On Sunday mornings across the world, thousands of people in thousands of churches worship through song. They sing songs like "The Stand," "Hosanna," "So Will I" and "Oceans" — all written by Hillsong UNITED.
Hillsong UNITED is a band formed in Australia through youth group meetings. Jonathon Douglass, one of the youngest members of the band, was only 13 when it started. He remembers sitting in a small circus tent at a church camp and writing songs with his friends because their youth minister encouraged them to.
“I had no idea it would kind of travel beyond Sydney, Australia,” Douglass says. “But at that time you could tell God was doing something crazy, and then with the months and years that followed starting to get letters from all around the world to (places) these songs had traveled to. I remember just being like, wow — it blew our minds.”
Hillsong UNITED has gained popularity because the songs don't sound like typical Sunday hymns. They are a bit more contemporary.
“We started to write songs for our friends that would never come to church would hopefully like and at the same time hopefully contain the same message that would be in our traditional worship songs,” Douglass says.
Twenty years after that fateful church camp, Hillsong UNITED's band members have separated all over the world, but they are joining forces again to tour. They'll be at The Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory on April 29 and 30.
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“We kind of wanted to go back to the start, if that makes sense," Douglass says. "In a fresh and authentic and new way, we wanted to go back to where it all began. ... We’ve never been more healthy or excited to do what we do … and these songs, we’ve introduced probably half of them to our church, and the response has been the best it’s ever been.”
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As one of the biggest names in Christian contemporary music, they’ve sold out venues like Los Angeles' Staples Center and Radio City Music Hall and have garnered billions of streams. They've been recognized by mainstream media by winning Billboard and American Music Awards. But at their core, they're still a worship band. Whenever they’re not on tour or recording an album, they are leading worship at their churches on Sundays.
“Whenever we’re at home we kind of just serve on Sundays," Douglass says. "Like I led worship last Sunday and you know, we spend more time at home than away, and also as we’ve grown up, we have families now. I think what’s been amazing about our journey is we never set out to make a job out of it or that it would become what we do with our lives. We’ve always kind of viewed it as our service to God and our volunteering and involvement of church.”
Hillsong UNITED is affiliated with the church Hillsong, which has been attended by plenty of celebrities, including Justin and Hailey Bieber, Chris Pratt, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Bono and a few Kardashians. But to Hillsong UNITED, it all boils down to the message.
“We are all human, you know,” Douglass says, “and it’s not that we wake up every day with a halo around our heads and spend eight hours in scripture and praying, but I think it’s the heart, and that’s what God is looking for.”