The Secrets of Hillsong movie review (2023)

Such a big spotlight helped make a scandal more prominent in 2020 when Lentz admitted to having extramarital affairs. Once seen as the wholesome, handsome face of the Pentecostal and Evangelical organization, Lentz was very publicly kicked out of the church by leader Brian Houston for his “moral failures.” But when reporters in both Australia and America looked into Hillsong’s intense disowning of Lentz, they found far worse moral failures than Lentz’s, including stories of discrimination, psychological and sexual abuse, misuse of funds, and more. As former congregant Mary Jones says later in the series: “You plant things in rotten soil, you gonna have rotten fruit.”

“The Secrets of Hillsong,” a fascinating four-part docuseries, looks at the church’s shiny edifice and dismantles it piece by piece. It takes on the community for what it is—a business that once included 100+ churches at its height across 30 different countries, with attendees singing from the prolific, Grammy-winning Hillsong songbook. As it respects the emotional journeys of its aggrieved congregants, it also surveys the power moves and scandals that can create a Hillsong church.

The documentary is expansive yet focused; it equally feels like director Stacey Lee could have been a former Hillsong congregant or someone whose only skin in the game is clarity. Pproduced in part by Vanity Fair, “The Secrets of Hillsong” has some extraneous beats of various interviewed reporters saying something like, “And then we realized there was more to the story.” But those flaws can highlight its strengths, how the series is best when its accountability and atonement feel personal.

With lead editing by Eva Dubovoy, “The Secrets of Hillsong” keeps its storytelling snappy and emotionally fine-tuned, largely overcoming its numbing talking-head-heavy style. Its first episode swiftly disproves its presentation as a progressive church—yes, they had sold out crowds in New York City and other diverse metropolises, but they rarely gave the platform to people who weren’t white, male, and heterosexual, just like Carl Lentz and Hillsong founder, Australian Brian Houston. The church is aptly criticized for thinking of crowds and not people, including how volunteers were used for hard, free labor to organize services or how people of color were not seen or supported on the main stage. A congregant from NYC, Tiff Perez, talks about what she gave to one day help preach at Hillsong, before realizing no support would be given back.