Why Your Church Shouldn't Copy Hillsong
IntroductionMany times over the years< i have heard comments from people who are either not used to or not into the "big church" sound of Hillsong and other large churches say things like "We don't want to become Hillsong" or "We could never do that", etc. I can understand their fears and concerns, and I agree with them wholeheartedly. I wrote this page to take their side and explain why other churches should not become Hillsong, and in fact why that's a bad idea. While I love big church music songs like Hillsong, Gateway, Lakeview, Lakewood, Vertical Church, etc, I don't think God wants everyone to become them. I will use the term "Hillsong" here, not as a direct reference to them, so much as a broad term for the "big church" concept. So here's my best attempt:
This document is in draft form because it has not been reviewed by higher authorities.
Because It's Not God's WillIt's not God's will for you to copy Hillsong.
I think that this is actually the #1 reason why churches should not become or copy Hillsong: because it's not God's will for your church. That's like saying everyone needs to become Tim Keller: God's will for you isn't God's will for Tim Keller, it's to become more like Jesus. Apart from the general will of God (that everyone witness to the lost, tithe, not kill people, etc), God is specifically working with Tim Keller on a specific target audience in a specific area.
I can understand why some churches want to be Hillsong. They are huge and their music is spectacular. But people don't realize that God has brought many very gifted servants who can write great songs to one place for a specific purpose. I think that God is doing this specifically because He wants them to write songs other churches can use. But does God want the other churches to copy them? No. Sure, use their songs, but to those on the Hillsong team (as they have themselves testified in interviews), it was God's will for their church, God's target audience for them, and God's movement of the Holy Spirit in their midst that brought about these songs.
The majority of churches, at least in the United States, while they could use some of Hillsong's songs, as God through their leadership sees fit, have a different mission from God than Hillsong, and a different target audience (i.e. their local areas are vastly different). If God wants to make a big church out of them (such as Gateway, Lakeview, Lakewood, New Life Church, Saddleback, etc), He will, and He'll guide them into what He wants them to do. It's up to God, not us.
Can it become God's will for you to copy Hillsong? No, God's will is that every Christian be conformed to the image of Christ. Can God do things similar to Hillsong at your church, through Spirit-filled songwriters, servants, ministers, and missionaries? You bet.
Because It's Not God's BudgetUnless God specifically gave your church the money to become Hillsong and told you to do so, it's not God's will.
God has given Hillsong the money specifically to do the things they do. The majority of churches I have been to don't have the budget for what Hillsong does. And there's nothing saying they should have such a budget: many things, such as helping the poor and needy, and sending money into missions work overseas, come first. God never told churches in the Bible to spend tons of money on music (but if God specifically moves a church to do so, such as Hillsong, that's fine), but God did tell churches to help each other, help those who serve God, and help the poor and needy. Even as a musician who loves having great equipment and talented people to serve with, I know and teach that God would rather us give to help the needy than to improve the sound system. Improving the sound system or worship ministry isn't wrong, but if it takes the place of doing the other things God would rather us be doing, things that are higher in priority, then it becomes an idol and makes us less effective for the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is made up of souls, not music, per se.
Can God give you this budget? Sure, if it's His will.
Because God Wants New Songs
Even if your church could do exactly what
Hillsong does, that would be wrong on the grounds that you are not
them. The Psalms say "Sing to the Lord a new song."
Our focus shouldn't be on what God is doing in the lives of
others, though we can and should rejoice with them and join with
them as God sees fit. What I'm saying here is that God is
doing something in your life and in your church: become a part of
it. And if God moves you to write songs about it, do
it. Too often there is so much focus on what songs to sing
in church: have you ever stopped and asked God if there's
something He's doing right here and now that you can write songs
about? Surely if we were to write a song about every good
thing God does, there's no way the world could contain all of the
songs that would be written, because God is so good and does so
many wonderful things for us every day.
I am not against singing other people's songs in church, through CCLI licensing. I love Hillsong's material, and the material of many others. My point, however, is that it can distract you from what God is doing here and now. God may be trying to write songs through you and you might not know it, or you could be distracted by finding a song from some other church that matches what God is doing.
Am I saying that playing other people's songs is always wrong? No, I am just pointing out that God may be wanting to write a song through you that would bless your congregation and maybe even other churches and people.
This is not to say that hymns are wrong because they're not new. I believe there's a balance between the old and the new, just as the same Bible says "sing to us one of the songs of zion" and yet also says "sing to the Lord a new song." I believe God wants both.
Can God send song writers your way? Yes, He can. It's not whether He can, it's whether you and/or your church is ready for it.
Because Your Congregation May Not Be Ready
If you watch the videos of Hillsong Live,
they're worshipping God while the songs are being played and
sang. Even while the electric guitar (which I admit there is
a lot of) plays its solo. This is going to be the most
difficult part of this article to write for me, so please buckle
your seat belts and hear me out. And no, I'm not talking
about any specific churches here: I've attended many churches over
the years, and these are just general observations supported by
the wisdom and advice of a few music ministers who have mentored
me in my lifetime.
First, I am not a fan of the chuch that has talented musicians and can do all the Hillsong stuff and yet their congregation doesn't get it. Music is about worship, and worship is about God. Instrumentals are praise (see the Psalms). While Hillsong's music can be difficult, they're worshipping while they present the songs. I've been to churches where, sure, they pull off the songs, which is impressive, but their congregation isn't worshipping or praising. I find that to be a cardinal sin of worship leaders and teams. Music leaders and team members and programs exist to worship God and to minister to your congregation. If they don't get it, lovingly teach them. No, that doesn't mean you tell them they "have to" raise their hands: this must be taught in a loving manner. However, congregational involvement is paramount. If they do not draw closer to God through direct experience, and it doesn't affect their life outside of the church (since many worship songs are direct scripture), what good does it accomplish? So I am against the church that decides to do Hillsong just because they can, while their congregation doesn't get led with them into worship. Many worship experts have written books about this, so I won't beat a dead horse, but the music team is about leading the congregation into worship of God through many means, mainly their own example. Worship is an inner event, but it comes out in outward displays that tend to be associated with praise. I'll write more about that later.
Second, I am not a fan of the church that does the opposite: they quickly gloss over one of the songs because they claim their congregation won't "get it". Have they ever talked to their congregation about what worship and praise are? Do they pray for their congregation? In both these examples, it's a lack of communication and engagement with the congregation. Surely a loving pastor can preach to the subject, or even the worship minister. (Yes, it's possible to lovingly teach a sermon to a congregation without being an ordained pastor.) I do not write this to judge anyone, but suffice to say that every church, intentionally or unintentionally, is unbalanced, because we're human beings. The goal of ministers of all varieties is to find such weaknesses and lovingly become part of God's program to strengthen these weak places.
It's not about making your congregation into Hillsong. It's about helping them have a fulfilling worship time with God (a time that should not only exist in their lives on Sunday). About drawing close to God. I don't want to make an entire lesson here, but here's an analogy that seems to work for people I've talked to:
The pentecostal/charismatic style worship, whether it's acceptable to you or not, does have one (if only one) primary strength: it's about worshipping God individually while simultaneously with fellow believers in their congregation.
Can God make your congregation ready? Absolutely. The goal here is that people draw near to God in worship, whether it's the universal worship of a Spirit-filled, sanctified life, or through specific worship encounters (as the Bible seems to speak about both modes of worship). But it's a known fact that people enjoying worship can become a divisive factor in churches due to people who are the "Late Majority" or "Laggards" groups in the change management model. I do not recommend leaving anyone behind in change management, as the church is made up of people, and Jesus never left a sheep behind, if you know what I mean.
If one endeavors to help people love the Lord with all their heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and worship with all four, this is a good thing. I also believe that we need an equal balance of all four. What Jesus has done should change our minds (through the Holy Spirit), revive our soul (through salvation), and stir our heart (in worship). All three should be changed by the Word of God and bythe Holy Spirit, and should reflect this through our actions and behaviors; therefore, worship should be the natural outpouring of this "new you" that the Holy Spirit is creating.
I do not advocate making a church into an overly-emotional environment any more than I advocate it being a place devoid of emotional response. However, far too many churches exist in the second camp, and are places where we don't let our emotions be influenced by the Word. Emotions are not bad, or good: what they are depends upon if they are from God or not, and if they are pure or not. I do not say that emotions should dictate actions, but they should certainly be engaged.
The Psalms instruct us to enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise: often it's the opposite. People are entering His gates with frustration over getting ready in the morning, frustration that the slide show isn't working, anger towards others, with a big cup of coffee. Emotions do not run our lives, but we can and should bring them into obedience to Christ.
The Psalms even instruct us (Psalm 43:5) to not be downcast. "Why am I discouraged?" We should evaluate our hearts before we enter the church: is the emotion we are feeling in line with what God wants for us? I do not suggest that we should put on a false happy face (which is hypocrisy) or force ourselves to be something we're not (which sounds like a psychological problem), but that we should pray to God.
I find it very hard to believe that any Christian should be able to sing How Great Thou Art (Hymn) or Our God (Chris Tomlin) or any other song that talks about what Jesus did for us, dying in our place on the cross, without being thankful to God. Sure, we are thankful on Easter Sunday and on Christmas, etc, because we're taking time to directly remind ourselves of what Jesus did for us, but what about all the other days of the year? One cannot live indefinitely in any given emotion, because we're human, but that shouldn't stop us from at least being thankful for what Jesus did for us on Sunday. And focusing the mind on what Jesus did for us more often is not only good for our praise and worship, and our attitude, and our interaction with others, but it helps us live a life pleasing to God, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
And how often ("with all your mind") do we forget that the same power of the Holy Spirit that conquered the grave and raised Jesus from the dead lives in us? We don't have to get beat down by the flesh and sin and the devil every day. We're human, and will never be perfect, but we have hope and power to depend upon living inside us.
So is your congregation ready? Can God make them ready? Yes He can. I think the problem is us, not God.
Because Your Spirit Is Not Right
The majority of the time I have seen
churches wish they were th size of Hillsong or had their music
or whatever, there's a bigger problem lurking beneath the
surface: they miss the opportunities that God is sending their
If you don't like anything else on this
page, at least read this paragraph, because it's the primary
one. This is the most important. God is always
moving: are you listening?
The Spirit of Hillsong, and really of God, is that of a pioneering spirit. When they see a need, and they believe God is calling out to them to meet that need, they dive head-long into what God has asked them to do. Sure, they do count the cost, they do think first, they research, and they pray, but they don't stop to consider things like "what will people think?" or "has anyone done this before?" or any other trivial unrelated worries. They aren't strapped to their comfort zone like a medevac patient to a stretcher.
I believe God has given us His pioneering Spirit. Throughout Acts and many other places in scripture, Jesus, the apostles, the disciples, and believers didn't wait to meet needs. They ran to fill them.
Don't have the money? Pray. God has the money for you. Don't have the time? Pray: God can give you time. Don't have the people? Pray: God will send them your way.
Excuses like "we've tried that before" or "we've never done that before" or "that's not what our denomination is doing" become trite really quick. Forgive me for having a martial mentality about this, but there is no kingdom that is more important than the (spiritial) Kingdom of God.
God told us to go and teach all nations. Occupying pews and buildings and doing nothing else isn't part of this. To go and teach, it's very easy: first, look around and find people who need Jesus. Hint: they're everywhere. Second, find (and pray and ask God to find) a way to minister to them and reach them. It's just that easy. Will you sometimes not have a response? Will people sometimes have a negative response? Sure. But God will protect you and see you through.
God may want you to start a skateboarding
ministry. I've met people who were saved in such
ministries. Do whatever God has you doing. But do
Examples: the apostle Paul always went into the local place of worship wherever God sent him. If there wasn't one, He found some other place where people were at. He even, as a non-philosophical Jewish ex-Pharisee, tried to debate with the Greeks on Mars Hill. Was he stupid? No. He did what God told him (and really, all Christians) to do.
Brian Houston does a better job preaching than I do.
But What To Copy?However, your church would do good to learn from Hillsong, as they are a good example of worship and praise, even if they are different than your church due to their size. Copy their devotion to God (just as Paul said "imitate me, while I imitate Christ."). Here's what you can learn from them:
- Worship is about God.
- Worship teams and leaders lead by example, worshipping God.
- Worship teams care about the spiritual development of their congregation.
- Worship teams write songs to God as God works in their life (similar to how God through David wrote the majority of the Psalms).
- We should "make His praise glorious", giving it our best
effort, not our "good enough."
- We should worship with our heart, soul, mind, and body: with everything.
- Their songs, though at times lyrically "poetic" to the point of almost being confusing, are genuine.
- Worship is outreach. Even their
youth band, though styling many songs in a manner that appeal
to youth, still (if loudly) proclaim the truth about God and
about His Son, Jesus.