The voice of God: Conference examines rise of Pentecostalism in Australia

Hillsong congregation 

Against the backdrop of a decline in mainline Christianity in Australia, Western Sydney University is hosting a conference examining the continued popularity of Pentecostal churches.

The latest census found the number of members of the Pentecostal church increased over 22 thousand to 260,500 over the past five years, despite an overall fall in the number of self-identified Christians, from 13.1m (61 per cent) to 12.2m (52 per cent).

To discuss these trends, the University's Religion and Society Research Cluster will host the Pentecostal Charismatic Christianities in Australia Conference (opens in a new window) from August 11 to 12 at the Parramatta City campus.

"Pentecostal Charismatic Christianities have grown significantly worldwide, particularly in the Global South. Indeed, Oceania is the 'most Christian part of the world' and Pasifika migrants bring their Christianity to Australia and find a home-grown Christianity here," says conference organiser Associate Professor Cristina Rocha.

"In this symposium we are interested in teasing out the remarkable growth of Pentecostalism in Australia, a country considered largely secular."

Associate Professor Rocha says the growth is so significant that Hillsong has become one of Australia's few global brands, as well as one of the most powerful Australian youth brands.

"Hillsong is now so famous that Harper's Bazaar and the New York Times have published stories about it, and a Hollywood feature film about Hillsong ('Let Hope Rise') was released in 2016," she says.

"Together with C3 and Planetshakers, Hillsong can be considered a seeker-friendly church.  This style of evangelical Christianity has evolved globally since the 1960s and its main goal is to attract people who are not necessarily Christians to church.

"Seeker-friendly churches borrow from secular models of business and entertainment, use marketing and branding principles, and innovative methods. They create an informal atmosphere, use contemporary language and technology, and focus on religious experience."

Speakers at the conference include:

  • Paul Freston(opens in a new window) (Wilfred Laurier University and Universidade Federal de São Carlos): The keynote will consider the global dimensions of the Pentecostal Charismatic Christian (PCC) phenomenon, and draw especially on the case of Brazil, which in many ways can be considered the "world capital" of the PCC phenomenon.
  • Andrew Singleton(opens in a new window) (Deakin University): This presentation will compare the demographic characteristics of the Pentecostals with other major denominations in an effort to better understand their place in Australia's religious firmament. This analysis finds they have prospered not only because of their worship style, politics and philosophies, but because they have connected with the Australian community.
  • Cristina Rocha (Western Sydney University): By making Pentecostalism cool, fun and fashionable on the one hand, and more amenable to middle-class sensibilities (with a focus on love and inclusion rather than on judgement and spiritual battle), Hillsong has been able to attract sectors of the Brazilian Pentecostal population who felt displaced in the very conservative, money-focused, scandal-prone local Pentecostalism. Rocha's talk will examine the large community of young Brazilians at Hillsong congregation in Sydney.
  • Mark Hutchinson(opens in a new window) (Alphacrucis College): This presentation will point to the deeply rooted, though often little noted, charismatic trends in Australasian religious history. It will provide a broader context within which the religious history of Australasia is a space intrinsically caught up in globalizing flows of Charismatic practices and beliefs.
  • Daniel Thornton(opens in a new window) (Alphacrucis College, Australia): Music has been central to the growth of Pentecostal Charismatic Christianities, with the use of popular music in worship asserting a 'relevant' Christianity.  A theomusicological and media studies analysis of the 25 most popularly sung contemporary congregational songs, according to Christian Copyright Licensing International data, will provide the foundational sources for this argument.

For more information please visit the conference website (opens in a new window).


8 August 2017

Mark Smith, Senior Media Officer