Hillsong takeover bid for Garden City Christian Church

The Courier-Mail, Australia/April 20, 2009

Sydney mega-church Hillsong has made a controversial takeover bid for the Garden City Christian Church in Brisbane's Mt Gravatt from this week.

Wealthy evangelists Brian and Bobbie Houston, who have built Hillsong into a force for Christian fundamentalism in Australia, will become senior pastors of the Garden City church next Sunday if registered members agree to the bid unveiled three weeks ago.

Mr Houston declined to be interviewed but issued a statement through Hillsong that the move was a partnership not a takeover.

Congregation members are divided over the move, with some fearing a loss of the Brisbane church's identity, independence and assets to the Houstons.

"I don't like that he'll have complete control over everything, he can hire and fire his own board and everything will be controlled by Hillsong Sydney - by him," said one long-time Brisbane church member, who declined to be named.

But Hillsong's statement said the constitution and the legal structure of the church would not be changed, nor would members lose control over assets.

The Houstons would not move from Sydney to run the church, but would preach there occasionally, and would allow the church's acting pastor, Steve Dixon, to continue for a year, Hillsong said.

Naming the Houstons as senior pastors was a surprise announcement at a church service three weeks ago and applauded by many.

Mr Houston is head of Australia's Assemblies of God.

The leadership of the Garden City church has been in limbo for several months with Mr Dixon committed to stepping down for a position in Hong Kong.

Hillsong said Mr Dixon still intended to go to Hong Kong but Mr Houston wanted him to stay for a "transitional period".

The Courier-Mail was banned from interviewing people about the alliance at the Garden City church yesterday..

Garden City Christian Church attracts hundreds to each of its Sunday services, and has more than 1000 members.

The takeover has been criticised outside the church by a former Brisbane pastor, Phillip L. Powell, and The Thinking Theologian, a blog run by a former Hillsong staffer.

Mr Powell warned that Hillsong was "spreading its tentacles into Brisbane".

"This is franchising gone mad in the name of church planting. Is this another ploy to increase Hillsong's assets and financial clout?," Mr Powell asked.

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