As the Hillsong 2016 conference kicked off, the atmosphere was building. It was clear that there was a mounting momentum as anticipation started to build and people began coming in droves minutes before the night session was set to start.
As the arena started to fill to capacity, I began to notice that people were expectant, encouraged, and excited – and all before the conference had started!
Recalling my brief meeting with Hillsong founding pastor's Brian and Bobbie Houston's only an hour or so before, I was struck by the authenticity of both their leadership and tenacity – for someone so vital to the overall administration of the conference, he certainly didn't let it get to him.
It was very encouraging to see Pastor Brian Houston's ability to interact with people on such a personal level, despite the number of people vying for his attention.
Later during his sermon, it seemed to make sense: his remark that "receptivity charges the atmosphere" was certainly a fitting statement that could be tangibly seen at the Qudos Bank Arena, where over 21,000 people gathered, and a thousand more in the marquee outside as the overflow spilled into Olympic Park.
It was certainly a sight to behold that so many from all different backgrounds, locations and beliefs were able to congregate around a common theme.
For the most part, my experience of Hillsong Conference as a first-time attendee was quite a positive one: everyone was polite and courteous to one another, there was an amazing atmosphere, and those who had gathered were genuinely expectant to learn and benefit from each other's perspective. As much as the atmosphere seemed to intensify, the more the attendees seemed to inquisitively lean in to learn what would follow next.
One of the meet and greet sessions that I attended when meeting with the producer of the upcoming soon-to-be-released Hillsong movie Let Hope Rise was a prime example of this.
Many of those attending were not necessarily Hillsong church attendees, but were all there to learn about each other's differences and how these differences actually united them to inquire more about what drew them to the conference.
As the producer explained the worldwide reception to the film, it certainly seemed apparent that the general consensus was that Hillsong represents a new way of networking with other believers. By partnering with them in a common cause to bring people together with a passion to serve and glorify God, Hillsong is ushering in a younger generation that strives to seek God in all they do.
As the night ended in celebrations of over three decades of consistent ministry leadership and the way that the conference was impacting lives of those who would otherwise have nothing to do with church, it was amazing to see the hunger for the spiritual things of God. And to have such a culmination of events on just the first day of the conference was a lot to take in, but still quite worthwhile.
For what it's worth, the learning curve of the conference so far is not so much steep as it is wide - there is certainly a lot to take in, but the ability to draw so many to such a gathering means that there is quite an interest to see and to hear from the leaders of the next generation.
For many, this is surely a goal worth pursuing, not just on an individual level, but also for churches wishing to grow and to lead by example. And this is something worth pursuing, as the next few days of the conference will most probably show.
Joseph Kolapudi is a third-culture-kid born in Australia to Indian parents, Joseph recently returned from California where he was studying theology, and has been working for the US Center for World Mission; his love of books and writing has now drawn him to Press Service International.
Joseph Kolapudi's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/joseph-kolapudi.html