"It's a great production and (Hillsong) has a great team and it looks amazing," said Mack Brock, one of the guest artists on the tour. "In fact, if you were just observing it, you'd think it's an amazing show. But in the moment, it feels like worship."
The Hillsong Church, begun in Australia and now with campuses around the world, has a musical arm which is perhaps the leading source for modern worship music used in many contemporary churches.
Anthems such as "What A Beautiful Name" and "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)" are standards in the modern worship catalog.
The tour, which includes Brock and Bethel Music lead singer/soloist Amanda Lindsey Cook, comes to Van Andel Arena on June 25 (see details below).
Hillsong UNITED's new album ("People") includes the tunes "Good Grace," "Ready or Not" and "Another in the Fire," all of which they are performing on the tour. Through more than a dozen song collections, the group led by pastor/artist Joel Houston continues to impact large crowds.
During its June swing through California, the tour played in Los Angeles' Staples Center and in Oracle Arena in Oakland, site of the recent NBA championship series.
"It's a beautiful, diverse gathering...it's a bigger kind of space," said Amanda Lindsey Cook, another of the worship artists serving as opening acts during the evening.
Cook has long been part of Bethel Music, a music group spawned by a Redding, CA church which has played large events and has numerous recordings of its own.
During her solo set she performs Bethel's "You Make Me Brave," as well as her own music. Cook's worship-based ballad, "Still," is rising on inspirational music charts.
Her latest solo album ("House On A Hill") is a collection of personal songs, she notes. But there are numerous spiritual entry points.
"I think that worship is inclusive of many different practices," she explained. "There are the congregational aspects of Sunday morning, but there's the rest of the week as well. So in contemplative and devotional times...even if it's more living in the headphones at home, the music serves that purpose, too."
TURNING THE PAGE
Mack Brock developed his musical gifts as part of Elevation Worship – a band of musicians affiliated with a church in Charlotte, NC. He left the group several years ago to pursue solo artistry. Like Cook, he has his own band with him during his solo set. (Both artists come on stage at the conclusion of the evening, joining Hillsong for the closing "Good Grace" and "Echoes").
"Not every song I write is for a church service or a congregation," he said. "But if I'm writing a song for that setting, I'm always thinking... how can other people play this song? Can it be easily constructed by a church band or even just a worship leader with a guitar?"
Brock salutes his Elevation Worship past by performing "Do It Again," one of the ensemble's signature songs he co-wrote.
WORSHIP OR ENTERTAINMENT?
Communicating with an arena crowd of more than ten thousand in an intimate, authentic way is a challenge, Brock admits. "I feel like most people come there to experience God and to sing songs together," he said of their audiences.
"But if I'm on stage and see someone with their hands in the pockets and an outward expression like they're un-engaged, I've learned that I can't judge that. It doesn't mean they're not engaging in their hearts. All I can do is to fill my role and lead songs as best as I can do it."
Cook agrees that it's more than just performing for the faithful.
"I would hope anyone who comes would experience the love and presence of God," she said. "I don't like the 'social club' aspect of it: I feel that Jesus is one of the most inclusive figures in history.
"The vocation of an artist is to serve people, and to encourage their expressions and experiences with the divine. And that's what these nights are strongly about."
*Hillsong UNITED, with special guests Amanda Cook and Mack Brock
7:30pm Tuesday June 25
Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids
Tickets start at $24.50 via https://www1.ticketmaster.com/hillsong-united/event/0800557ED8EC564B?brand=vanandel&camefrom=CFC_VANANDEL_WEB
(Note: there will be a standing room only section directly in front of the stage)
Tickets available at Ticketmaster outlets, the Van Andel box office or by phone 800-745-3000.
A video of some live concert and behind-the-scenes footage: https://www.facebook.com/hillsongunited/videos/2055482437914888/