Last Sunday evening I went to a church service at Hillsong in the city. Hillsong is arguably the best known church in Sydney. I was at their smaller Waterloo centre, not the Baulkham Hills headquarters. They run the service in a really modern style; the whole place was full of smoke from the smoke machine, and there were coloured lights and big screens; the whole works. Although the church has been running for years, I couldn't help but notice that, besides a few of the paid staff, there wasn't anyone there over about 30 years of age. That's not necessarily a bad thing – every church has their own niche demographic that they serve.
The music was fantastic. The band covered the whole front of the church and there was a video projection stretching from the floor to the ceiling. It was obviously a well drilled and rehearsed group, and the main worship leader really knew how to work up a congregation.
The worship was more like a rock concert than a church service. The words were put up on the screen, and we followed along with the tune as best we could. It was nice, but I think anyone who wasn't an overly self confident rock star (fortunately I am one) might find it difficult to engage with the service in any meaningful way. But it was nice to listen to.
The sermon was bizarre. They were starting out a new series entitled ‘will you marry me?’ This week they were considering the idea of ‘for better or worse’. I've grown accustomed to having a scripture passage read out and fully explored in depth, to make sure the full meaning of a passage is understood. The pastor just took one passage from Genesis two about marriage then gave us a testimony about the moments his married life had seemed better, and the moments it had seemed worse. His conclusion was that when things are good, that’s great, and when things are bad, if you pray and have faith God will make them better again. It was a little simplistic, and doesn’t really hold up under comparison with scripture or experience, but the congregation seemed to find it helpful.
Overall, I could have come up with plenty of better ways to spend an hour and a half. I just didn't come away from it feeling like I'd gained anything useful.
I don't want to be too negative. The pop-culture religion style works for some people and if you can get past the shallowness of teaching and the endless emotional hype that comes with it, at least they’re worshipping the right guy. It's just not my thing, and it certainly made me appreciate my church a whole lot more.