The Hillsong Channel: The Next Step in Christian Television?
As you may know, the former “Church Channel” that was launched by Trinity Broadcasting years ago has been rebranded into “The Hillsong Channel.” That means the creative approach you’ve seen with Hillsong churches, music, social media, and more has now been focused on a 24 hour TV channel. As we approach the one year anniversary of the channel’s launch, I asked Ben Field, who’s overseeing the Hillsong TV team globally to give us some insights on how it’s going, what’s coming up, and what it could mean for the future of Christian media:
Phil Cooke: Tell me a little about your role at Hillsong Church and how you’re involved with the Hillsong Channel.
Ben Field: I currently oversee the Film and Television team for Hillsong Church globally. And at the beginning of 2016 we began an exciting new venture with the launch of the Hillsong Channel so I oversee the programming and production for the Channel as well.
Phil: How did the Hillsong Channel come about?
Ben: Towards the end of 2015, Pastors Brian and Bobbie Houston had met for dinner with TBN president Matt Crouch and his wife Laurie. During the dinner, Matt began to tell Pastor Brian that several weeks earlier he’d felt the Holy Spirit say to him “Hillsong Channel” and asked him if he would ever consider Hillsong having its own TV channel. When telling the story Pastor Brian says that he almost fell off his chair because he never thought in his wildest dreams that someone would give Hillsong Church a TV channel! That’s how it all started and now, fast forward one year on the air on June 1st, and the channel is reaching over 165 million households in over 191 countries around the world. It’s an amazing grace story!
Phil: What’s your goal for the channel? Who are you trying to reach?
Ben: Our goal for the channel is best outlined in a vision statement Pastor Brian established right back at the beginning. Our goal is not to add just another Christian TV channel into the already over-crowded broadcast stratosphere. We want to create programming for all ages with a huge focus on the younger generation by creating content that shapes culture and aims to help people reach their full God-given potential. We want to bring the spirit and heart of who we are as a church through different genres of programming including reality-documentaries, exclusive live events, relevant talk programs, Bible teaching from around the world and the best of Hillsong’s worship music.
We understand that some of the biggest influence our church has had over its 30-year history has been through our worship music, teaching, conferences etc, and that’s what we aim to bring, plus so much more.
There’s a part of our church’s vision statement which I love. It says:
“I see a church that is constantly innovative: A church that leads the communication of a timeless message through media, film, and technology. A church with a message beamed to people around the globe through their television screens, bringing JESUS into homes, palaces and prisons alike.”
This pretty much sums up the heart of our channel!
Phil: We’re in a time when most younger pastors would rather avoid TV ministry because of embarrassing or outright heretical programs from some ministries. Why is television still important, and should more pastors and Christian leaders explore the platform?
Ben: The world of media is changing with the rapid growth of digital and on-demand platforms. But knowing that the Hillsong Channel reaches over 165 million households around the world, you can’t deny that that’s a huge opportunity to reach a lot of people with the gospel.
Personally, I’ve always felt called to pioneer a new way in which faith-based film and television can be produced and distributed. Since we launched the Hillsong Channel and seeing the response we’ve had, I am more confident that a new generation is joining the old and engaging with us through the television screen. With the technology we have today there has never been a more opportune time to be sharing the gospel message directly into homes and personal devices.
Phil: What’s been your audience response so far to the new look?
Ben: We have had amazing feedback since the channel started in 2016. We aren’t really focusing on “new looks” or clever ways to do branding. We are just extending the heart and soul of our church to a broader audience and so far people like it. I love that it’s only the beginning and there’s so much still ahead of us!
Phil: Tell me about some new programs you’re developing for the future.
Ben: If I tell you I’d need to kill you Phil. (He starts laughing). Look, we are currently producing over 20 series at the moment and are always developing new ideas. We are putting a lot of work into how we can make a difference in people’s lives through different formats and genres of programming.
Phil: Where can we find The Hillsong Channel?
Ben: The best way is by heading to the hillsongchannel.com website. There you’ll find a list of cable providers that carry the channel plus you can also stream the channel live for free from the page to your TV or personal device anytime.
Here’s a list of links that will help you follow what’s happening at The Hillsong Channel:
Hillsong Channel webpage (incl broadcast schedule and live stream)
Hillsong Channel Socials (twitter/instagram/facebook): @hillsongchannel
Hillsong Film Vimeo Page
Hillsong Film and TV (twitter/instagram): @hillsongfilmandtv
Hillsong Church website.
Thanks Phil for this article and interview. Very insightful and good to hear how Hillsong is focused on bridging the generations for Jesus through their media. Ben mentioned, “reality-documentaries, exclusive live events, relevant talk programs, Bible teaching… music”, but understandably neglected to answer specifics about future programming… What do you see as the future of Christian broadcasting? What are programs that you would like to see and/or create?
Good question Adam. From my perspective, it’s not about finding a NEW format as much as doing existing formats well. We know people love movies, talk shows, documentaries – even preaching programs – when they’re done well. The “done well” part is the challenge for too many Christian producers. Personally, I’m a documentary fan and would love to see more original, insightful docs. What are your thoughts on the subject?
Completely agree. That’s the truth and that’s the challenge. Creating quality content, engaging stories that not only entertains but edifies & inspires the audience to live out their own calling with passion & love.
I’ve been enjoying Cafe Theology. I’m not sure of the “platform”(?) – which is it Phil?
By “platform” I mean broadcast TV (in the case of Cafe Theology). Terry Crist at Hillsong Phoenix does a great job with that program on the Hillsong Channel…
I agree, Terry Crist does on exceptional job…even though he doesn’t engage any of the other patrons. Thanks Phil, for helping with the correct word to use. Would the program be considered a talk show or documentary or preaching type program?
I’d call it a “teaching” program.
Ahhhhh, that makes very good sense…I hope to see more teaching programs with that deals with controversial issues, such as the trafficking and refugee concerns.