From a youth group church band in Sydney, Australia to a worldwide phenomenon whose music is played by an estimated 50 million people each Sunday, Hillsong UNITED is now the subject of a new riveting feature film. In this visually stunning cinematic release, HILLSONG-LET HOPE RISE, fans are treated to an up-close and personal look inside the band’s life on the road, home life, and spiritual journey. In fact, the combination of personal testimony and dynamic on-stage performances has created what some are calling a new genre of “theatrical worship experience.”
The band talks openly about the tremendous ways in which God has directed their lives, and enabled them to help others through their many mission projects. Their explosive fan base on social media is upwards of 23 million followers, including celebrities like Grammy Award-winning pop singer Justin Bieber and NBA star forward Kevin Durant. Hillsong UNITED has sold over 20 million records worldwide, and has won both Dove and Billboard Music Awards.
This Christmas season, Hillsong – Let Hope Rise, features powerful performances of Hillsong UNITED’s most iconic and beloved hit songs such as, “Oceans” “Mighty To Save” and “Hosanna”, will be available on Digital HD, On Demand, DVD and Blu-ray™ combo pack.
Hillsong Church, where UNITED has its roots, started their ministry small, planting its first congregation in the 1980s and has branched out into 17 “family” churches, including locations in London, Paris, Moscow, and Barcelona with more than 100,000 attendees weekly. The ministry, founded by Pastors Brian and Bobbie Houston, has several campuses in Australia and continues to grow in the United States, with three more locations being added in Arizona. Earlier this year, Hillsong Church partnered with Trinity Broadcasting Network to develop their very own television channel.
Sonoma Christian Home sat down to talk with Hillsong UNITED worship leader and guitarist Jad Gillies about the new film. SCH Editor-At-Large Melanie Pickett reports.
SCH: I sincerely enjoyed how the film visited the history of Hillsong Church and showed us that despite its humble beginnings, God has grown the ministry exponentially. How did you personally come to be a part of Hillsong?
Jad Gillies: I grew up in New Zealand and moved to Australia to Sydney to be part of Hillsong Bible College in 2002. So the end of 2001, I moved to Sydney and just got involved in the youth ministry, basically as a youth leader and as a guitar player. I just kind of did whatever I could to be involved. I loved the culture of the youth ministry. It was exciting and there were lots of young people, and they were just excited about God. We had this thought that we wanted to write songs that our friends and the people in our youth ministry would love to sing and would love to use to draw near to God, and that’s basically how it all got started.
SCH: How was the band approached about making the film and what were your thoughts about crossing over into the world of film?
JG: I love this story, to be honest. One of the producers, Jonathan Bock, who is a believer, invited one of his Hollywood producer friends who’s not saved, to an event we did at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Not long into the night, his friend disappeared. Jonathan thought ah, maybe it’s not for him, maybe he didn’t like it and he’s gone home. Then he found out at the end of the night, he’d made his way down into the pit area and just enjoyed the night. At the end, he caught back up with Jonathan and said ‘You know, I don’t know what that was but that was powerful. There was an energy and everyone needs to experience what I just experienced.’
The cool thing about that was he wasn’t talking about our band. He was talking about God, which he’d encountered and it was kind of special to him. He couldn’t explain it. The outcome from that was they approached us not long after about making a film. We thought it was a joke, like no one’s going to watch a movie about us. They were serious though. I guess we had some concerns going in that we would be portrayed as Christian rock stars, which we don’t identify with at all. But we got paired up with the director, Michael John Warren, who’s done some other music documentaries and when we met him, he was like ‘I just love this story and I’d kind of like to make a film.’ We said well, why not? And here we are today.
SCH: It’s been said that ‘Hillsong-Let Hope Rise’ is not just for Christians. Why should a person of different faith or no faith at all see the film?
JG: I think you’ll see normal people. You won’t see super Christians. We wanted the film to be something that non-Christians could come to and see thee church as a place that is for them, that’s not outdated and cruel, but is embracing, accepting, and is a place where they can find purpose; where they can find hope; where they can find encouragement. A place that is for them, that could be home for them. We’re passionate about the fact that the church is a vibrant place for everybody and it’s inclusive. It’s not an exclusive clique. It’s for people. I feel like hopefully that’s what people see when they come to see the film.
SCH: Hillsong Church and Hillsong UNITED are truly reaching millions of people for God. As Christians we know that when we’re doing a good work to further God’s kingdom, the enemy likes to get in our way. Did anything occur during the making of ‘Hillsong: Let Hope Rise’ that you knew undoubtedly was by the hand of God?
JG: This whole thing could only be God. Hillsong UNITED, if anything, we’re a picture of the fact that God uses pretty ordinary people to do some pretty amazing things. So even this opportunity with the film ‘Hillsong-Let Hope Rise’ was even just what we’re getting to do right now, I feel like that’s the biggest God thing ever. None of us ever thought that this would happen ten years ago.
We have a story on our first-ever tour to the United States. We played in a church in California. We had a day off in LA and we were driving to the airport and we passed the Staples Center. We all joked around like “We’ll play there one day.” We laughed like it was a big joke. Then ten years later, we actually sold out the Staples Center. Our tour manager was like “Hey, do you remember that conversation we had in the car?” and we were blown away. To be honest, we were like ‘only God can do something like that with a bunch of kind of average people from the suburbs of Sydney’. There’s no other explanation really.
SCH: Has this whole process strengthened or changed your relationship with God?
JG: The last two years from beginning of making the film until now, trying to help people come and see the film, have been pretty tumultuous months. I guess for me it really helped me to solidify and really search out a purpose for doing what we do. There’s obviously a cost. There’s a cost to your family, a cost to you personally, and so it really forced me to search for a concrete reason why I do what we do.
For me, it really did draw me closer to God because it made me ask the questions. It made me ask why am I doing this, why is this important to me, because if I don’t feel a conviction for what we are doing, then I would much rather be home with my family. At the end of the day, I just identified with the fact that the message that we’re carrying, I believe in it. I believe that it’s for everybody, the message of the Gospel. The message that God can and will do amazing things with ordinary people if you just give your life to Him. I feel like that’s our story and I feel like it’s for everybody.
SCH: What do you hope that people will take away from this movie?
JG: I hope that people who serve in church who are Christians, when they see the film they will see some of their own story through the thread of the film and be encouraged by it. Just because we came from a similar place as where everybody who serves in church came from, and I pray that people would be encouraged by that. I also pray that people would see the church in a new light and I think those are two great things to hope for.
SCH: I also read that Hillsong UNITED “owns Sunday” because on any given Sunday, your music is being played and sang by over 50 million people each Sunday around the world. How does that feel?
JG: I thought football owned Sunday?? (laughs) We write songs to help people draw closer to God. I don’t think we ever did it to gain a monopoly on Sunday. We make our music available and we encourage people to use our songs however they need to, to help congregations draw near to God, to encourage people, to build people up, and to help people get to a place where they can feel vulnerable, especially with a God that they can’t necessarily see. That’s the purpose of our music, that’s the purpose of why we write songs. We love that churches use them, but we also love that there are other people writing songs that are having just as much impact and more, all around the world.
SCH: One more question for fun. You mentioned you’ve played some amazing venues (Staples Center, Red Rock, Radio City Music Hall). Is there one “bucket list” venue, a place you’d like to play if you could choose any venue?
JG: I went to a soccer game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. I went with Joel and we both looked at each other like “What if there was a worship event here? Can you imagine 90,000 people singing God’s praises? That would be pretty special.”
As someone who’s had the privilege of watching ‘Hillsong-Let Hope Rise,’ I was profoundly impressed by the willingness of UNITED’s members to vulnerably share with fans about their deep faith, family, and even personal struggles. Each one expressed genuine spirituality and emotion, and left me cheering for them and their mission to further God’s kingdom through worship and music.
Hillsong: Let Hope Rise is now available to download and on BluRay and DVD.
You can stay updated with Hillsong UNITED tour dates and happenings by visiting their site.