Hillsong United, Christian music’s arena-filling stars, discuss new tour and the power of prayer

The group plays State Farm Arena May 3

For more than 20 years, Hillsong United has traveled the world with a rotating cast of worship leaders.

The group, spawned from Hillsong Church in Australia, has quietly racked up bonafides such as 10 million combined followers on social media, an album (2017’s “Wonder”) that became the most-streamed in Christian music history and sold-out arenas in Los Angeles, New York and other major markets.

Last month, Hillsong United dropped a new live album, “People,” the 14th live release in its canon and a precursor to its U.S. tour, which will visit arenas and amphitheaters until a July finish at Madison Square Garden. On Friday, Hillsong United brings its combination of music and ministry to State Farm Arena (only a handful of tickets remain).

On stage, fans will witness the musical and spiritual grip of singer Taya Smith-Gaukrodger, guitarist Joel Houston, guitarist Jonathon “JD” Douglass, guitarist/percussionist Matt Crocker, guitarist Jad Gillies, guitarist/keyboardist Dylan Thomas, drummer Simon Kobler, bassist Jihea Oh, keyboardist Benjamin “Ben” Tennikoff and guitarist/keyboardist Michael Guy Chislett.

To preview their Atlanta return, Douglass answered questions for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution via email (the crew resides in Australia, making it difficult to arrange a phone interview) and discussed what fans will experience at a Hillsong United live show, their continued success and the power of prayer.

Q: You’ve just kicked off your first U.S. tour in nearly three years. What do you want to bring to the live experience with these shows?

A: We have had a bit of a break when it comes to touring which has only made us more excited to get back on the road! This tour is about people. Our prayer is that everyone that comes will understand they are valued and that God has something incredible for them. I think when people come, regardless of the season of life they are in, they will leave encouraged that the best days are ahead!

Q: What can fans expect from the show, such as set list and production?

A: We have a brand new album out now which is also called "People." These songs were written to be sung live and we can't wait to sing them with all the people that come our shows! And, of course, we will be singing some old songs too. The night it set up to be a massive celebration of who God is and the way he includes us in his great story. When it comes to the production, we always want to do our best, not to impress people but to glorify God, so I guess you can say it's a show of God's glory!

Q: With such a large group of people sharing what I assume is limited space on buses, how do you work out the logistics of touring life?

A: We have a lot of fun together. Most of us have grown up together and are just like a family. You just learn to know when people need space but, in general, there is a real love for each other on our team and we get along really well!

Q: Since you haven’t toured the U.S. in a while, what are you looking forward to seeing again (certain states, food, etc.)?

A: I love coming to the USA! The food, the people and the diversity of different states is something I really enjoy.. and the food is just so GOOD!

Q: You were part of the “Passion” performance at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome in 2017. Any particular memories from playing here?

A: 'Passion' is one of my favourite events. I have so much respect for Louie and Shelly Giglio! Passion is one of the biggest events we have done, there were just SO MANY PEOPLE there. There is a real power when that many people are singing with one voice at the top of their voices the praises of God and it's a moment I will never forget.

Q: "Wonder" set a streaming record and went straight to No. 1… Are you still surprised with that type of reaction?

A: It completely blows us away! I don't think anyone is more surprised than us about the opportunity and influence that God has allowed us to have. Whenever I hear about how far our music gets to travel or how much it has impacted an individual, it's always humbling!

Q: In the 20-plus years that Hillsong United has existed, what have been both the biggest changes in the group and also, the biggest changes in your approach to worship?

A: Well, I think the biggest change is that we started as single guys and now were all married and most of us have kids! Hopefully we aren't just older but more mature in who God has called us to be. I think what I love most is that we haven't changed our approach to how we lead worship of the heart or why we do what we do. All we want is to glorify God and connect people with him and understand the power of the grace and love that is available for everyone!

Q: When you look at the current state of the world, what do you pray for the most?

A: I pray that people would see that Jesus is the answer. I pray that Christians would do what Jesus did and love EVERYONE. I pray that the church would rise up and be a beacon of light in every community.


Hillsong United

With Amanda Lindsey Cook. 7:30 p.m. May 3. $28.50-$48.50. State Farm Arena, 1 Philips Drive, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com

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