Next month, Discovery Plus will release a three-part documentary series presenting the controversial Australia-based Hillsong Church as a potential "cult."
It is produced by The Content Group's Breaklight Pictures and released in partnership with New York Post Entertainment. All three episodes of the docuseries would be made available on premiere date.
"Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed," according to the teaser's introduction, is an "explosive" docuseries that "will explore the high-profile star-studded church's alleged exploitation, abuse, and cover-ups."
The docuseries focuses on the "rise" and "fall" of Carl Lentz, Hillsong Church's former pastor from New York. Lentz was fired from Hillsong Church by founder Brian Houston for "moral failures" and other issues in November 2020.
The "moral failures" pertain to the extramarital affair Lentz had with Ranin Karim. Thus, the introduction particularly highlighted, as part of the docuseries, the "five-month affair" of "celebrity senior pastor Carl Lentz" to Karim, which "led to his downfall."
"With more than 150,000 global members, Hillsong has recently been entangled in scandal. 'Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed' will profile numerous ex-members of the church who have come forward to share harrowing allegations of the trauma, abuse, financial and labor exploitation that created a culture of chaos within the church," Discovery Plus said.
"The series will also examine how Hillsong was able to grow into a global brand, while uncovering the truth behind the headlines of recent scandals and shining a light on the fine line between culture, corporation and cult," it added.
Variety revealed that the docuseries features several "talking heads," which include Karim and former Hillsong Church volunteers Janice Lagata and Jaclyn Hayes, who disclose in the docuseries the numerous allegations of cult-like control and malfeasance Lentz attempted to exert during his administration of the Megarchurch's branch in the U.S.
The docuseries also feature New York Post Reporter Hannah Frishberg, who extensively documented the scandals of the church. PreachersNSneakers creator and megachurch expert Ben Kirby will also be on board.
TLC and Discovery Life President and General Manager Howard Lee explained their intent in coming up with the docuseries. He stressed hopes that the series will open the eyes of viewers on the controversy surrounding Hillsong Church.
"The history of Hillsong is an incredibly compelling story we wanted to explore. 'Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed' will take viewers on an eye-opening journey that will provide new insights into a controversy that continues to be examined," Lee said.
Hillsong Church was founded by Houston in Australia "as an offshoot of his father Frank's Sydney-based Pentecostal church." The church quickly spread through its emphasis on worship songs. Houston expanded in the United States through Lentz, who he recruited to lead the New York chapter.
Lentz was often featured and photographed with celebrities like Justin Bieber. The interviewees in the Discovery Plus teaser actually referred to Hillsong Church as the "celebrity church." But in the height of the controversy, Bieber disassociated with the church, stressing Hillsong is not his church but "Churchome."
Former church members also came to the fore to reveal the financial abuse of its leaders who spent "tithes" on "luxury." In the same month, Hillsong Creative Director for Montclair, New Jersey Darnell Barrett also stepped down due to reports of infidelity.
Houston apologized for the scandals brought by Lentz to their East Coast churches and took accountability for it. But Houston himself, months after, resigned for criminal charges in Australia. He has been accused of covering up for decades the cases of child sexual abuse perpetrated by his father.
The church was reported to have a culture of ignoring abuse of its victims. The father of one of the Church's reported sexual assault victims confirmed this. He said that Hillsong Church has the "habit of self-protection," such that abuse was committed even by its staff.