Hillsong United: How a Church Band Became a Worldwide Phenom

Cortney O'Brien
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Posted: Apr 07, 2015 12:00 PM
Hillsong United: How a Church Band Became a Worldwide Phenom

They’re just a bunch of rockers from Australia. Their lyrics are memorable and their music is infectious, but you won’t hear their songs in bars or nightclubs - you’re more likely to hear them in church.

Hillsong UNITED’s rise to stardom was a surprising one. The band started in 1998 as a hobby for youth in Sydney, Australia’s Hillsong Church. Because of its powerful sermons and even more powerful music, the church grew in popularity and eventually spawned locations worldwide. Inspirational songwriting and powerful concert-like performances continued to rocket the band to worldwide renown. Their music, along with their unique ability to personally connect with audiences, is now going to be featured on the big screen. Check out the trailer for “Hillsong: Let Hope Rise” (You can almost feel the band’s powerful on stage presence), then read more below about the film and the band’s vast reach:

HILLSONG - LET HOPE RISE, directed by Michael John Warren (Jay-Z’s “Fade to Black”), chronicles the spectacular and unlikely rise to prominence of the Australian-based Christian band, Hillsong UNITED, which emerged out of the life of Hillsong Church. The music of Hillsong Church is so popular it is estimated that on any given Sunday, more than 50 million churchgoers around the world are singing their songs. The film follows the band as they labor to record their next album and explores the history of Hillsong, a 30-year journey from a tiny church in the Sydney suburbs to a vibrant international ministry. The movie culminates in a transformational concert experience spotlighting the humble hearts behind this worldwide sensation.

Hillsong UNITED is composed entirely of volunteers and employees of the church and is led by Joel Houston, son of Hillsong Church founders and global senior pastors Brian and Bobbie Houston. Although they have sold millions of albums, its members have been routinely characterized as humble. So, how did they feel about being followed around by cameras when shooting for the film? Executive Producer Phil Cooke said it took a little convincing:

“Brian Houston the pastor, the first thing when we asked him about the movie, he said, ‘Why would anyone want to see a movie about us?’ The band pretty much reflected the same question. So, it took a little bit for them to warm up, but they’re incredibly regular folks who were open to the idea.”

Pretty soon, the band became as comfortable in front of the cameras as they are onstage. The results seem to have paid off, for the film is already generating hype around the web.

FDRMX.com put together a list of the top five reasons why “Hillsong United: Let Hope Rise” will be an “epic” film. Their final point is the pithiest of all:

“There is a reason people flock to their concerts, and it’s because they are good at what they do. Not only do they create top notch music, but they sing and play it with a confidence, beauty and ease that will capture your imagination.”

Hillsong’s hip atmosphere and energizing worship time has been especially successful at drawing millennials to its services. These include some famous faces, such as Justin Bieber, model Hailey Baldwin and “High School Musical’s” Vanessa Hudgens.

"It feels like Arcade Fire — it's epic like that," Hudgens told the Times regarding the church's acclaimed worship band Hillsong United. "They really focus on you having your own personal relationship with Jesus, which is wonderful."

Cooke said the band’s incredible energy spawned the decision to shoot “Hope Will Rise” as a feature documentary concert event film.

“It was shot in about five continents and it essentially is the result of their last world tour and it culminates in a 15,000-seat arena event at The Forum in LA,” Cooke explained. “But, the movie’s really tied together with interviews, with conversations with them, with some historical footage that tells the Hillsong story. It really goes behind the scenes of the concert. Obviously people want to hear the music, that’s a given. But we really wanted to probe deeper and find out what drives these guys.”

In addition to achieving such a sense of authenticity, Cooke also believes this film is unique in its ability to reach beyond religious circles. “Hope Will Rise,” Cooke says, is not just “made for the choir.”

“I think this is the kind of film that you could bring a complete nonbeliever, a skeptic to, I think someone who had even no interest whatsoever in Christianity or the church, I think people will feel completely comfortable bringing them to this film. It’s honest, it doesn’t hold back, but at the same time the movie is made in such a way that you cannot deny the message of the film and the message of the music.”

Producer Jonathan Bock, president of the Christian PR firm, Grace Hill Media, explained why he wanted to bring Hillsong's journey to theaters, naming just a few of their songs that many faithful church attendees would recognize:

“With songs like Mighty to Save, Oceans, Lead Me to the Cross, Hosanna and From the Inside Out, anyone who regularly attends a church knows Hillsong’s music by heart. That’s how influential they’ve become,” Bock said. “And yet despite the fame and adulation, they’re still just an unpretentious worship band trying to do what hundreds of thousands of other worship bands try to do every week -- glorify God through their music. How they balance that is a fascinating and surprising story.”

Hillsong Church has churches in 14 major cities and more than 100,000 weekly attendees, including congregations in New York and Los Angeles. In addition to its music, Hillsong sponsors worldwide ministry work – outreaches paid for in part through proceeds from Hillsong music and merchandise sales.

The soundtrack to “Hillsong: Let Hope Rise” will be available April 27 and the movie hits theaters September 30.

Watch and witness how one band is singlehandedly making church cool.