Though the music of Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia, has impacted the global Church for over a decade, it has only been in recent years that the church’s youth worship team, Hillsong United, has exploded. Its fresh brand of driving, melodic modern rock and worship and clear, simply stated lyrics has catapulted them to top-selling status in Australia and has them emerging as a world-wide phenomenon. Amidst the growing zeal for the Aussie group, United releases its newest CD and it’s first-ever studio recording, All of the Above.
Originally, there was no plan for United to become a recording artist and touring band. United is first a vibrant and active youth ministry and it is a sophisticated operation with about 200 young people directly involved creatively as musicians, vocalists, production techs, artists and designers. The key musicians and worship leaders that appear on the albums direct six of the age-focused worship teams that meet weekly for a time of music, worship and discipleship. More than 3,000 young people are part of Hillsong United’s programs at the church’s Sydney and suburban campuses. The enormous task of overseeing these programs falls to Youth Pastor Phil Dooley and his wife Lucinda who have served in this role since 1996.
Phil, who also travels with the United worship band and is a speaker during their worship nights, comments, “In some churches, the youth are a part of the church. But, we say, ‘you are the Church’.”
Hillsong Church has long drawn its worship leaders from the deep and talented pool of songwriters discovered in its United youth ministry. This includes worship leaders and songwriters Reuben Morgan, Marty Sampson and now Joel Houston.
“One of the strengths of our church is the way the youth are embraced and encouraged to be a part of all that is happening,” says Joel. “It’s what makes United distinctive. We’re not just a band. The very nature of who we are and what we do is inclusive. It’s a discipling model. Everything we (the current band) do is because someone gave us an opportunity.”
The desire to chronicle what was happening in this unique youth ministry transformed United from just a youth ministry to a major recording artist and touring band that has released eight CDs since 1999. Their first seven CDs - - Everyday, Best Friend, King of Majesty, To the Ends of the Earth, More Than Life, Look to You and United We Stand were all recorded live during Hillsong’s annual youth conference, Encounterfest. Until All of the Above.
In addition to being able to create a more cohesive music experience, Joel says the decision to record in the studio was also driven by practical reasons, including an amazingly hectic schedule that includes local and global ministry (Africa, Asia, Europe and South America).
“Recording in a studio was the right thing to do and it’s still true to who we are and what God has given us,” Joel said. “We wanted to deliver the best album we could without the demands of a set schedule or deadline.”
Writing original songs for All of the Above, as it is for all United CDs, was an intentional process for the worship team. “When we write our songs, we have always tried to capture the heartbeat of our young people. Many of the kids in our youth ministry are new in their faith, so we try to write songs that help them connect with God in a way that is relevant to them, as well as songs that freshly communicate biblical truths in a new way for this generation. Ultimately, our young people have the final say on what songs get recorded by how they resonate during our worship times.”
The result is a recording intended to, as Joel puts it “stir up a generation both locally and globally to live lives that are sold out for God and His Cause – lives that are committed to being His hands and feet on the planet, and to bringing justice to the hurting and the broken.”
The message not only underpins all the songs on the album, but it is also the motivator behind a new movement recently launched by Hillsong United called The I Heart Revolution (www.theiheartrevolution.com). Via a DVD documentary project they have been producing, United hopes to illuminate the needs around the world and to illustrate how a community worshiping God can change the world.
“Our focus is to build our church, to keep reaching people who need to know Christ,” says Pastor Phil. “We’ll do that every way we know how and with every resource available to us. In the process we need to invest into the next generation and equip them to take what we’re doing even further. Ultimately, it all comes back to loving God and loving others. When you release that vision into the hands of young people, they catch it and see how they can fit in.”
United is a shining example of young people who caught the vision. There is no doubt that All of the Above and The I Heart Revolution are two more ways they are using their gifts to communicate that worship is more than just great music.
“We’re just getting started,” says Joel. “There are a lot of people who need to know Jesus. If our worship is just great youth meetings, nice songs, lots of jumping around and a few CDs, then we’re missing it. Our vertical expression must have a horizontal effect. So, we’ll continue to worship, praise and honor God with heart, soul, mind and strength the best we know how, but the fruit of that must be a generation who are totally committed to reaching the lost and helping those who need help, locally and globally.”