Tomlin Hillsong United tour
A digital billboard in Times Square in New York City promotes a planned 2022 concert tour featuring worship artists Chris Tomlin and Hillsong United. (Screengrab via YouTube / Premier Productions)

Chris Tomlin-Hillsong United Tour Removes Controversial ‘VIP’ Option—Sort Of

By Rebecca Hopkins

After facing criticism online for commercializing worship, the Chris Tomlin Hillsong United tour has dropped its “VIP” ticket option for its early 2022 U.S. tour. But the move appears to be little more than semantics.

An article published Monday by the Christian Post announced the change, stating that the concert tickets will “no longer include a VIP option allowing buyers to walk on stage with artists and take pictures in a catwalk-style photoshoot.”

Yet, most of the originally advertised “VIP” features, including the catwalk photo-op, are still included in the tour’s special ticket options. However, now they’re called “experiences” instead of “VIP” tickets.

The other main change in how the “experiences” are listed is dropping an option called “The Tomlin United add-on.” Two other options: “The Tomlin United Experience” and “The Tour Experience” show no change.

Hillsong Tomlin United Tour
Original ticket options for the United Tour with Chris Tomlin and Hillsong (left) compared with current ticket options (right).

Backlash to the VIP option began on October 16, when Julie Roys tweeted a screenshot of the concert webpage, saying the tour “reeks of shameless commercialism. I’m having trouble thinking of an event offering photo ops on the stage catwalk and an ‘intimate pre-show artist experience’ with Tomlin and United (for a price) is all about Jesus.”

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The tweet garnered over 50,000 impressions and more than 15,000 engagements, according to Twitter analytics data.

The next day, Tom Read, who founded the United Kingdom’s Modern Hymnal, tweeted the same screenshot. In his thread, he called the modern worship industry “corrupt.” He added, “In my opinion, worship needs it’s (sic) own reformation that rids itself of the celebrity culture that it’s become so entrenched in.”

Read followed up with an opinion piece in Premier Christianity on the matter.

“Many of us are well aware that the worship music industry has a thinly-veiled but dark underbelly of commercialism,” Read wrote. “But here, they don’t even seem to be trying to hide it anymore. Worship music, and much of the contemporary church, has a celebrity problem. And it’s about time we started talking about it.”

Similarly, podcaster Marty Daniels replied to Roys’ tweet, calling out Christian Contemporary Music for treating Jesus more “as a mascot than our messiah.”

“Welcome to CCM . . . Carman, Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael W. Smith and others have done the same thing for decades,” he tweeted.

Yet few of those artists have launched their tour with an ad campaign in Times Square in New York City. On October 25, Premier Productions posted a video of the Christian worship tour’s digital ads on the NASDAQ Tower in Times Square, promoted alongside various Netflix shows and consumer products.

Chris Tomlin, however, told the Christian Post that he wants this tour to be about “your soul connecting to God.”

“For me, what is so important to remember is that music is God’s idea…Isn’t that beautiful?” he said. “God gave us not only a way to worship Him but also to connect and communicate with Him through music. Worship is different from any other concert. It’s your soul connecting to God. It’s eternal and an opportunity to join in everlasting praise.”

Tomlin’s music includes popular worship songs, “Good, Good Father” (co-written by Pat Barrett, also a featured artist on the tour) and “Great Is Our God.”

Hillsong United Tomlin
A video ad promotes the planned 2022 concert tour featuring worship artists Chris Tomlin and Hillsong United (Screengrab via YouTube / Premier Productions)

Similarly, Hillsong United’s Jonathon Douglass told the Post that he wants the tour to be about hope.

“We . . . are looking forward to seeing people face-to-face and gather(ing) together again across the globe to magnify the name of Jesus,” he said. “We want these nights to be about hope, the living hope, and for people to leave with a little more of it than they came in with.”

This past year, Hillsong Church, from which Hillsong United originated, has been rocked by sexual and financial scandals. Also, in a podcast with The Roys Report, a former insider at Hillsong NYC described how the church maintained its own privileged inner circle, and even maintained a VIP section at church services.

Yet, selling VIP experiences can be justified, wrote Chris Llewellyn, a band member of Rend Collective, in a “half-hearted” defense of the VIP tickets published in Premier Christianity.

Llewellyn said his own band has done this, too, in order to break even and still sell most of their tickets at “staggeringly low rates” compared to tickets prices to see secular artists. He said the costs of events—including paying the salaries of the various crew members—must be covered in some way. And VIP experiences are commonplace among Christian bands.

Plus, VIPs aren’t the musicians, but are the guests paying the extra price, which reduces the problem of celebrity culture among musicians, he wrote.

“It’s not an ego trip,” he added. “It is a means of the artist serving the guest and making themselves more touchable and human—not more ‘elite.’”

However, Llewellyn has cautioned against celebrity culture among musicians. And he recommended dropping the “VIP” from the experience.

The Tomlin United tour starts on February 9, 2022 in Greensboro, North Carolina and tours 33 cities around the United States throughout the spring, ending April 13 in Duluth, Georgia.

Rebecca Hopkins is a journalist based in Colorado.

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6 thoughts on “Chris Tomlin-Hillsong United Tour Removes Controversial ‘VIP’ Option—Sort Of”

  1. I am grieved by this, meaning I feel the Holy Spirit’s grief. Judas comes to mind here. Chris is walking a tightline here. The greedy will not inherit the kingdom. A true man of God, people of God, would not do this.

    The Spirit will not let me listen to Hillsong, Bethel, many others now because of this sin of greed. I ain’t going to hell for anybody.

  2. Offering a VIP option does not necessarily imply greed or self-promotion. If I had the money, I would love a moment with Chris Tomlin simply in affirmation of one whom God has used to touch my life. If I don’t have the money, I’m glad for those who can meet him. Let’s not be so quick to assume and so quick to judge. I really wish the author would have provided a positive proposal instead of just passing judgment. Should there be opportunities by lottery so random people meet him? Should we just allow a mob to surround him afterwards? Should he only be allowed to play in his own church so that he doesn’t become a celebrity? What is that better approach? Until someone comes up with a better approach, please let this one continue. We likewise need to understand that his tickets are less than for secular artists and that tickets are often minimal. Some venues sell well and others lose money for many artists. I honor those who risk a lot of money to make a comparatively little amount of money. I hope The Roys Report will hold itself to a higher standard.

  3. Now, I wish I had the wit of the two Dans! We’ve reconfigured worship to mean just a fraction of worship. Paul teaches us worship is about the renewing of the mind! It’s about thinking godly from world-view to your neighbour. Paul covers singing in our gatherings in Ephesians 5:19. It is not about the performance, it is about the participation. Nothing wrong with great music, but most popular church music (as that’s what it is) is pabulum. None of the art of the greats, none of the complexity and deeply considered faith of the ancients. Just cheesy pop songs that trivialise everything they touch.

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