Hillsong Church has locations in 21 countries with an average weekly attendance of 150,000. However, according to former lead pastors Vera and Zhenya Kasevich (who helmed Hillsong churches in Kyiv and Moscow for more than 20 years) the mega church leaders have used bullying to get churches to hand over their church properties and assets.
The couple, who recently immigrated to the U.S., said former Global Senior Pastor Brian Houston and director of Hillsong Church Australia George Aghajanian, threatened to derail their immigration plans if they didn't comply with their demands for money and property.
Even though they named their church Hillsong, they maintain that they remained independent. By 2008, the congregation had grown into a thriving church generating $1 million in income from just donations alone. It was around this time, they said, that Houston developed an interest in their work.
Documents signed by Hillsong Australia general manager George Aghajanian show that Hillsong Church Ltd requested the Kasevichs make a "voluntary donation" of the proceeds of the sale of a property, as well as over $US230,000 in cash.
Around the time in 2014, while they were trying to break away from Hillsong Church, the Kasevichs say they were also trying to immigrate to the U.S. with the help of the church. As a result of their disagreement, they claim Hillsong Church threatened to derail their immigration application.
In one email cited by the publication, Aghajanian purportedly notes that he "can make things very difficult" for the Kasevichs "with the American authorities."
Houston warned in another purported email that Vera and Zhenya Kasevich "have a lot to fear" and that his general manager has "a lot of useful information for the US embassy" on them. "Basically, [Brian Houston] said ... 'This church is mine. I will make your life small. I will squash it,'" Vera Kasevich said.
Zhenya Kasevich also recalled having to pay large sums for guest speakers to attend a Hillsong conference in Kyiv.
"We had to pay $13,000 for first-class tickets from the USA to Ukraine," he told the news outlet. He claimed that the excesses made him and his wife uncomfortable.
"We could not look at our poor people's eyes and tell them we are using church money for our benefit and our luxurious life," he added. "So when we saw this, we started to raise questions."