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?