Mid-October of 1949 William Hearst, then publisher of the LA Times, infamously gave a two-word directive to “Puff Graham.” The front-page article of Billy Graham instantaneously catapulted him into a celebrity like status. Graham went from tent revivals to stadium filled “crusades.” He took advantage of radio and television to become the first notable televangelist. He dined with celebrities, highly publicizing his interactions and conversions of these celebrities. Not only did Billy open up his own movie studio in Hollywood but he managed to earn a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame for his ability to market Christianity.
This is, arguably, the birth of evangelicalism.
Fast-forward 65 years in mid-September (of 2014) 3,000 miles across the country the NY Times features the quasi-prosperity driven Christian institution Hillsong on the front-page. Figuratively speaking current publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, of the NY Times gave a two-word directive, “Blast Hillsong.”
Hillsong has managed to also take advantage of radio and television. There is no question they dominate the charts in the Christian music industry. They also sell out entire venues filling stadiums to capacity with devoted Hillsong fans. Like Graham, their pastors interact with celebrities and publicize these interactions via social media.
The Times praises Hillsong’s presentation and ability to market, but question Hillsong’s theology and ability to find depth.
This is, arguably, evangelicalism’s beginning to an end.
“Its finances have been scrutinized by the Australian news media; its preaching is tracked by a critical blog. Hillsong, founded by Brian Houston and his wife, Bobbie, has been anti-abortion and has described gay sex as sinful. But recently, church leaders have moderated their tone; the pastor of Hillsong New York, Carl Lentz, passed up two opportunities this year to express a view on same-sex marriage, in interviews with Katie Couric and The Huffington Post.”
It’s fair to ask “What’s the problem with Hillsong?” As I also have listened to their music, attended their services, and gone to a couple of their events, that is up until recently I just couldn’t allow myself to do so anymore. The problem with Hillsong has to do with the problem of manipulation through marketing, and a theology that is not representative of Christianity. Although I’m aware of the manipulation other’s are not.
Take a 23-year-old out of college in their first job. Straight out of the suburbs transplanted to one of the cities Hillsong has strategically planted a Church. This is one of their first and biggest life transitions. They want community, they want hope, they want something that is familiar but relevant at the same time.
Having researched demographics, they now spend 100,000 dollars on choreographing lights, throw in some background music, rent a club/bar out and then hire a ridiculously good looking, funny, authoritarian leader and then water their theology down to please everyone… promising us that God will solve all our problems in our most vulnerable and loneliest seasons of life.
Who in that situation would not open their wallet, surrender to God manipulation and commit to Hillsong’s brand? 
Many who attend these services do not know that denominationally they’re charismatic fundamentalists, Pentecostals with strong affiliations to the Assemblies of God. “Gays are welcome,” but theologically gays are still an ‘abomination.’ Hillsong, they’re not upfront with this. They are taking advantage of vulnerable millennials, adults, and youth alike and in return receiving a loyal customer.
How do I know that they’re more committed to a brand then they are the person Jesus? Research has shown that if you ask a churched millennial to tell you what the gospel is they are predominately unable to articulate this.
Pro-tip, if you want the Church to survive, then your support for Hillsong won’t keep it alive. Research is showing that while megachurches are growing all other churches are dying, this is because the megachurches are just taking from smaller churches that can’t afford a staff of 40 pastors and 100,000 lighting systems. But that’s what happens when you take the system of capitalism and use that as the foundation of your church’s growth.
To the naysayers saying right now that, “It matters for the one person who Hillsong’s messaged changed.” This would be true, that is if your mission was not supposedly Jesus. This logic is almost as shallow as their theology. If you grew up in a different setting you might have been taught the Bible, and come to find that Jesus is a lot different than what they present or teach. Jesus did not manipulate. He told people how it was:
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next…” – Jesus [Matthew 10:16-23]
I agree with the Houston’s saying, “Worship should be enjoyed not endured…” But I also believe that congregants should be given truth as opposed to being manipulated.
They are reaching into the pockets of broke millennials and impoverished Americans [North, South, and Central America] and promising them prosperity but robbing them of their autonomy. In other words, they’re promising earthly riches at the small cost of having faith in Jesus. This is manipulation. This is Hillsong.
I would have less of a problem with this if they were upfront and said that their goal was profit, fame, and money. I get upset when anyone uses Christ and salvation as a means of emotional manipulation. I think A.W. Tozer says it best:
“Promoting self under the guise of promoting Christ is currently so common as to excite little notice.”
Hillsong, they are not so much driven by the spirit as they are driven by really good marketing.
 Apparently you have to be a supermodel as a pre-requisite to becoming an onstage “pastor” or presence. I mean but seriously take a look at their staff.
 To be fair this is a weakness in all denominations. Not to mention that their songs mostly consist of two line chorus’ repeated for 15 minutes, but not going to lie… they do it so well.
[Originally posted on September 17, 2014. /// If this post interested you feel free to jump over to my Facebook Page for new content where I’m posting shorter posts; all of which are regarding my “Returning to Sunday” bit; which, is ironic considering this post… either way]