- Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez were recently spotted spending a Sunday together, and attending a church service.
- Bieber and Gomez both attend the mega-church Hillsong.
- Hillsong is a fairly conservative Pentecostal church that retains a very hip aesthetic and appeals to many celebrities.
- I attended a service at Hillsong’s New York City chapter to see what it was like.
Shortly after Selena Gomez and The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) broke up, TMZ reported that Gomez and Justin Bieber spent the day together last Sunday. The pair reportedly grabbed breakfast and attended a church service together — sparking rumors that they’re back together.
Bieber and Gomez are both congregants of the mega-church Hillsong, and reportedly used to frequent church services there when they were together. According to The Daily Beast, Bieber is known for bringing his love interests to services at Hillsong, making Bieber and Gomez’s recent appearance at the church intriguing.
Hillsong, the mega-church that has been serving as the backdrop for Bieber and Gomez’s possible rekindling, is worth paying attention to. It has chapters all around the world, and is known for its casual, concert-like approach to traditional church services.
Hillsong has attracted numerous A-listers like Vanessa Hudgens, Hailey Baldwin, and Kendall and Kylie Jenner, earning it a reputation as the celebrity church du jour.
Hillsong’s NYC Pastor Carl Lentz told Business Insider that despite the church’s celebrity following, Hillsong is just a “normal” church. And although Hillsong puts forth a savvy rebranding of Christianity, it is, at its heart, a conservative Pentecostal church.
Hillsong has openly opposed gay relationships and abortion in the past, and used to refer its members “struggling” with their sexuality to conversion therapy, according to The Daily Beast. While Hillsong stopped referring congregants to conversion therapy in 2011, some gay congregants have continued to feel unwelcome at the church.
So, how does a Pentecostal church with traditional Christian values rebrand the church experience?
Curious, I went to see what one of Hillsong’s services was like, and attended a Sunday service at its NYC location.
Here’s what it was like to attend a Hillsong Service:
Waiting to get into a Hillsong service is like waiting to get into a concert.
There were four different services to choose from on Sunday: 10 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 5 p.m., and 7 p.m. — I opted to attend the 12:30 p.m. service.
The service was held in NYC’s Hammerstein Ballroom. The last time I had been to the Hammerstein Ballroom was for a Death Cab for Cutie concert 10 years ago, which should give you an idea of what events usually take place at the venue.
The long line to get into the theater, and the casual dress of the churchgoers, confused me upon arrival. I could not believe I was walking into a church service and not a concert. I had to ask the volunteers shepherding people into the building several times if I was at the right place, to which a friendly “Yup!” and a “Welcome!” followed every time.
Bags were meticulously checked prior to entry, metal detector wands were waved over every single body, and gum was vigilantly confiscated.
The feel of a Hillsong service is incredibly concert-like.
From the moment I walked into the Hammerstein Ballroom, I could hear music blaring.
As I made my way up to the second story balcony — all orchestra seating had been taken by the time I had arrived — I was overwhelmed by the number of people climbing up the stairs alongside me. (In 2014, it was estimated that 7,000 people were attending Hillsong’s services every Sunday.)
On entering the theater itself, I was again taken aback by how concert-like the church was. It was honestly very impressive.
The church band was in the midst of performing a song when I entered the theater. The band looked and sounded like a pop band you might see at Panorama, or Coachella — only they were singing about God.
Hillsong has become increasingly perceived as a cool, celebrity, rock ‘n roll church, and it’s not hard to see why. But that’s not how Pastor Lentz views the church, he said.
“I think the bigger picture of our church is just normal, faithful people who love Jesus, who want to help others with their lives. And sometimes they happen to be famous,” Pastor Lentz told Business Insider.
Hillsong’s promotional materials are ultra-chic.
A pamphlet about the post-church services, and an envelope for donations labeled ‘HOME,’ were placed on the arm rest of every seat.
On the back of the donation envelope, a number of ways to donate were listed: check, cash, credit card, online, or via the Hillsong App.
The design of the pamphlet and donation envelope were chic and modern, reminiscent of posh advertising campaigns for brands like Urban Outfitters and Paper Source.
The materials provided felt like another indicator of the modern vibe that Hillsong projects.