Australian megachurch Hillsong has influenced Christian worship far and wide, with its songs like "Mighty to Save" and "Awesome God" routinely belted out in churches around the world. The Pentecostal church's music ministry has proven so pivotal to modern Christian worship that its United brand is the subject of a new documentary and, along with Hillsong's other mainstays (UNITED and Young & Free), has racked up this year 10 GMA Dove Award nominations.
But what is behind 31-year-old Hillsong Church's singing success?
According to Autumn Hardman, whose role is Worship Oversight for Hillsong Church's Australian campuses, the secret of Hillsong's success is simple — keeping Jesus front and center.
The church recently displayed its commitment to lifting up the name of Jesus with a campaign in New York City that saw nearly two dozen digital screens play in a video loop for one hour the name and phrase, "Jesus" and "No Other Name." The campaign, centered in the Times Square tourist hot spot, unfolded on the occasion of Hillsong Worship's latest album "No Other Name," also the theme of this year's annual Hillsong Conference.
Hardman, who just wrapped up Hillsong Church's 2014 Europe conference leg and was preparing for its October stop in NYC, conducted a brief Q&A via email with The Christian Post about her ministry work and the heartbeat of Hillsong's worship.
CP: Please explain your role with Hillsong Church? What exactly is "worship oversight?"
Hardman: I work under our Global Creative Pastors, Cassandra and Richard Langton, overseeing the day-to-day runnings of our Worship Teams across our 12 Australian campuses.
CP: How big is the team you work with, and how is it organized (since there are many Hillsong locations)?
Hardman: I work with between 20-30 staff, who then have local volunteer creative teams in each campus. The local campus team size varies depending on its location, size of congregation, etc. Some local creative teams are around 50 people, others like our main Hills campus have over 500 volunteers within the creative team at that campus alone, so probably all up across our campuses, our creative team would be approximately 2,000 team members.
CP: How long have you been with the ministry/church? And what compelled you to join the Hillsong family?
Hardman: I came to Hillsong 11 years ago to attend Bible College for one year but obviously God had other plans. I served as a volunteer on our creative team during that time, and ended up coming on staff through that a few years later when I finished Bible college. I always admired the music at HIllsong, and when I came to church for the first time, I absolutely fell in love with the heart and soul of this church, its simple message and passion for loving Jesus and loving others.
CP: Hillsong worship songs are so popular across Christian churches around the world. Why do you think the ministry's music resonates so broadly?
Hardman: Our aim as a church is simple – to lift up the name of Jesus. It's as simple as that. The worship music of our House has always been an expression of that. Over the years, the genre and the sound (have) evolved, but the message has stayed the same. We always have been, and always will be about lifting up the name of Jesus.
CP: What three words would you use to describe the heartbeat/motivation or goals of Hillsong worship?
Hardman: Pretty much as stated in the previous question. Our motivation as a worship team is first and foremost our love for Jesus, and our desire to make His name great, and our desire to see the Gospel spread and shared throughout the earth with the tools of creativity that have been placed in our hands. Our hope would be that we would serve Jesus and others with every breath we take, and that we would be good stewards of the responsibility and gifts placed within our hands.
CP: In what ways are you involved during the annual Hillsong Conference?
Hardman: I help in the planning, overseeing, and creation of much of the music, creativity of our conferences, and Music Direct, and play keys as well.
CP: What are the priorities for the worship team/ministry during the conference?
Hardman: The priorities include obviously leading praise and worship, working together as a team, leading prayer meetings, teaching/sharing at electives and break-out sessions, and supporting and helping our church leadership team however we can.
CP: How much planning/preparation does the team put in before the conference?
Hardman: We begin planning a conference a minimum of 12 months out, and the months leading up to any conference have hours and hours of work, dreaming, strategizing, creating, and designing stages. [Plus] creative moments, incorporating hundreds of volunteers, dancers, painters, builders, photographers, etc. in rehearsing, executing creative moments, leading worship, and in general supporting the conference however we can.
CP: How does the team help balance leading people in worship of God, while also maintaining a level of excellence, or meeting audience exceptions for the program?
Hardman: Preparation is key. The more prepared we are as a team, both in our heart and our skill, the more we are able to confidently lead both in worship, and in excellence.
Hillsong Church was founded in 1983 by Pastors Brian and Bobbie Houston and welcomes about 30,000 worshipers every weekend at 12 campuses scattered around the world. In Australia, Hillsong has six campuses and twice as many extension services. The megachurch is affiliated with the Australian Christian Churches (the Assemblies of God in Australia). Hillsong Church online: http://hillsong.com/