Why people sign up for a lifetime deal
The Sunday Telegraph
July 25, 2010
EVERYONE in the building has a common understanding: 10 per cent of your income - at the very least.
A woman barely into her 20s sits two places down from me in the 10th row. She's maybe old enough to be a poverty-stricken, second-year university student earning retail wages.
She drops in three fifties - notes, not coins.
The Asian gentleman next to me drops in four $50 notes.
Young parents and elderly people dot the room that looks more like the Sydney Entertainment Centre than a Pentecostal church. Can they afford to do the same?
Even if they can't, they do. Then there's me - an unmarried white-collar worker with no mortgage or dependants.
The Asian man passes me the bucket - one of 100 doing the rounds - with holes in the bottom large enough to discourage coins.
I pass it on without dropping in any money.
People glance at me. My flick-pass has been noticed. This is Sunday night at Hillsong Church.
For three months, I attended Sunday morning and evening ceremonies at Sydney's Waterloo and Baulkham Hills sites.
To an outsider, it seems phenomenal the church took $17 million in tithes and donations from its attendees in 2008. This was up from $16 million in 2007.
But, after sitting through about 20 services, it's easy to see why. It's only 15 minutes into my first service and I've heard the guy on stage with the microphone make his third "shout-out" for people to make a "generous donation".
"The world of the generous gets larger and larger, while the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller," he says.
"Can we bring an offering? We need to contribute to the prosperity of the church so our souls can prosper."
And contribute they do. There's a shared understanding among Hillsong worshippers: they love going to this church, and they're prepared to pump as much money into it as they can.
And it's hard not to get caught up in the moment. The atmosphere is seductive.
For the uninitiated, Hillsong is more like a rock concert, with the light shows, the band and the screaming crowds. But instead of sex, drugs and merchandising, it's church, Jesus, tithes and merchandising.
As a "newcomer", I received a lot of attention. I was "love bombed" by three enthusiastic church workers who wanted to know about my prior religious involvement.
I was signed up as a member and listed to join a "connect group".
Then came the phone calls. They wanted me in, and they wanted to seal the deal for life.
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