Hillsong docuseries aims to show how megachurch toed the line between 'cult and culture' (trailer)

Carl Lentz clip featured in docuseries – Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed on discovery plus.
Carl Lentz clip featured in docuseries – Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed on discovery plus. | YouTube: Screenshot/ discovery plus

Discovery Plus will stream a three-episode docuseries titled “Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed,” contending how the Australia-based global evangelical church network has toed the “fine line between cult and culture,” according to the newly released trailer.

The trailer features several people who have had interactions with Hillsong and their “celebrity” pastors. The docuseries will delve into the controversy surrounding former Hillsong NYC Pastor Carl Lentz, who was fired for moral failures in November 2020. 

The subscription streaming service partnered with the New York Post and investigative journalist Hannah Frishberg, who has written several articles about Hillsong and the former minister. 

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Ranin Karim, the New York-based fashion designer who has stated publicly that she had a five-month affair with Lentz, is seen speaking in the docuseries of her relationship with the pastor.

Other interviewees include PreachersNSneakers founder and author Ben Kirby as well as Jaclyn Hayes and Janice Lagata, two women who volunteered for Hillsong to work under Lentz in a volunteer capacity. 

“There is a fine line between cult and culture,” a woman in the trailer said.

“With more than 150,000 global members, Hillsong has recently been entangled in scandal. ‘Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed’ will profile numerous ex-members of the church who have come forward to share harrowing allegations of the trauma, abuse, financial and labor exploitation that created a culture of chaos within the church,” the synopsis of the project reads. 

“The series will also examine how Hillsong was able to grow into a global brand, while uncovering the truth behind the headlines of recent scandals and shining a light on the fine line between culture, corporation and cult.”

Hillsong founding Pastor Brian Houston
Hillsong founding Pastor Brian Houston | Screenshot: NBC/“Today” show

Brian Houston, who founded Hillsong in 1983, recently stepped down as Hillsong global senior pastor as he fights criminal charges in Australia. Houston is accused of failing to report decades-old child sexual abuse allegations against his father after he was informed of them in 1999 while serving as the head of the Australian branch of the Assemblies of God.

“The history of Hillsong is an incredibly compelling story we wanted to explore,” Howard Lee, the president of TLC streaming and network originals, shared in a statement. “‘Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed’ will take viewers on an eye-opening journey that will provide new insights into a controversy that continues to be examined.”​​

The docuseries is presented by The Content Group’s Breaklight Pictures and the New York Post. 

“Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed” will also reportedly examine corruption within megachurches at large.

Lentz led all Hillsong campuses across the East Coast and was often pegged as a celebrity pastor by secular media. His friends and church attendees included A-list stars such as Justin and Hailey Bieber, Kevin Durant, Selena Gomez, Kylie Jenner and others. 

He was also credited with having baptized Justin Bieber in the bathtub of former New York Knicks player Tyson Chandler. But following Lentz’s public scandal, Bieber publicly distanced himself from Hillsong, saying that he was never a member of Hillsong and his pastor has always been Judah Smith of Churchome.

Lentz first admitted to the affair in an Instagram post after his firing from Hillsong.

“When you lead out of an empty place, you make choices that have real consequences,” he wrote. “I was unfaithful in my marriage, the most important relationship in my life and held accountable for that. This failure is on me, and me alone and I take full responsibility for my actions.”

In his post, Lentz said that he and his family gave all they had to serve and build Hillsong NYC over the years. At the time, he said he would focus his energy on rebuilding his family. 

“I now begin a journey of rebuilding trust with my wife, Laura, and my children and taking real time to work on and heal my own life and seek out the help that I need,” Lentz stated.

“I am deeply sorry for breaking the trust of many people who we have loved serving and understand that this news can be very hard and confusing for people to hear and process. I would have liked to say this with my voice, to you, in person because you are owed that. But that opportunity I will not have. So to those people, I pray you can forgive me and that over time I can live a life where trust is earned again.”

Hillsong stated in December 2020 that it had investigated and taken action in response to a 2018 letter alleging inappropriate sexual relations between staff and volunteers at Hillsong NYC. 

In addition to inappropriate sexual relations, Hillsong NYC staff members were accused of misusing tithed money to fund lavish lifestyles. Former Hillsong NYC Pastor Reed Bogard and his wife, Jess, were among those accused of misusing church funds. They stepped down from leading Hillsong’s Dallas campus last year while they were under investigation for leadership failures. 

All three episodes of “Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed” will premiere on Discovery Plus on March 24.

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