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Hillsong Church's Amazing Journey Hits the Big Screen


They call themselves a ragtag collection of musicians. But the results tell a different story. Hillsong United songs are sung in 60 different languages, and the band has sold more than 17 million albums.  It began as a tiny church Down Under and now Hillsong congregations worship in more than a dozen locations around the globe

"We just set out to write songs that our friends would listen to and like. So we would listen to bands we like and want to make music that was culturally relevant. You could not have scripted how this has happened. We never set out to tour the world and to make music full time, but it's just been one step after the other of trusting God," said Dylan Thomas, guitarist for Hillsong United. 

While someone might not have scripted the story, the band's rise to chart-topping musicians is told on screen in the feature film, Hillsong: Let Hope Rise.  

Joel Houston, a Hillsong Church pastor and musician with Hillsong United said, "It is not about a church or about what we do with writing songs or making music or serving God. It is the story of who God is. That he uses, he loves, ordinary people. He loves everybody and that he has a plan for everybody. and everybody on earth is invited into his story."

The Hillsong story got the attention of film director Michael John Warren, the mind behind rap giants Jay Z's Fade to Black and Nicki Minaj's My Time Now. And he isn't a Christian.

"I am a music nerd," Warren said. "I love music more than I love film." 

I asked him if going from doing films on Jay Z and Nikki Minag to doing a film on Hillsong was a natural progression.

"Yeah, actually," Warren said. "With music films, the story is a little bit challenging because, what's really at stake for a pop artist? And the answer is they are trying to stay hot, trying to prove they are best rapper. There is a lot of drama there. And certainly with an artist like Nikki, there is just drama," he said. "With Hillsong, for me, I saw a unique story."

"Their mission is to connect people to heaven," Warren added. "And as a storyteller, I was like, that's unique." 

Even though an estimated 50 million church goers sing Hillsong's music each week, Hollywood's interest still surprises band members. But they're excited to share a message of hope.

"I mean, I love that the message are the things that we actually care about," said guitarist Jad Gillies. "The thing that we want to encourage people the most is threaded throughout the film. I think Hillsong: Let Hope Rise, is a film that has a message of hope."

That uplifting message rings outs in the story of how singer Taya Smith became part of the band. She arrived in Sydney with just $200 and said, "Lord, use me."

"Yeah," Taya said. "It was a faith step. Moved out of home, felt it was the right time... I only had $200 in the bank. I was just trusting God with it. Turns out, it was the best move I could have ever made. And it was, like, God's timing."

In many ways, the band's success story echoes that of Hillsong Church.   

Hillsong Church Pastor Brian Houston told us, "When we started a church on the outskirts of Sydney Australia, we were thinking about people coming back next week. I have always been a visionary, but our whole story has been a grace story."

A grace story that points up to heaven. And that's the entire point of the film.

"I just feel like when people can walk in to an atmosphere like that and sense God's presence, their eyes are lifted to see there is more to this world than they probably realized," said Bobbie Houston, co-pastor of Hillsong Church, and Brian's wife.   

I asked Michael John Warren, the film's director, if working on this film changed him in any way.

"Absolutely," he said. "Being around people like that is meaningful and it helps me become a better person. All of my non-Christian friends are like, are you saved?  And I'm like, no I haven't been saved, but I'm a better person now and I feel like I have a role model of how to treat people and how to be more loving," Warren added.

For an unbeliever, that's a seed planted.

Hillsong: Let Hope Rise hits theaters on September 16

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