnings (as a Pentecostal in NZ and Sydney in the C3 movement) reminded me in part of my own experience as a Hillsong college student back in 1997. That was 15 years ago. Many of my reflections here at Talking Pentecostalism are based on a perspective that dates back to that time. How far has the movement come since then? This article asks the same question. And much to my dismay, the answered is, not far.

It would be nice if my criticisms here at Talking Pentecostalism were now becoming out dated; I have people write to me and reflect on their positive experiences of visiting a Hillsong-derivative church meeting after being pleasantly surprised by the quality of ministry of the individuals leading, or the genuine fellowship, or the richness of recent church song lyrics. I do not doubt the reality of the positive and widespread impact that these accounts demonstrate has and continues to occur through the Hillsong movement. And I praise God for his grace in this.

But Freney's penetrating view of the foundation of this house that is the Hillsong movement is a reminder to keep praying for deep change that gets to the basis of what is evangelicalism. This house may be home to a whole heap of members who are themselves thankfully supported, upheld and nourished by Christ. But if the house itself is standing on anything other than Christ and his Word, it's on sinking sand:

"We have a fairly major disagreement about the nature of church, evangelism, and ministry—that all of these things ought to be built very firmly on the gospel and the word of God. Hearing and speaking God’s word is not a distinguishing feature of a Hillsong church service, which suggests that Hillsong church is not ‘evangelical’ in any meaningful sense."

To read the full article go to:


Michelle Naveau said...

As a Hillsong member I found this an excellent reflection that points to the issues that I have battled with during the services! Thanks Joe for your discernment and research. :-)

Joe Towns said...

Thanks Michelle!

Glad you're reading / researching too and that this has been helpful.

God bless

Anonymous said...

Greeting,the lord are amazing Blessing over us by the Holy Spirit with us and let that be new pentecost today around the world and revival wiht him in promises of the Lord ,thaks and bless,keijo sweden

tim davies said...

I've just read the article in the Briefing.

Having been involved in a charismatic church similar to Hillsong for many years and having attended many of their conferences, I can totally relate to this.

Whilst I can appreciate that there are many good things about the movement, at its core there is a lack. I am no longer involved for reasons as summed up nicely by the author:

"It was too small because the gospel being proclaimed was too small: it was just about you and me, and how God makes our lives better. We weren’t really being gathered together under Christ, we were gathered together as a large collection of individuals. Not only was the form of preaching individual—the preacher sharing what God had revealed to him or her personally—but the content was individual too: God’s revelation to the preacher is about a promise to make your life better. How unlike the way that Paul talks about what God has done in and for us! God chose us before the foundation of the world:

In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Eph 1:7-10)

God’s work in gathering us together to be his church is a story that is so much grander than my personal circumstances. But my personal circumstances, my life and what God has done and is doing in it: that is the size of Hillsong church. I simply don’t think that my life is big enough to be good news."

It is quite strange that for all the hugeness of this worldwide movement, its main 'gospel' is limited and small. Perhaps one day they will depart from this and fix up their core preaching/message.

There is evidence some things are changing. A lot of their recent songs seem to be a bit more biblical than the vague songs of the past. Which is apparently intentional.

Steve Finnell said...


Is interfaith ministry a Christian concept found in Scripture? Yes, it is, however, the interfaith ministry found the Bible teaches converting men of all faiths or no faith at all to accept Jesus as The Christ the Son of the living God and the only way to the Father. The interfaith gatherings in the Bible were not a forum used to proclaim that there were many roads that lead to heaven. The interfaith meetings were not used a symposium to agree that all religions may lead to salvation.


Acts 17:1-3...they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And accord to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, saying, "This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ."

At his interfaith meetings Paul did say we are all trying to reach heaven, but we are just traveling different avenues. The apostle Paul did not preach a compromised gospel.

Acts 17:13 But when the Jews of Thessonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there as well, agitating and stirring up the crowds.

If your teaching and preaching is not stirring up the crowds, is it possible, it is because your gospel message has been amended to mollify your listeners or readers?

Acts 17:22-34 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said. "Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. 23 For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, " TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.' Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you......32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, "We shall hear you again concerning this." 33 So Paul went out of their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed..........

When Paul was preaching at the interfaith conference at Athens what took place?
1. He did not tell them it does not make any difference what you believe as long as you are sincere.
2. He told them they worshiped in ignorance.
3. Most rejected Paul's preaching.
4. Some believed the truth of the gospel.

The apostle Paul did not change the gospel to make it more palatable to the crowd. He did not tell them that all religions are approved by God.

Galatians 1:6-8 I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7 which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven , should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you , he is to be accursed!

Paul was preaching to a interfaith/interdenominational group, the Judaizers at Galatia. Judaizers were Jewish Christians who were advocating keeping Jews customs in order to be saved. The apostle Paul did not say that all denominations could teach different terms for pardon. He said if they taught a gospel contrary to what the apostles taught that they should be accursed.

1. FAITH: John 3:16
2. CONFESSION: Romans 10:9-10
3. REPENTANCE: Acts 2:38
4. WATER BAPTISM: 1 Peter 3:21, Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38

The apostle Paul was not a fan of interfaith/interdenominational meetings that advocated all faiths or that all terms of pardon bring about salvation.

The apostle Paul believed in the ONES: (Ephesians 4:4-6)
One body.
One Spirit.
One hope.
One Lord.
One Faith.
One Baptism.
One God.
One Father.


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Anonymous said...

Having been committed to a range of churches for over 30 years (including Sydney's evangelicals for over 15 years & Hillsong / Hillsong type churches for over 5 years)... I can certainly say there is no perfect church! However God has promised to use ALL things for good for those who love Him. I have learned lots from all of these imperfect churches. Focusing on Him, His word & His love demonstrated through Jesus death on His cross for us (not the people or church politics) has kept me committed. I believe all churches can learn from each other... Evangelicals can learn from Hillsong the love of God & benefits of presenting God's truths in a fresh, contemporary, joyous & creative way, especially to attract the young. Hillsong can learn from the evangelicals more solid God focused (rather than people centred) in depth Biblical teaching. Figtree Anglican is a good example of the best of both worlds. (All could stop duping Christians & potential Christians with legaliatic tithing principles, so that churches aren't seen as money making organisations.A real stumbling block to many! Both could be doing more to encourage those who are able, to cheerfully give to support full time church workers, the poor & vulnerable, etc. Leaders are not to be "lovers of money")... More love, compassion, justice & less greed & dour judgementalism please :)