There is a first time for everything, as the saying goes. Despite attending a few conferences before, I always seem to hear about them merely days before it kicks off. For me personally, this is the first time attending the Hillsong Conference in person, and also the first time covering the conference as part of a media team, which is quite special.
So before it begins, I would like to share some of my first impressions as a first-timer.
In most Christian circles, the Hillsong Conference is quite well known for its famous speaker line-up, headlining artists, and uplifting atmosphere – but what it is not as famous for is its ability to attract what could be called the unchristian.
At a recent church anniversary service, my Pastor invited a few of the ministries that use the church's office space to speak about their ministry outreach to the surrounding suburbs near our church's prime location next to the Woolloongabba cricket ground.
One of the leaders of Power to Change (also known as Campus Crusade) opened with a story of a young lady who began attending Hillsong church after hearing Justin Bieber was in attendance at last year's Hillsong Conference. She happened to meet a girl her age sitting next to her, who began inviting her to a student group run by Power to Change on their university campus. After about a year, the young lady became a Christian and started meeting up with other people on campus just like her. To me, that just about sums about what the Hillsong Conference is able to do – attract people who are curious about the power of God.
Interestingly enough, this year's conference theme is on empowering the local church, which really reflects the focus that Hillsong, as a church movement, is leaning towards. This is not replacing a traditional model of church, but rather inspiring young leaders and old to focus on the impact they can have on a local level to bring about change on a much grander scale.
Hillsong is challenging the next generation to embrace church as more than just a single location or leader, but more as a movement of people passionate about the good news.
Coming up on the 30th anniversary of Hillsong, the conference is set to a tone of celebration and significance – celebration of the past three decades of leadership and expansion, and signifying the importance of unity as a Christian community spanning across the globe. Set to begin Tuesday evening, the conference will be especially impactful as the anniversary approaches. Hillsong Church is now in over 15 countries and televised in hundreds of churches and homes worldwide, with multiple services and locations in every venue one could think of.
Recalling my first time hearing Brian Houston speak at Hillsong LA, I began speaking with people lining up outside one of downtown LA's most famous nightclubs who were fascinated to see what was going on inside. Most of the people in line were also first-timers who happened to be spending a Sunday afternoon in downtown and had joined the line for one reason or another. A sense of belonging and intrigue seemed to envelop the crowd, a feeling felt by many who also may be attending the Hillsong conference for the first time this year.
For whatever reason, this year's conference is bound to be an opportunity for many who seem drawn to hear about the legacy of those who have been able to make an impact, and also to champion those who want to bring others to experience the joy of God's truth.
A third-culture-kid born in Australia to Indian parents, Joseph Kolapudi recently returned from California where he was studying theology, and has been working for the US Center for World Mission; his love of books and writing has now drawn him to PSI.
Joseph Kolapudi's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/joseph-kolapudi.html