“It’s the mega-glitzy gospel church with an annual conference that attracts a massive following and a new pin-up boy in pop superstar Justin Bieber.
But, according to a scathing report, the mega-wealthy Hillsong church — which is currently holding its annual conference at Sydney’s Allphones Arenea — is a cynical marketing machine raking in millions.
Devoted Hillsong volunteers, A Current Affair claims, are being exploited by the gospel church’s wealthy pastors who force them to work thousands of hours while they rake in millions.
The unpaid volunteers are even told they will fail their Bible college studies unless they give up their free time and devote hours of free labour to the mega church, A Current Affair reported.
A former volunteer told ACA some of the volunteers were forced to work so hard and were under so much pressure that they fell sick.
Then there’s the practice of “love offerings” — donations given to the mega-wealthy international pastors who in Sydney to speak at the conference.
Parishioners are encouraged to dig deep, with some of the international pastors earning $30,000 to $40,000 speaking at two or three different services a day during the annual conference, investigative reporter Adam Shand told ACA.
“There are bags of cash, literally bags of cash within this love offering circuit,” Shand said.
“They walk out of this country with cash in their bags and it’s not declared. How much they take out we have no idea because they don’t tell us.”
The damning investigation also claimed that Hillsong is similar to the Church of Scientology and was more “like a cult than a proper religion”.
Hillsong’s leader, Pastor Brian Houston — described by ACA as a one-man publishing empire — is living a life of luxury with his family, raking in millions tax-free while his parishioners fork out their hard-earned cash, the report said.
One parishioner at the week-long annual conference in Sydney told ACA she had “given thousands”.
Another man told Channel Nine he was prepared to hand over his hard-earned cash, saying “I haven’t given to Hillsong, I’ve given to God.”
One mother-of-eight on Centrelink benefits said she donated part of her welfare payments on a fortnightly basis.
“I usually tithe every fortnight on my Centrelink benefit — that’s my income. Yeah, so I’ve always tithed,” she said.
Former Hillsong member Tanya Levin’s book People in Glass Houses: An Insider’s Story of a Life in and out of Hillsong — an expose of life inside the church — has recently been re-released.
She told ACA Justin Bieber’s new role as Hillsong pin-up boy — the star is currently in Sydney for the conference — would be “a dream come true” for Pastor Brian Houston.
“Hillsong Church has never really claimed to be much about the poor,” she said. “They’ve really only ever claimed spreading their gospel, to be about their version of the gospel, to do that they need a lot of money.”