Aussie group Hillsong brings new album to Southland performance

Reuben Morgan performed with Hillsong at the church's home base in Sydney, Australia. Many of its songs have become staples of contemporary church services.
Reuben Morgan performed with Hillsong at the church's home base in Sydney, Australia. Many of its songs have become staples of contemporary church services.

Reuben Morgan could go through a number of standard-issue reasons why Hillsong Live is making its first foray to the United States this summer.

The latest outgrowth of the blockbuster worship ministry from Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia — other Hillsong versions have toured the United States — wants to reach new audiences.

And the group has a new album, A Beautiful Exchange, to promote.

But Morgan can offer a much more basic rationale that anyone could understand, whether they know the words to Shout to the Lord or not.

"It's your summer, it's our winter, so we're pretty keen to get over there and be in summer," Morgan says as fellow Hillsong leader Ben Fielding chuckles in agreement and says, "It's the hidden motive. Dodge Australian winter."

As he spoke from his home Down Under in late June, Morgan was battling the flu and noted the temperature outside was just above freezing.

Whatever the motive, Hillsong Live's performance at Southland Christian Church will be a rare chance to see the Australian worship team in Central Kentucky.

Since the early 1990s, Hillsong has grown into a dominant force in praise and worship music under the leadership of artists such as Geoff Bullock, Darlene Zschech and Morgan, Hillsong's current worship pastor. Hillsong songs such as Shout to the Lord and Mighty to Save have become staples of contemporary church services around the world.

Morgan says the global success is a result of thinking locally.

"We're a local church that's been going for more than 20 years or so," he says. "A lot of people find Jesus for the first time there, and it's been a growing, thriving church.

"Out of that, there are always new songs to sing, and that's been our culture there, to sing songs that are the life and heartbeat of our church. We've always written for our church to worship and connect with God, and we've been pretty blown away to see what God does outside the four walls of our church and our little suburb in Sydney."

As at most churches, Fielding says, the majority of musicians contributing to creating Hillsong's repertoire are volunteers.

"It's quite an organic process," he says. "We'll just organize to meet up, and often it's just something God's doing at church or in the lives of people in the church and people on our team that gets expressed through a song."

Fielding notes that Hillsong encourages its musicians to team up to write, believing that will strengthen all the musicians and their songs. It also could help explain why songs coming from such personal places take on such universal appeal.

That makes hitting the road especially interesting for the Hillsong crew.

"Our hope is that some of the songs that strengthen our church strengthen other local churches," Fielding says. "That's why coming to Kentucky is so exciting because it's the first time that we've been there. So to bring in what we have at home, and bring it to Kentucky, we hope it blesses people, and God moves and the church in Kentucky is inspired through songs."

Ministering to a local church and having an international recording and touring career can present its challenges to Hillsong in terms of balancing those two halves of its mission. Like writing songs from a local perspective, Morgan says a key to maintain balance is putting home first.

"Our emphasis here is on making sure that home is really strong, that our teams here are healthy and ultimately that church during the week and on the weekend is great," Fielding says. "As long as that remains the emphasis and church home is good, that creates a platform for us to reach out beyond the immediacy of our church."

Morgan says the ability of a church in Australia to produce music that resonates around the world speaks to the universality of the Christian message and music in general.

"Music has united all sorts of nationalities and groups," he says. "We may have extreme differences as far as different areas of belief or whatever, but we all kind of seem to sing the same songs, which is pretty cool, I reckon."