Hillsong’s honoraria: big preachers get big money

Brian Houston at James River Assembly, August 2022

The key revelation in the Hillsong papers tabled by the member for Clark, Andrew Wilkie, might be the disclosure of details of what visiting big-name preachers have been paid. The papers lift the lid on the exclusive club of celebrity preachers touring the world, speaking at each other’s churches for quite large sums of money.  At the same time, it offers the new leadership a practice they can reform as part of becoming a new Hillsong.

The Wilkie papers claim to show a 2021 income of $1,860,241 for Shiloh Ministries Australia, a company used by Brian and Bobbie Houston to receive “honoraria” or speaking fees. Other documents tabled by Wilkie indicate $10,000 for Houston as a typical speaking fee at a big church or conference. Another document suggested that the $10,000 may have been the guaranteed figure, usually exceeded. 2021 may have been the peak year for Shiloh, whose 2019 income was $699,970, as alleged by the Wikie papers. These are gross figures; Shiloh and LMI also appear to have paid for expenses and made some donations.  

This honoraria income forms part of the Wikie-revealed “Full Time Equivalent taxable Income” for Brian Houston of $502,543 and Bobble Houston of $389,880 as at early 2021. This does not include royalties for books.

In his speech, Wikie details payments made by Hillsong to guest speakers. “For example, US pastor Joyce Meyer enjoyed honorariums of $160,000, $133,000, $100,000 and $32,000, and US pastor TD Jakes received $71,000 and $120,000, with a staggering $77,000 worth of airfares to and from Australia thrown in. In return, Mr Houston goes to America and receives—you guessed it—his own eye-watering honorariums.”

This system of payments – part of a round-robin of speakers visiting each other’s mega-church or conference – was overdue for exposure. 

Several of the Hillsong music leaders are shown as having huge US-based incomes. According to the Wilkie documents, three had an income of $1.3m. (Is this annual income, as the Wilkie documents suggest, or an aggregate figure? This requires investigation, so The Other Cheek is not featuring their names.)

In contrast to a few high flyers, more modest salaries for hundreds of Hillsong staff are listed in the papers. These range between $50,000 to $120,000 in the vast majority of cases.

As part of his response to the Wilkie revelations, the new Global Pastor Phil Dooley announced that a large number of staff had taken voluntary redundancy. “Our staffing was a result of a previous culture and focus. 47% of our staff were administrative or event-focused. This could be considered backend staffing, not front or people-facing. This needed to change. We want the vast majority of our staff to be front face facing, focused on people and the needed and necessary work of face-to-face ministry. We desire to put more resources into caring for people in the communities we serve. 153 staff chose to take our voluntary resignation package. These were good people [who] worked hard for our church, and I want to take a moment to honour them today.”

The Wilkie papers confirm Dooley’s description of a significant proportion of the staff of the “Old Hillsong” as being event and media focussed and the church’s subsequent switch in priorities.