What on earth is Hillsong? Well, it’s a massive Australian church that is also based in London as well as all over the world now. It is part of the modern evangelical movement that has its roots in the Church of England – or Anglicanism as it is known around the world. There are many huge churches all over London and the UK that are part of this phenomenal movement that is responsible for keeping Christianity 100% alive and growing in what I think might otherwise be a dire and empty secular void that could leave a gap to be filled by goodness knows what.
Anyway, a few years ago they invited me to the night celebration part of their three-day Christian conference at the O2…. And I’ve been every year since! What I saw blew my mind, and I take delight each year in bringing a friend if only to watch their eyes pop with amazement at the sheer numbers of (especially young) people committing their lives to good old fashioned Christianity – that used to be consider the mainstay of our society and western culture.
The O2 holds up to 20,000 people and on the night I went – the Thursday – it looked pretty full to me. This movement has meant that Christianity in London is now bucking the trend elsewhere elsewhere in the UK – ie. in London it is growing not declining. Pretty impressive. I don’t think you need to be a Christian to appreciate that if we lose Christianity in our country we also lose a huge chunk of our culture and that which made the West such a desirable place to live.
The conference lasts for three days and nights – the night being more of a rock concert style of worship, praise and preaching. The founders – a married couple – look to be in their 50’s or 60’s but most of the preachers are probably late 30’s and early 40’s – but on the young and trendy side. I have always found it uplifting, moving and refreshing – and Thursday was no exception. We sang, we danced, we worshipped, we stood up and we sat down – and we prayed for ourselves and each other and the world. We were asked to volunteer and to sponsor children in third world countries.
Yes there was a collection – but certainly no pressure and no more so than in any church across the land on a Sunday. We all acted and moved as one huge congregation responding to those on the stage and the huge screens – a huge rock concert for Christianity. And the preachers certainly were charismatic, attractive and full of energy. Whether you believe or not Hillsong is huge entertainment. And those that weren’t already believers but raised their hands to Jesus were given Hillsong bibles. What more could you want?
What always strikes me the most about Hillsong is that in this age of self obsession, selfie taking, social media and ‘looks’ culture ’ that the majority of the audience are young 20 somethings – and certainly most of the volunteers and stewards too. They are all cheerful and go out of their way to make sure you enjoy your time there. Whatever you think of the movement, it has to be better than the soul baring and body shaming secular culture our young people have been dragged down into by social media and the general dumbing down of society. Hillsong over Love Island any day.
We also prayed for healing those that felt lost, and for the person next to us. We had to turn to each other and say ‘you’re awesome’, how sweet! Cringe-worthy you might say, but somehow when you are there it doesn’t feel that way. When you are surrounded by nearly 20,000 people baring their souls and declaring their faith and I would say LONGING to believe in something more and something better it is hard to be cynical or supercilious – the easiest thing to do is give in and JOIN IN. I fond this sort of openness refreshing in comparison the contrived and fake lives so many live on social media now. And with so may young people feeling depressed, lost, ‘not good enough. and killing themselves how wonderful to also see so many of them giving themselves to something bigger than all of that.
Our society is spiralling to a bottomless pit of self obsession and loathing. The pressure to achieve, to have money, to look perfect, to have everything new, to shop shop shop all the time and to believe in NOTHING is huge now. never have so many felt so empty. What are lovely young people with their whole lives ahead of them disfiguring their bodies with cosmetic surgery or killing themselves, or getting so drunk they end up in court or dead? In other words, what is wrong with us?
But there is hope. And in the words of Hillsong this year ‘There is more’. And you know what is also great? London is Hillsong’s capital of Europe – we’re the hub for all Western Christians. Who’d have thought that London, where the rich and greedy of the world come to indulge, would be the place to find hope and the growth of Christianity? But then of course, once you look outside the self-absorbed piety of the EU, London is of course the perfect choice if you take a world view!
I’m not asking you to believe. I’m just asking you to not despair. In all the increasingcrime, violence, greed, gangs, drugs, materialism, homelessness, debt and emptiness that London is suffering there is a chance for all of us, and especially the young, to have something more to believe in again. London is bucking the trend, and many are grabbing the chance for something more meaningful. I looked around and saw nothing but happy faces.
So, is there more? That’s for you to decide. But there IS hope…