Brian Houston’s Lost Vision?

An old article from Christian Today:

Interview with HILLSONG Founder Brian Houston

by Andrew Clark
Posted: Wednesday, August 11, 2004, 21:18 (BST)
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The Hillsong Church, which was founded in Sydney in 1983, has experienced huge growth in Australia and in London, but also has set up churches in the Ukraine and France. The Church is well-known for its passionate and heart-felt praising, but more than this, it has led thousands of young people from all different cultures and backgrounds back to the Bible and to God.

Christian Today was able to speak exclusively to the Hillsong founder and the man behind the vision of Hillsong, Brian Houston:

How did you get the idea of establishing Hillsong Church? Were there any revelations or specific meanings behind the name “Hillsong”?

My father planted a church in Sydney in 1977, and my wife and I came over from New Zealand not long after that. We really were only supposed to be there for a while to work in Sydney, but I quickly became part of the team, and became an assistant pastor. From there I went out and planted churches from that city church, which is now our city congregation. I planted the church in a suburb called Liverpool in New South Wales, and today they are both very strong churches.

The third one that I started is in the ‘Hills’ area in 1983. That’s when I went out, and we actually started out in a school hall. We were full of visions and dreams; we really did have a big plan for our lives. But we never set out and said specifically that we wanted to start a church called ‘Hillsong Church’ and it would have the music that would reach out to the world. A lot of it has emerged as time has gone on.

We started it as ‘Hills Christian Life Centre’, and we started with just two conferences. There were three of us in the swimming pool on a Sunday afternoon. There was Jeff Bullock, Mark Zschech and myself. We were thinking of a name for the conference, and somewhere between the three of us we came up with that name. Hills is the name of the area!

Then we started the praise and worship, and rather than just having “Hills Christian Life Centre Live”, I thought it would be good to produce the music under the name ‘Hillsong’ so that people wouldn’t box it as just another churches’ music. Then we were travelling, and people didn’t even know the name of the church. They kept getting the name wrong.

In 1999, after my father resigned, we took over the city congregation, the Hillsong city has merged under one church, and that time is when we thought if we can’t beat them join them. So everyone knew us as Hillsong Church, so that’s when we started officially calling ourselves ‘Hillsong Church’ – just at the end of 1999.

Is there any reason why in Australia, you have only built the Hillsong Church in Sydney and have not expanded to other major cities in the country?

We have a lot of relationships with other churches in Australia and around the world. Possibly one of the reasons why we don’t do that is because of those relationships. I don’t want to just build a Hillsong Church; I want to be a builder of “The Church”. So I definitely want a Church that is impacting, and we will certainly from time to time spread our wings and start a new initiative. But I see our mandate as not just starting millions of Hillsong churches everywhere; it’s really about championing the cause and the local churches. In other words, I would like to think we can be an example to help smaller churches grow.

I was intrigued by Brian’s statement here:

But I see our mandate as not just starting millions of Hillsong churches everywhere; it’s really about championing the cause and the local churches. In other words, I would like to think we can be an example to help smaller churches grow.”

Has this has changed? What is this ‘championing the cause’? How is Hillsong even associated with local churches these days? How have they been an example to help smaller churches grow?


24 thoughts on “Brian Houston’s Lost Vision?

  1. I found one of his remarks on the second page of the interview even more striking:
    “I believe that people have spiritual needs, and I believe that people don’t just come to church for nothing. Their spirits have been scratched, and so the approach to take in ministering is to be positive, empowering, inspiring people to grow and to change, to move forward”
    Sounds very familiar to me, I hear such talk often, but am I the only one who sees a familiarity with “Think positive” motivation teachers or current corporate talk when a corporation needs to give their employees some feel-good message (and meanwhile forget the layoffs we are planning soon…).

  2. yes some sermons seem v “tony robbins” with a bit of the Bible thrown in. Its as if these evanglists think of a secular message and then find the scripts in relation to that message. When I went to my first pentie church (small) the minister would talk alot about the condition of your heart (in relation to God). It was good solid food, although not always a pep talk but what was required to be more like Christ.

  3. I have a friend who first visited a Pentie church because they were told the preacher was a good postive thinking speaker. They got saved though!

  4. Well, one can be saved anywhere, its what happens after thats important I believe. Its like marriage, getting married is great and positive but the couple needs to learn how to get on and get through life.

  5. Yes, mj, sometimes these places are very good at persuading people to commit themselves to Christ, but it’s what happens next that can make or break things.

  6. yeah, i remember him, i think we were at the same church in the 80s, must clarify with a friend. He went through alot

  7. Geoff was actually a participant on the original signposts run by dan and phil, and also contributed to a couple of threads.

    He basically got used up and spat out. Marriage broke down and then got the bullet.

  8. I don’t know much about how Hillsong works. But it does look as though the vision has changed. Rather than ‘millions’ of Hillsong churches everywhere, they seem to be going for a smaller number of larger ones.

    Also, I gather that they bus some of the smaller congregations into the evening service at the big Hillsong in Baulkham Hills, so perhaps this is one way they feel they are supporting smaller churches.

    I’m not really sure if that ‘supports’ a small church on a regular basis, or whether it delays the process of being independent. It would certainly help ensure that they conform to the one vision though.

  9. actually, that’s not the way hillsongs was named. a little retrospective editing what! still, it sounds nice.

  10. Some of the people who go to the evening services are young people from completely different churches (different denominations). The enjoy the “vibe” of the evening but are totally committed to their own congregations. I guess acting as a resource is one way Hillsong helps smaller churches.

    This would also be the case with the conference, where ministers and musicians etc travel from smaller churches to be inspired and attend workshops.

    Their music has quite an influence around the world also. Often churches will mimic until they have enough resources and talent of their own to find their own style.

  11. Also building “relationships” rather than producing losts of mini-Hillsongs, helps to protect the Brand but still allows the influence and impact among the church community. If something goes badly wrong in one of the churches it doesn’t reflect badly on the whole Hillsong community.

    Managing the media is very important if setting out to be a church that everyone can see and no-one can ignore.

  12. Is it a good thing ultimately to be a “church that everyone can see and no-one can ignore”? Does that advance the Kingdom of God more than other ways of doing ministry?

    Particularly when churches like Hillsong become examples and targets for the media. Then as Muppet said, they have to expend resources in managing the media.

    And the idea of protecting the Brand – “if something goes badly wrong in one of the churches it dosent reflect badly on the whole community” – I think people are increasingly getting fed up with this, whether they are Christians or in the wider community. We want to see people protected and brands sacrificed, not the other way round. Protection of the Hillsong brand seems to be behind the latest developments about separating from Mercy Ministries, and it does not reflect well on Hillsong.

    We have seen the same brand-protection behaviour from other mainline churches before, eg. the Catholic church. It is the normal behaviour of organisations.

    However with the mainline churches, generally it is clear-cut if a ministry or church belongs to that denomination. There is a clear line of responsibility and accountability. With the Hillsong/AOG model nothing is clear-cut. There are loose relationships and alliances, based more on personal relationships between the leaders than on any set of shared principles. When something goes wrong in a mainline church, the people in leadership are compelled to do something about it – accountability is eventually enforced perhaps under duress from outside. In the Hillsong model when something goes wrong, Hillsong can deny all responsibility so there is effectively no repentance or learning from either Hillsong or the ministry that had the problem.

  13. I just can’t work out how they got MM up and running, and the govt didn’t monitor the set-up. Its so hard to set up a mental health facility, even if you are govt. There are so many policies and rules for health

  14. anyway its good to go on to another topic. I think its obvious there are fixed ideas and we must agree to disagree (tithing debate). Its sad that Christians are arguing about God’s word, but, i understand why, and know its frustrating.

    anyway, people can make their own minds about that and just search the scriptures. If anything that will be a good thing.

  15. I think Hillsong is operating as a resource to the
    “Church” as well as operating as a congregational church.

    It is therefore functioning on two mandates which becomes a little confusing.

    If it decided to be one or the other, how it should operate and present itself would become more clear cut.

  16. um, its never going to be clear cut. there is the outer and the inner stuff. its like the cup, its dirty on the outside but clean on the inside. They are not going to admit to flaws in the system, ever. I mean thats admitting to imperfection…

  17. Sorry MJ I don’t think I explained myself very well. When I was living in England it was in area where the local churches had between 10-30 members each. Every couple of months they would pitch in to hire a building in the local town and would get a visiting speaker or musician etc.

    Eventually an event manager to this on and some of the best known speakers would go and people like Cliff Richard would perform there. It provided a bookshop and library etc.

    It was never a church, just an encuoragement to all the local churches. Issues in those local churches were nothing to do with the event manager and his team, even though there was a relationship there.

    I think Hillsong can help smaller churches in the same way, but as they primarily function as a church in their own right the relationships are not clear!

  18. I’m all for the local church idea too MJ.

    I’m a bit confused what Houston means by
    “it’s really about championing the cause”. What on earth does that mean? Championing the cause for or of what?

    He seems to clarify what he says:

    “In other words, I would like to think we can be an example to help smaller churches grow.”

    How have they actually done this? I’ve seen some churches go against some of their doctrines and ‘leadership strategies’ and do their own thing.

    I have seen other churches embrace some of Hillsong’s ‘strategies’ or methods – get good music, advertise like crazy (and maybe exaggerate a bit), hype their congregations up or emphasise giving or turning sermons into motivational talks.

    But others that aren’t big like Hillsong, I have seen more money put into resources then good leadership and unfortunately seen them suffer.

    What has your church taken from Hillsong that has helped them further the gospel or the Kingdom of God?

  19. Very interesting post. Couldn’t be written any better. Browsing this post reminds me of my old bud. He always kept talking about this. I will send this post to him. Am sure he will have a good chuckle. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  20. My bugbear… the big guns saying they are all for the local church when all they seem to do is draw off the members of local churches. Sure that’s simplistic – and I can’t deny they do more “social” good than many little churches do, that’s largely because of the time, money and resource available to them. But that aside, I see precious little edification, it’s more about having a good time and bringing people together. Under what… you be the judge… sorry my 2c worth

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