Hillsong's 20th Conference Encourages Over 35,000 Delegates

Championing the cause of the local church, Hillsong has gathered more than 35,000 delegates from 71 nations this week to its 20th anniversary conference where some of the world's leading church leaders have been exhorting thousands for God-inspired leadership.

"Today, more than ever, the Church needs strong, spirit-filled leaders who are driven by the Cause of Christ," said Hillsong Senior Pastor Brian Houston. "These are men and women of God who are passionate about the Word and can lead the people of God with purpose, wisdom and unquestionable integrity."

U.S. megachurch pastor Rick Warren opened the first morning rally on Tuesday telling the large crowd of the meaning and purpose of the local church.

"You cannot grow as a Christian without the Church," he told them. "To say you love Jesus and not the Church is an insult to God. If you don't like local church, you won't like heaven."

Author of best-selling book The Purpose-Driven Life, Warren was featured as one of Newsweek's "15 People Who Make America Great." Labeled as "The Innovator," the evangelical pastor has transferred his success and influence to try to mobilize the 2.3 billion people who claim to be followers of Jesus.

This year's guest speakers also include evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, megachurch pastor Bill Hybels, best-selling author Matthew Barnett, pastor and author Frank Damazio and others.

Special guest artist Delirious?, one of the most influential Christian rock bands in the world, stepped onto the stage Tuesday night encouraging the crowd to be "history makers."

"This is a new day and we're not going back," said band leader Martin Smith. "The way forward is when we join hands across denominations."

Twenty-one church denominations and affiliations are represented at the 2006 conference.

The first Hillsong Conference had 150 delegates and has grown to become the largest annual conference in Australia. Senior Pastors Brian and Bobbie Houston expect this year's anniversary conference to be an "historic, landmark event." The 2006 conference opened July 3 and will culminate on July 7. Hillsong conference night rallies are open to the public with reservation.