Hillsong Creates New Worship Experience
They started as a group of teenage friends that met at their church’s youth group. They all liked music a lot and enjoyed playing it more. A couple of the band mates had big dreams of stardom – well, at least one used it as an excuse to not go out drinking on Friday night. But all of them relished the chance to jam together every Friday night – and none of them had any idea where that jamming would one day lead.
“I was just a pastor’s kid growing up, getting into trouble, and somewhere in there I guess as a teenager I fell in love with music,” Worship Leader for Hillsong UNITED Joel Houston says. “I played in a bunch of different bands in high school, and we were seeing some kind of success – but then almost overnight that dream was over.” That dream of “making it” as a rock star was over and replaced by a new dream. While Houston was already a part of the Friday-night church youth band (because his parents were the lead pastors), he never really took Christian music seriously. But then he sensed God nudging him to make it his life’s pursuit. “I felt like God was saying to me, ‘Why do the best minds always go to MTV or Apple? When are the best minds and the best talents going to serve the church?’ I remember thinking, ‘I don’t have the best mind and I certainly don’t have the most talent,’ but I made a decision that I was going to give the best of my mind and the best of my talent to church.”
These teen band members learned-as-they-went, not only carving a way for their lives and Hillsong Church, but they carved a way for the Christian music industry. The few that wanted success and gave it up to pursue the Lord found themselves changing the world and Christian music, and now they’re even stars in a full-length feature film. The film Let Hope Rise traces the band back to their teen years and follows them through their journey to becoming one of the most influential bands in the world all while putting on an amazing concert on the big screen.
It’s boasted that Hillsong UNITED had humble beginnings, although that is true, that hasn’t changed. In Let Hope Rise, the audience receives a glimpse into the real lives of this incredible band as they travel across the globe writing and recording a new album while discussing the history of the church from which the band was born. At every stop along the world tour, audience members see the hearts of the band. Their story, like everyone’s, has highs and lows, triumphs and setbacks, as well as struggles. Through personal interviews, community service projects and performing on stage, the band reveals their love and commitment to the Lord.
Everything that the band and Hillsong community does is about God, worshiping Him and telling others about who He is. So, there was actually a lot of fear and anxiety about doing this film. “My fear about the movie was that people would think it was about us,” Joel says. “Or that we were trying to promote ourselves. That’s not what we’re about.” The band members got on board only because the film would allow them another opportunity to accomplish what they already dedicated their lives to doing.
The outline of the film is about the message of their music and passing that message along to people all over the world. “This movie is a brilliant opportunity that we didn’t go chasing to get out the message of what we believe: which is who Jesus is and how much He’s changed our lives,” says worship leader Jonathan “JD” Douglas, who started attending Hillsong Church at age 4.
The band is on a mission to tell the world that God loves everyone – exactly as they are. In fact, when they write a song they use music to bring the Bible to life by preaching scripture and singing about the character of God. As guitarist Dylan Thomas, who started attending Hillsong Church at age 11, puts it: “The ultimate goal is that we want people to grow in their faith. Everything we do spear-points to that.”
“We want people to see God for who He really is, not through the lens of a bad experience in church or through religion, but rather the God who loves everybody.” Joel adds. “We want everyone who sees this movie to know God accepts everybody just the way they are. That His grace is sufficient for everyone and our faith isn’t built on what we do and how good we are. It’s not about judgment and it’s not about pointing the finger. It’s actually about finding hope. I hope that’s what people walk away with,” he adds, “rather than seeing a bunch of weird Australian kids jumping around on stage.”
Worship Leader Jad Gillies, who has been part of the UNITED team for 10 years now and is also the creative pastor at Hillsong Church, echoes those sentiments, saying he hopes the film will encourage non-Christians as well. “Hopefully it changes people’s perspective and gives them a bit more reality of what it actually looks like to believe in who Jesus is and live a life that reflects that,” he says.
The band is so dedicated to the message of Christ that the proceeds of their albums, concerts and merchandise goes back to ministry. The band members don’t just worship in song, they play a huge role in the outreach ministry of Hillsong Church. Hillsong UNITED is an 11 member band comprised of volunteers and employees of the church, who live simple lives, nothing flashy. “The cool thing about what we do is we don’t profit from these tours personally financially at all,” explains JD. “Any revenue goes back into the life of the church and projects that we do — helping people, feeding the poor and all our outreaches in the local community and around the world.”
Taya Smith, worship leader who joined the band just a couple of years ago, talks about how it’s more incredible to be a part of a band that participates in a project with worldwide impact than being in a band with worldwide fame. “Everything I’m involved with in church has gone to the next level in a really awesome way,” she says. “We get to travel, we get to be part of a team that’s bigger than ourselves and a church that’s bigger than ourselves. It’s blessed my life ridiculously.”
This group of people have created songs that are recognized by most Christians around the world, their sung by millions of people every Sunday and they lead people closer to an encounter with God every day. Industry estimates the number of people singing at least one of their songs somewhere in the world on a Sunday at 50 million. That’s about double the number of songs iTunes sells on any given day. So, even though Hillsong UNITED is blessed by the opportunity they’ve been given, they obviously are a blessing to people across the globe too.