Megachurch scandals are nothing new. As long as televangelists have been gracing our TV screens, they have been falling from grace just as publicly. Hillsong Church and its now-former pastor Carl Lentz is just the most recent example, and while their scandal may lack the usual moral failures like tax fraud, prostitutes, pool boys, or begging for a $2 million jet, it does make up for it in some bizarre details in the lead-up and the aftermath ...
About Hillsong Church
Hillsong Church began as Hills Christian Life Centre in 1983 in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia, by Brian Houston and his wife, Bobbie. Since then, the church has grown to over 250,000 members and has "planted" almost 1,100 churches on six continents. We like to imagine they tried to go for all seven continents, but, as we know from that '80s documentary, Antarctica belongs to The Thing.
Hillsong is part of a growing movement referred to as Charismatic Christianity. Their belief structure is primarily Pentecostal, but they're aiming to bring those beliefs into the modern age by making the scripture more accessible and practical and to bring people together in a world that seems to be more divided than ever. They're also trying to make Jesus Christ way hipper in the process. This ain't your grandad's megachurch. This is the cool church.
What has made Hillsong so successful is their marketing ... and their music. The church has produced over 40 albums, selling over 11 million copies to date. They even have a Grammy to their name. Stylistically, they have tried to cover as many bases as possible, forming four bands to help spread their message. Their most popular band, Hillsong United, is mainly God-themed arena rock. There's also Hillsong Worship, their most mainstream band. They also have Hillsong Kids, which is obviously their death metal band (citation needed), and finally, there's Hillsong Young and Free, their EDM band. Ever wonder what Jesus-themed club music sounds like? Have a listen:
Wait for the bass praise drop.
Hillsong remained primarily in Australia until the '90s, when it built a church in London, and into the 2000s, it was expanding by planting new campuses in Moscow, Stockholm, and South Africa. Hillsong made it to America with its first location in New York City in 2010, and the man who helped make that happen was a charismatic young pastor named Carl Lentz.
Carl Lentz was a Virginia native who had studied at Hillsong International Leadership College and had developed a strong friendship with Joel Houston, Hillsong founder Brian Houston's son. Lentz later interned for the elder Houston and helped Joel establish the church's NYC location. Joel brought the message, but Carl brought the showmanship. What started out as small gatherings at people's apartments quickly grew to the church having to switch to larger theaters three times to accommodate all of the new congregants.