3 Young Women Who Worship At Controversial Celebrity Church Hillsong

Is it possible for a church to gain celebrity status? Recently, Pentecostal Hillsong Church has curated the right amount of prestige, personality and controversy to entrance the world’s media. The church (which claims to draw 130,000 weekly attendants across 21 countries) was founded in 1983 but lately, it’s scored more headlines and social media buzz than ever before.
There are two reasons why this could be. Firstly, the church has had several scandals. In 2015, it was found that Hillsong cofounder Brian Houston had failed to report knowledge of his father’s paedophilic crimes. Also that year, Hillsong came under fire for its dubious stance on sexuality. Among other mixed messages, Houston stated that the church was "gay welcoming" but not gay affirming.
The second reason? Justin Bieber attends Hillsong. Quite frankly, we all want to know why Bieber's love for a church – which some detractors describe as a cult – allegedly made him quit his world tour. And why Hailey Baldwin, Selena Gomez, Kendall Jenner and Kourtney Kardashian have joined him at the pew. Interest in Hillsong, Bieber and Houston is at an all-time high – but what about its regular attendees? How has Hillsong gone down in the UK where there are now three branches (Bermondsey, Central London and North London). And what can a controversy-mired megachurch offer a female British millennial?
Here, three women who attend tell us about their experiences...
1 of 3

There are lights and electric guitars and some guys are really hot!

Samantha Babooram, 33

God is the heart of Hillsong. That love, acceptance and community is there, and I think that’s what draws people to the church. I became a Christian when I was four, so I kind of grew up in church. The church I went to had a beautiful heart, but it was filled with older people. When I came to London, Hillsong was the first church that I went to. I remember walking in and saying, "Woah, there’s young people! There’s lights and electric guitars and some guys are really hot!" It was really multicultural as well. I’m from a small town up north where everyone was predominantly white and I remember thinking, this is crazy, I’ve never experienced this before! I lead kids' worship for Hillsong, which is amazing. I’m also in adults worship and in choirs. On a Sunday morning, I’m usually there for about 8am. I serve both services, so I'm there ‘til about 2pm, then I go back to a service at 4pm. I have rehearsals on Wednesday evenings. It does take up quite a bit of my time, but it’s definitely worth it. From Hillsong, I’ve learned a lot about life, people, dreams and leadership. Hillsong offers you the chance to have an amazing relationship with God. It equips and empowers you for life. There’s nothing remotely cult-like about it. Our stance... Well, I can’t really say our stance... My personal view is that Jesus loves everybody. It doesn’t matter what your race or sexuality is, you’re still God’s son or daughter.
2 of 3

I read about the controversy. I was wary when I joined. I still am.

Jessica Bokete, 21

I joined Hillsong a month and a half ago. I was looking for a space where I could properly explore my relationship with God. I browsed around and felt that Hillsong was the perfect fit for me. I related to their energy and approach to worship. My experience so far has only been full of highs. I’ve been integrated into a new community and I feel closer to God. However, I am expecting it to change at some point because nothing is easy. I have read about the controversy surrounding the church and I will admit that I was wary when I joined. I still am. So far, the church has preached about being an inclusive space but I think there’s a lot to be done and more changes need to be made so that the church is true to this message. The church needs to push for inclusivity and really mean it when they say everyone is welcome. This includes changing people’s mindsets and staying away from using the Bible to promote divisive rhetoric. As for it being a cult, everyone’s experience is different. Some people will love it and some will hate it. I won’t go into that, because the last thing I want is to discredit those experiences. Hillsong is a great space to go to if you’re looking for an unconventional way to grow closer to God. I won’t generalise, because everyone’s experience is different, but I think it can offer young women a space to decompress and breathe. If you’re looking to grow in Christ, Hillsong can provide a foundation for that.
3 of 3

Women of all ages come. We have a big department called Sisterhood.

Ellie Shore, 27

I became a Christian when I was 15 years old. I grew up, went to university, then moved to London. I thought, 'I really want to get stuck into a church' and I know of Hillsong really well. I think I moved to London on a Saturday and came to church on the Sunday, not knowing anyone at that service. I was trying to make friends in the queue; everyone was super welcoming. It’s a place where people can be encouraged, people can show wisdom. I see Hillsong as a support network as well. London is ranked as one of the loneliest cities in the world, if not the loneliest. For me, church is a place where you can find new friendships, you can find a community. I love that Hillsong is a place where you might have a CEO sat next to a homeless person. I’m a young adults leader. The young adults ministry is called Powerhouse UK. We have connect groups that meet weekly, in homes and in restaurants. We also put on socials every two months, gatherings every month or so, and an annual summer camp. Women of all ages come to church. We have a big department called Sisterhood. Hillsong has a big Colour Conference each year at Wembley Stadium, where all the women get together. People speak and there’s music – it’s fun! It’s a safe environment where women can come and learn and be welcomed.

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