The Christian group Hillsong UNITED recently held a European conference in London this week. In addition, the Hillsong church has garnered attention from both Hollywood celebrities and filmmakers.
According to Kathryn Watson of BREATHECast, people in "young Hollywood" have made personal connections to the church via Hillsong NYC Pastor Carl Lentz and Seattle Pastor Judah Smith. Some of the celebrities included Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens, Russell Wilson, and Kevin Durant.
"When Hillsong welcomed Justin Bieber and his rumored girlfriend, model Hailey Baldwin, to their Sydney headquarters in late June as part of their annual church conference, the relationship between Bieber, Hillsong NYC pastor Carl Lentz, and Seattle pastor (and close friend of Lentz) Judah Smith was again in the spotlight," Watson wrote.
Watson reported that after Bieber seemed to have reached "a tipping point" with an altercation with Orlando Bloom in the Spanish town of Ibiza in 2014, he started regularly attending Pastor Smith's Bible study.
"The difference in Bieber's life since he began attending that Bible study late last year is quite evident," Watson wrote. "After several years of controversial bad-boy behavior, Bieber appears to have turned a corner and appears re-focused on his faith, his fans, and his music."
According to Watson, Smith is the lead pastor of City Church in Seattle and has over 350,000 followers on Twitter. Although he is not officially affiliated with Hillsong, he has spoken at their events over the years.
"It's apparent that the bevy of celebrities that are interested in being mentored by Judah Smith know that to him, Jesus is the most important thing," Watson wrote.
Watson speculated on why famous people found personal appeal in both Hillsong UNITED and Hillsong church.
"It could be the emphasis that Hillsong and Co. cast on Jesus himself, and their lack of concentration on evangelical 'fundamentalism,' which has fallen out of favor," Watson wrote.
Watson pointed out that Lentz, Smith, Hillsong UNITED worship leader Joel Houston, and Pastor Rich Wilkerson Jr. have an uncanny ability to use social media to spread their message.
"With frequent posts on Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter, these individuals provide ways to share the word of Jesus on a medium where people such as Ashley Benson, who has over 7 million Instagram followers, love to share," Watson wrote. "Hillsong meets these Hollywood elite where they are: online."
Based on Hillsong's appeal, Watson believed that "not all hope has been lost for those looking for Jesus to be represented in popular culture."
"Though they are certainly not perfect, these stars are seeking God," Watson wrote. "And if they are sincere in this quest to find Jesus, He will find and redeem them."
Hillsong has even become the focus of a feature film entitled "Hillsong - Let Hope Rise." According to the film's website, the documentary covered the rise of Hillsong UNITED, a Christian band based in Australia.
"The music of Hillsong is so popular it is estimated that on any given Sunday, more than 50 million churchgoers around the world are singing their songs," the film's website wrote. "Routinely performing to sold-out stadiums, the 11-member band, led by Joel Houston, are all volunteers or employees of Hillsong Church, founded by Joel's parents, Brian and Bobbie Houston."
Although the film's director, Michael John Warren, admitted that he was "not a religious person," he noted that Hillsong UNITED was "sincerely giving" and "sincerely supportive."
"I don't believe the same things they believe, but I'm learning from them and I'm taking lessons from them and I believe I've become a better person having spent a year studying them," Warren wrote.
Warren, who has previously made documentary films about Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj, added that Hillsong's mission was "to make music to save souls."
"They are trying to get people to discover Jesus. That's probably the most righteous reason to make music," Warren wrote. "Whether you're religious or not, it's hard to look at that and not feel good about it."