Following scrutiny from online critics, Hillsong United and Chris Tomlin eliminated the "VIP" ticket option from their upcoming United States concert tour.
The “Tomlin United Tour” concert tickets, which went on sale Oct. 22, no longer include a VIP option that allowed buyers to walk on stage with the artists and take pictures in a catwalk-style photoshoot. The VIP ticket option also allowed buyers to receive premium seats, exclusive gifts and meet-and-greets.
However, the inclusion of a staged catwalk for the artists and their fan base took things a step too far, according to online critics, who said that Hillsong United and Tomlin were engaging in “celebrity-style commercialized worship.”
“I'm not sure which is worse: that Hillsong and Chris Tomlin think that this is OK in the context of worship; or that there's actually a demand for it?” he tweeted.
“Some people will think that I'm being unfair here, or unnecessarily ‘divisive,’ but at what point are we allowed to say something is not OK? Because this is not OK, and justifying it just contributes to the problem.”
Read, who said he's been heavily influenced by both Hillsong United and Tomlin, added that the option for VIP tickets was “hugely disappointing, but sadly not surprising.”
“Modern day worship has become so corrupt that I have no doubt Jesus would flip the tables on so much of it,” he wrote. “In my opinion, worship needs its own reformation that rids itself of the celebrity culture that it's become so entrenched in … This will continue as long as we give a platform for it to continue. So please, do not buy a 'VIP EXPERIENCE' for worship events. It's the opposite of what worship should be about. We need to do better.”
“[Hillsong United and Chris Tomlin] have both actively branded themselves as worship leaders for the last 20+ years so I don't think they get off on a technicality,” Read added.
However, Chris Llewellyn, a Rend Collective worship band member, said in an op-ed for Premier Christianity that tours would not be possible without VIP options, which typically provide financial “perks” that allow the artists to afford their tours.
"One of the main mechanisms by which large Christian concerts actually break even is via upgraded ticketing — think 'VIP experience' — or through sponsorship,” he said. “I can say confidently that without these things my own band would be unable to tour.”
“This is because we already reduce our ticket prices to staggeringly low rates compared to equivalent artists in the secular world to make the concerts as accessible as possible,” continued Llewellyn.
"Yes, there's a price tag for [VIP] service, but in a world of compromise, I'd rather offer this service at an extra charge to people who have expressed that they want it, than have to have a more expensive ticket for everyone," he added.
Hillsong United and Tomlin’s concert tickets for their 33-day tour are available now with a new option to buy “Experiences” instead of VIP tickets.
Despite the controversy surrounding VIP tickets, Tomlin and Hillsong UNITED remain optimistic about the upcoming tour.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Tomlin, who is behind worship hits like "How Great is Our God" and "Good Good Father," said that it's "critical" for believers to come together in worship.
"For me, what is so important to remember is that music is God's idea. ... Isn't that beautiful? 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."
Jonathon Douglass of Hillsong United told CP that the artists have a "real sense of trust that this is the right time" to resume in-person concerts.
"We really believe this tour is going to be an experience unlike any other," he said. "We've wanted to do this for a long time and we have a real sense of trust in the fact that this is the right time. 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. Music has the power to touch people in this way, and I'm excited for that."