Evangelical empire collapsing in America after founder steps down over 'inappropriate' conduct
Youtube screenshot

According to a report from the New York Times, the number of churches that grew under the Hillsong evangelical banner has been cut in half after the charismatic founder resigned after a church investigation determined he had "inappropriate" relations with two women.

One expert on the evangelical movement in the U.S., Ed Stetzer of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center, claimed the collapse of Hillsong was "a very big deal" that "will have ramifications not just for Hillsong, but for contemporary evangelism around the world."

According to Stetzer, "I can’t think of a church in the English-speaking Western world with as broad a global reach as Hillsong."

At the center of the collapse that has seen nine of its sixteen American church campuses drop their affiliation with Hillsong in the past two weeks, is the exit of founder Brian Houston who was already reeling from accusations and a criminal charge in January that he concealed "child sexual abuse committed by his late father, who was also a pastor."

READ: Brawl erupts after elderly man confronts Orange County woman over her swastika armband

Terry Crist, a pastor in Phoenix who had brought six churches under the Hillsong banner, broke the news to his followers on Sunday, telling them "We cannot continue in our global family, as much as we love it,” before adding "I am heartbroken."

According to the Times' report, "Justin Bieber and the N.B.A. star Kevin Durant attended services; one of the church’s worship bands won a Grammy Award and the church produced soaring anthems that became staples in smaller churches that imitated its sounds, style, and Instagram-friendly aesthetic. Now, Hillsong’s U.S. presence is in collapse. Its remaining U.S. locations are in the Northeast and in California, meaning Hillsong no longer has a major presence between the coasts."

The investigation into Houston found he had sent "inappropriate text messages" to a staffer, and that he spent "time alone in a hotel room with a woman who attended the church’s annual conference in Sydney," with the church blaming his behavior on "medication and alcohol."

Adding to Hillsong's problems was a Discovery+ documentary called, "Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed," which reportedly details, "the megachurch as a toxic institution obsessed with image, control and growth at all costs."

Sam Collier, the pastor of Hillsong Atlanta, pulled the plug on his church's relationship last week, saying in an interview, "All the challenges and the speculation and the scandal and the articles and all of the above, it got to a point where the people in our church just did not want to deal with it anymore,” and telling parishioners on Sunday, "We believe the Lord is calling us to move into the next season."

Hillsong Kansas City left the fold two weeks ago, with the church office just offering up that the affiliate and home church “made a mutual decision to separate."

For Crist, the resignation of Houston was the last straw.

"For Mr. Crist, leaving Hillsong was the culmination of several years of doubts about the institution," The Times reported. "He objected a few years ago, he said, when a global church restructuring disbanded his board of local leaders and put him directly under the authority of the Australia-based global board. And he bristled when he and other lead pastors were asked to sign noncompete and non-disparagement agreements in the wake of the scandal in the East Coast branches. He never signed."

You can read more here.

You can watch Hillsong founder Brian Houston preach "We are in this together" below:

We Are In This Together | Brian Houston | Hillsong Church Online youtu.be