Inside Hillsong’s mega prayer night

What it’s like to pray and worship at a local church meeting – with thousands of people

It’s a Tuesday night and Hillsong’s Hills campus auditorium in suburban Sydney is teeming with people who’ve raced from work and studies to do what Christians have done for centuries: pray.

There’s nothing special about Christians praying – not for their individual needs, the needs of the church, their community and country, or the expansion of God’s kingdom. Church members have met to pray since the church began, and prayer has existed for thousands of years before that.

“This is no small thing we do as a church.” – Bobbie Houston

But how do you keep a local church prayer meeting meaningful when it involves thousands of people spread out across thousands of kilometres?

Hillsong has worked it out over the past 15-odd years of running their annual “mega prayer” night. It was held in just one location – the original Hillsong campus at Baulkham Hills, Sydney, with  attendees of the inner-city campuses driving out to the ‘burbs to take part.

Now, the annual event takes place in several locations across the country which are video-linked for the meeting’s duration. Modern technology embraced to network an Australia-wide community into a local church prayer meeting.

But before the “mega prayer” event starts, Hillsong’s Global Senior Pastor Brian Houston gathers his team of pastors together in a back room and tells them with a laugh, “We’re going to have a prayer meeting for the prayer meeting.”

Bec Wood, whose husband Nathanael oversees Hillsong campuses in New South Wales, prays for the night ahead. Next door, the creative team is doing the same. Earlier in the evening, volunteer teams working as hosts, on coffee carts, in parents rooms and kids programmes have done the same. Prayer is clearly not just an ancient Christian practice, but one that Hillsong believes is significant. Even in the build-up to a prayer event.

“Come prepared,” Houston told the church on Sunday – and they have. His instruction is Hillsong-speak encouraging attendees to come emotionally, mentally and spiritually ready to pray. To call out to God for the needs of oneself and others, and with faith that believes God will answer prayers. Some attendees will have prepared by reading scriptures that speak about prayer or where God answers prayer. Others have come with specific needs they are ready to express to God in faith that he will answer them.

The worship team features Hillsong creative team’s biggest voices and a large choir. They start with a song from Hillsong ‘Young and Free’ song (Hillsong’s youth worship band) and transition into a new song by Hillsong UNITED. Next up, 19th century hymn ‘How Great Thou Art’, followed by Grammy award winning favourite ‘What a Beautiful Name’.

“You’ve come prepared, your hearts are hungry, and God is in the house. This is no small thing we do as a church,” Bobbie Houston tells those gathered in the auditorium and around the nation.

She reads two passages of scripture – Psalm 84:1-10 and 2 Chronicles 7. “Whether you realise it or not, we have his eyes and we have his heart … We’re going to pray, and by the grace of God, miracles are going to be put in motion.”

“Tonight we’re going to pray with you and believe for the Holy Spirit to intervene.” – Brian Houston

Brian Houston joins her on stage, carrying a huge stack of papers – 600 prayer requests by attendees at various Hills campuses.

Each piece of paper describes a personal need that has been collected by the pastoral care team, either during the week over the phone, or submitted by someone attending the prayer meeting. At every other Hillsong prayer meeting around Australia linked by video, a pastor holds prayer requests from attendees at their location.

All will be followed up in the following weeks and prayed for by local pastoral care teams. They will help Hillsong pastors know how to care for their members best. Hospital visits, meals and counselling will be offered in response.

Houston says he knows attendees have come ready to pray corporately for the bigger needs of Australia, but he wants to start by praying for individuals.

“Some people are desperate,” he says before sharing how he has faith for prayers to be answered with breakthrough, reconciliation and financial provision.

“Even if you’ve prayed a thousand times for this, tonight we’re going to pray with you and believe for the Holy Spirit to intervene. We’ll believe to hear testimonies that date back to this night of prayer.”

“Let’s lift the roof.”

Youth pastor Peter Toganivalu prays and the church “leans in” (more Hillsong-speak that describes the crowd engaging emotionally). Some people stretch their hands toward the stack of prayer requests as a symbolic “laying on of hands”.

“Let’s cry out to God. Pray in the spirit. This is a prayer meeting!” – Brian Houston

Others look to the screens where prayer requests have been de-identified and listed. The thousands gathered at the Hills campus sings again.

You have no rival, you have no equal, now and forever God you reign, sings the crowd. Yours is the kingdom, yours is the glory, yours is the name above all names. Your name is higher, your name is greater, all my hope is in you. Your word, unfailing, your promise unshaken, all my hope is in you.

Houston prays for victory, supernatural turnaround in situations, and miracles. “Begin to pray out loud,” he encourages. “You don’t have to name what’s confidential, but let’s cry out to God. Pray in the Spirit. This is a prayer meeting!”

Hillsong is known for its praise and worship (another Christian practice that is foundational to them) and these considered elements play an important role in the prayer meeting. Song lyrics stir people’s faith and focus attention on the power and greatness of God, to whom all the prayers are directed.

There is power in the name of Jesus, to break every chain, break every chain, break every chain

Houston talks about Australia’s need for drought-breaking rain in Australia. He recalls the biblical story of Elijah who “was a man just like us” and whose prayers for rain were answered. He leads in prayer for spiritual rain – representing the blessing of God – in parched areas of people’s lives.

“Lord, we believe for fruitfulness, we believe for harvest” he prays. The worship team sings “I hear the rain falling.”

Next, this local church meeting on a Tuesday night begins to pray for desperately-needed physical rain in drought-stricken Australia. Clouds are gathering and rain is forecast, Houston declares: “Maybe we can only see the small clouds right now, but we are going to see this drought break.”

“Holy Spirit, you take control …” – Dee Uluirewa

A map of Australia goes up on the screens, showing ‘rainfall deficiencies’ for the past 24 months. Nicola Douglass (Melbourne’s City campus pastor) and Nick Khiroya (Mt Gravatt, Brisbane campus pastor) each pray – via the screens – for physical rain.

The worship team moves into a 2002 Hillsong classic composed by Darlene Zschech: Holy Spirit rain down, rain down. Comforter and friend, how we need your touch again … Let your power fall, let your voice be heard, come and change our hearts as we stand on your word.

The church prays for its social justice work through Hillsong CityCare and the Hillsong Africa Foundation, along with the organisations it supports financially: Vision Rescue, that serves the poor in in Mumbai; anti-trafficking organisation A21, that works to end human trafficking; and Preemptive Love in Syria and Iraq.

“Help them, Father, to make a difference in the desperation that is there. Lord, to the people who are left without a home, whose houses are in ruin and who are in asylum. To be able to bring provision for the children there …” prays Houston.

Hillsong Conference is only weeks away so a team of pastors commit preparations to God, praying for church unity, impact, the conference’s speakers and the Young and Free conference (the youth stream of Hillsong Conference).

Dee Uluirewa, who has led worship all night, prays for the conference’s creative elements. “Father you see the preparations that are taking place, we place them all in your hands. Holy Spirit, you take control…”

“God, Thank you for life, for hope, for joy, for salvation, for healing and miracles in Jesus name,” she finishes and guides everyone back into singing: “All the earth will shout your praise, our hearts will cry, these bones will sing ‘Great are you, Lord.'”

“Let’s have an expectation of answered prayers.” – Brian Houston

Houston says there’s just one other group he really wants to pray for – prodigals. In particular, he wants to pray for church members’ children who are currently away from the Lord. This time it’s the worship pastor in Brisbane, Sloane Simpson, who leads praying for loved ones to find their way home to God.

It’s your breath in our lungs so we pour out praise to you only. 

As Houston closes the meeting, he encourages the church, “Let’s have an expectation of answered prayers. Let’s believe for dramatic conversions – radical salvations and testimonies.”

“Thank you that these words don’t just go up into the ether, Lord” he prays.

“You’ve been an hour and forty minutes on your feet,” he tells mega-prayer-night attendees (Hillsongers stand for both worship and prayer).

He thanks them for coming and sends them on their way – just as countless pastors have done for thousands of years.