Home Christian News Few Worship Leaders Avoid Hillsong, Bethel Songs—Despite Controversies and Scandal

Few Worship Leaders Avoid Hillsong, Bethel Songs—Despite Controversies and Scandal

Worship Leaders Bethel
Hillsong Church London holds four services, attended by 8,000 people, every Sunday at the Dominion Theatre. Photo courtesy of Hillsong Church London

(RNS) — For the past decade, a handful of megachurches have dominated worship music, churning out hits such as “Goodness of God,” “What a Beautiful Name,” “King of Kings” and “Graves Into Gardens.”

And though churches like Australia-based Hillsong and Bethel Church in California have met with scandal and controversy, worship leaders still keep singing their songs.

A new study released Tuesday (July 11) found that few worship leaders avoid songs from Hillsong and Bethel, two of the so-called Big Four megachurches that dominate modern worship music.

The study found that most worship leaders connect with songs because they’ve experienced them firsthand at a conference or by listening to them online, or because a friend or church member recommended them — rather than seeing the song at the top of the charts or on a list of new songs.

Elias Dummer, a Christian musician turned marketer who is part of the research team behind the study, said most worship leaders think they have good reasons for picking the songs they use in worship. But they may not be aware of how social forces — like the popularity of certain churches — affect their choices.

“While people say that that they care about the songs — they pick the same four churches over and over again,” said Dummer.

The new study is based on a survey of more than 400 church worship leaders in the U.S. and Canada that was conducted in the fall of 2022 — drawn from both social media groups of worship leaders and an email list from a major music publisher.

Worship leaders were asked what they thought about the pace of new music being produced, how they picked new songs, what they thought the motivations were behind new songs and whether they’d pick a song — or avoid it — based on the artist or church that produced it.

Only 16% of worship leaders said they were less likely to choose a song with ties to Hillsong, while about 1 in 4 said they were less likely to choose songs with ties to Bethel (27%). More than half of worship leaders said they were likely to choose songs with ties to Hillsong (62%) while nearly half (48%) said they were likely to choose songs with ties to Bethel.

Researchers also found that recommendations from friends on social media (54%), congregation members (56%) and church leaders (76%) made it more likely that worship leaders would choose a song. Hearing a song at a live event (76%) or streaming online (70%) also made it more likely they’d choose a song.

“The most influential factors in discovering a new worship song are peer endorsements and personal experiences,” according to the study. “Worship leaders mainly trust their friends and fellow church leaders to provide them with song recommendations.”

Just under half (47%) of those worship leaders were concerned about the number of new songs available for churches to sing. The study found the big four churches release about 40-50 new songs each year, on top of the hundreds of songs available from other sources — from modern hymn writers to artists on YouTube.

 

About 40% said there is a bit too much new music, while a small number (4%) said they were “completely overwhelmed” by new music. A quarter (27%) said they could handle more music.