Story: After being founded in Australia and turning worship songs into stacks of cash, the Hillsong church would expand into the United States, as part of a larger arc goal of imposing the church’s will across the entire globe. While the Australian branches would run into plenty of scandals of their own, the rise and fall of hipster youth pastor Carl Lentz would stand as one of the defining elements of Hillsong’s tarnished legacy. Lentz would use hipster fashion and buzzwords to lure in young people, then using a connection to pop star Justin Bieber to grow his own brand. Hillsong has its hip youth pastor as the face of the entire organization, but of course, Lentz was never practicing what he preached, which lead to a disgraced exit and severed ties with the main church. In Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed, we’re shown the details of Lentz’ fall, as well as several other Hillsong scandals and how an empire of cash was built by a non profit that claimed to served a higher purpose.
Entertainment Value: I thought this three part docuseries was excellent, as it thoroughly explores the myriad corruptions within Hillsong, but it doesn’t cast aspersions on religion as a whole. However you feel about faith and the supernatural, Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed doesn’t look to change your mind, just take you inside one twisted church. A lot of screen time is devoted to Carl Lentz’ story, but that makes sense, as it was a high profile situation and for a while, it looked like Lentz might be the next big star in the religious world. His relationship with Justin Bieber was national news and brought a lot of eyes on Hillsong, which we learn here was part of a broader marketing campaign. And marketing is a crucial aspect to Hillsong’s success and again, we are shown the inner workings of how that happens, with a deep dive into the music that funded the entire operation.
This series presents the music creation in Hillsong as almost a science, designed to manipulate emotions and generate devotion to a higher power and in turn, the church itself. I was pretty surprised to learn how much went into crafting the music, from which chords trigger the strongest emotions of sadness and loneliness to how the music is tested and refined on live church audiences, to ensure the strongest emotional response is achieved. It can be hard to watch, knowing people would do these things to their fellow humans, but the story is riveting at times, especially in how the church was founded and expanded on the back of the music side of the business. I found the pace here to be good and the show leaves you wanting more, so that is a compliment to the production. There are a few big topics that get the lion’s share of the attention, but they’re large scale stories so they need the time, plus the series weaves in other threads quite well. I’d recommend Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed to anyone who appreciates interesting, well made documentaries.