And The Winner Is

Hillsong’s power in determining the sound of Christmas

It's difficult to ignore the role of the Hillsong Church when determining who really runs Christmas in Australia. The Church not only commands the attention of its followers at this time of year, but can also dominate the music charts and put on some of the country's most extravagant Christmas pageants.

Around 20,000 people attend Hillsong Church services in Australia every week, a far cry from the 700,000 Catholics who regularly attend mass, according to a national count by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in 2006 (although some studies suggest Catholic Church attendance has declined since then).

Still, the Catholic Church is no rival when it comes to garnering the attention of its followers through entertainment, particularly via the power of song.

Over the weekend, the Hillsong Church put on six shows of its version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, with 20,000 free tickets handed out for the event in the Church's Sydney heartland, Castle Hill.

This week, the Church is targeting the punters with the release of their Christmas CD, Born is the King. The album is currently sitting in the No. 20 spot on the ARIA charts, just behind The Acoustic Chapel Sessions. Its first single has amassed 268,000 views on YouTube.

It's not unusual for Hillsong albums to dominate the ARIA music charts, despite the fact many avid popular music listeners have never heard their tunes. ARIA Gold status has been granted to 18 CDs and eight Hillsong DVD's to date, with the Church able to boast a number of No. 1 ARIA hits, including their 2004 album, For All You've Done.

The 2011 music compilation, which features traditional Christmas songs as well as a number of tracks written by Hillsong musicians, is distributed by Hillsong Music Australia, the Church's own music label and sells for $15 online. 

Hillsong Music Australia has sold more than 12 million records across the globe, following its first release in 1991 out of what was then known as the Hills Christian Life Centre in Baulkham Hills. While it predominantly relies on a team of volunteers, it employs 17 full-time staff, making it arguably one of the most successful independent music labels in the country. Its ultimate goal is to lead "people into an atmosphere of dynamic, powerful, and personal praise and worship," according to its mission statement online

Senior Pastor Brian Houston is executive producer for the label and would see no shame in its success. Houston argued in his 2009 book, You Need More Money, that Christians should have a more positive view on money and wealth, and that they should seek to eliminate the "poverty mentality" that prevents them from enjoying their good fortunes. 

Still, according to Houston, the latest release is not about record sales. "The purpose of this album - like all of our music - is to speak to the heart of people," he said in a statement. "The Christmas story is a message of hope and love; it is about family, faith and generosity and I believe that Australians have a lot to be hopeful for this year." 

The Hillsong Church was not available to comment in time for today's deadline. 

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