Hillsong NYC pastor Carl Lentz in a photo posted – July 13, 2013.
Carl Lentz is not your typical pastor.
Along with his half shaved head and slicked back Mohawk, he’s dressed in his usual Sunday attire: black jeans and an unbuttoned denim shirt with a tank top underneath. His tattooed arms, including one with two guns crossed, peek out from under his rolled-up sleeves.
His Hillsong Church NYC holds at least six sermons every Sunday in a ballroom-style concert venue that has hosted such bands as U2 and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. People squeeze into whatever space they can find and take notes on iPhones as Lentz marches across the stage, peppering his sermon with Bible verses, jokes, pop music lines and street slang.
“If you’re new to our church, we love you,” says the 34-year-old Lentz. “Don’t be alarmed by the craziness you see. One time somebody said, ‘Y’all are crazy in your church,’ and I said, ‘You ever seen you dance drunk? Don’t be judging us up in church.'”
New York has become a magnet for startup evangelical churches in recent years. There are currently more than 200 in Manhattan alone, according to Tony Carnes of the research project, A Journey Through NYC Religions, and Hillsong is one of the fastest-growing.
After a little more than two years, Hillsong estimates it draws 5,500 people to Sunday services each week. Crowds lining up are a regular weekly scene at Irving Plaza near Manhattan’s Union Square. Hillsong often has to add additional evening sessions, which could last well into the night.
“I’ve gotten used to seeing bar stools and club stuff in the place that we have church,” Lentz said, adding “that’s church to me now.”
Steve Dagrossa, a 31-year-old who says he is a recovering heroin addict, attended all six sermons on a recent Sunday, for a total of 12 hours. He has even styled his hair his hair like Lentz.
“It’s unconventional but we’re not a conventional city,” Dagrossa said. “This isn’t the Bible Belt. This is New York.”
Meredith Anderson, a 27-year-old church member who also works as an assistant to Lentz, said she “went from being a drug addict party animal to becoming a Christian living a full, healthy life.”
“If it was a church that was all buttoned up, you know, what everybody thinks about when they think about church … that’s not necessarily something that would speak to me,” she said. “But because it’s young people, because there are young people there, I feel more comfortable.”
The church is a branch of the popular Australian-based Hillsong Church, the Pentecostal church which draws more than 21,000 weekly to its services. Hillsong is best known for its concert-type settings where they play Christian rock and praise music, which often appeals to a younger demographic of churchgoers.
Much of Hillsong NYC’s success can be attributed to its unorthodox leader. Lentz is a hyperactive, self-proclaimed insomniac who would rather stand than sit. His gift for gab lends itself to creating hype for the church. He loves hip hop music and often calls getting the word of God out “a hustle.”
At one service, he broke out Coolio lyrics. At another he called the biblical Saul the “LeBron James of Judaism.” He is an avid basketball fan and player, and is a fixture at New York Knicks games.
Lentz has established himself as his own brand. He has more than 67,000 followers on Twitter and 59,000 on Instagram, where you can find pictures of him standing next to Jay-Z and NBA star Kevin Durant. Justin Bieber posted a picture of himself eating lunch with Lentz, “talking ’bout our savior Jesus Christ.”
Blog Editor: Of course he’s his own brand. The good looking uncouth tattooed pastor, with his thousands of twitter followers. Celebrity Cool Christianity – Lentz has passed with Honours!
Hillsong is far from the first church to attempt to win over a young demographic, but few have been able to pull it off as successfully as Hillsong, according to Carnes.
Hillsong Church NYC Pastor Carl Lentz has said that critics of his unconventional style give him “fuel for the fire,” as his ministry continues growing.
He acknowledged that some find his methods unconventional and even crazy, but the success of his evangelical church, which is a branch of the Pentecostal church in Australia with a 21,000-attendance, is showing that his style is connecting with young people in one of the world’s largest cities.
Others have noted that one danger with leading a modern church that appeals to young people is that Christ’s message could be overshadowed – though Lentz has made it his mission not to let that happen.
“This church is always only about Jesus. … It’s always, it’s only about Jesus,” the pastor said in a previous sermon.
Blog Editors Note: It might be about Jesus, but what is it about Jesus?? Jesus always asks the question, who do you say that I am? Hillsong’s Jesus is nothing more than a religious billboard, Jesus is the product as Joel Osteen, and T D Jakes would say.
In an interview with The Christian Post back in February 2011, shortly after the NYC branch of Hillsong was started up, Lentz shared some of his vision and hopes for the young church as it looked for ways to grow in the most populous city in America
Carl Lentz, senior pastor of Hillsong New York City, never imagined that a deal he had roughly 10 years ago with Joel Houston, son of Hillsong Church’s founder Brian Houston, would actually pan out one day.
Today, the long-time friends from Bible college lead Hillsong NYC, the first U.S. location of the Australian-based Pentecostal megachurch.
In the next couple of months the Manhattan-based church, which meets at Irving Plaza near Union Square, will have made it’s presence felt for 3,years, since it’s official launch on Oct. 17, 2010.
The Christian Post has spoken previously to Lentz, about how he got involved in Hillsong NYC, his response to critics who ask why New York City needs “another church,” and what the vision of the church is all about. Joel Houston has been the Creative Director of Hillsong since 2008. Joel is currently co-Pastor of Hillsong NYC with Carl.
The following are some excerpts from the interview:
Lentz: I think Brian and Bobbie has always had it in their heart to do something in America but the when and the where has been in development for the a long time.
Joel and I, I think we were 20 (years old), were talking at Bible college one day and I said: “I’m going back to America and you’re going to stay here. I wonder if we will ever work together again.”
Joel said that, “If my dad ever did something outside of Australia, that would be kind of cool.”
I said: “Yea, it would have to be somewhere like New York.”
CP: There are a lot of churches in New York City, thousands in fact. Can you explain what is the need for Hillsong New York and what is the demographic that it wishes to serve that might not be served by other churches?
Lentz: You are asking in really cool way but often times people ask me that in a really critical way, something like: “Why does New York City need another church?”
It is really sad to me. There are 20 million people in this city. There are a lot of people who don’t know the Lord. It’s like asking: Why does the city need another restaurant. It’s like one person going to McDonalds unless I have any other food.
You know, the gospel is relevant and makes sense to people in different ways. Sometimes, different churches have different feels. Maybe someone will not connect with Hillsong New York City but they go down to your church and connect with that. So if it saves one person then that church is worthwhile.
So for us, we really believe in building the local church in general and we feel like we have a lane. We often use the analogy of a running lane. We are all running the same race with the same destination. We’re not running your lane. It’s not better or worse, just different.
But I think the way that Hillsong does worship is appealing to people. And the way we teach the practicality of this Gospel is helpful to people.
Brian Houston is known for really practical teaching that takes something really complex make a whole lot of sense. That to me is… when I fell in love with Jesus it was through Hillsong Church. It was through this message of church. So there are a lot of people like us and it just makes sense.
Blog Editor: Really, practical teaching? It just makes sense? Brian Houston uses all sorts of antecdotes, and scripture verses to present his humanistic panderings, and prosperity propaganda , but that doesn’t make them biblical. These new congregates are being fed error as bold and as brazen, as the Roman Catholic’s ‘Transubstantiation’ teaching. They are so lacking in actual understanding, “they are ever learning, yet never coming to the knowledge of the truth”.
CP interviewer: Redeemer (church) tries to reach out to city professionals. I attended a Hillsong NYC service back in November and I noticed that there were a lot of young people, and dare I say a hip, young crowd. Is this a group or generation not being reached in New York?
Lentz: I think there are some churches reaching people like that. It is what it is. We are never going to say we are about this or about that. Because I just don’t feel God is that narrow.
Last night there were some CEOs of companies and people who New York City would consider some very big players who are calling Hillsong New York City their home. So, we absolutely believe that the grace of God will be appealing to everybody.
Yea, I think there is a hip, young factor that is wide open in this city, and we are part of a number of churches who are going after that group. But at the same time, it’s not intentional. We don’t sit there and go, okay, how can we appeal to the hip, young people. We just sit there and go how can we lift up the name of Jesus with how we see fit and let the chips fall where they may.
If it was as easy as picking a demographic, we would be doing a lot better as churches. So I don’t even believe that works.
CP: You told the audience during a church service back in November that this is “not a concert” but “a church service.”
Blog Editor’s note : [He shouldn’t even need to. The problem is the Hillsong’s ‘church’ music is nothing more than a rock concert, it’s not a worship service, plain and simple, and if we have to explain to people that it’s worship, then there is something wrong! Maybe the thinking is if we tell people long enough maybe they will be convinced.]
Do you think there are a lot of people who attend Hillsong New York because of the popularity of the worship music? How do you build the core membership and not only attract people who just want to listen to worship music from Hillsong?
Lentz: Yea, I don’t think it’s a problem – people who want to come to church because they love to worship. I think we’re going to keep showing up week in and week out. We have 20 minutes of worship normally. So if you’re coming because you think it’s a concert then you going to figure out within two services that this is a church. So we never once thought what we are going to do if people come because they love the music. That’s just a huge bonus.
Every bit of music that comes out of the church is because it’s a church. It’s not the opposite. It’s not a band that has a church attached to it. It’s the music that comes out of the church. It takes 10 minutes to explain that. I say that not for Hillsong music but we have visitors who don’t know what church is like.
Blog Editor: [Come on Lentz, it’s a religious rock concert! To use Lentz’ own anology of another restaurant in the area. If the smell of Fried Chicken covered in some herbs and spices starts wafting down the street, how can you pretend your restaurant is flipping burgers with an all beef pattie, lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayo. The thing is absurd! Why would you need to explain to the customers that you’re cooking chicken,the customer knows what it is! The church service is either for GOD, or simply a tool to entertain and attract men.
So when I’m talking to people and say, ‘Hey this is not a concert, this is not a spectator sport,’ I’m not talking about people thinking it’s a concert. But because they just don’t know what it is. We’re not just here listening to a band and just singing, but we’re singing to God. That’s why I do that.
Blog Editor: [Not a concert? Their not fooling anyone, but themselves]
CP: You blogged on Sunday that over 200 people have given their lives to Christ and 400 people have signed up to be volunteers for the church. How does Hillsong follow up for people who have made decisions for Christ and what kinds of activities volunteers are involved in these days?
Lentz: There are dozens of areas to volunteer as any other church.
For us, we’re building the church based on the Acts model where the Bible said they devoted themselves.
A shorter answer is that we’re going to give people classes, mentorship, and immediate connect group activity which is like you get enrolled in a small group, so with the hope of saying that you have the option of walking into a family.
CP: What kind of activities are the volunteers doing?
Lentz: We are brand new church. We are not trying to build Rome in one day.
We have music, ushering, hospitality team, a greetings team, a new Christians team, a welcome team, a children’s program, and a community team which will probably be developed over the next year as we know the city better and the organizations that we’re going to partner with. We have a couple of homeless organizations that are kind of on the radar right now. We are meeting with them to decide which one we can fill our lives into. We are not going to start our own homeless ministry. We’re going to find one that is working and put our weight behind it.
CP: Is the church active in any homeless ministry currently?
Lentz: We don’t have a specific one endeavor.
Right now, what we have planned is that we are going to meet with one organization. There is a woman in our church who runs a pretty fantastic operation, feeding people in different programs. So right now our plan is to mobilize our church to do it all together.
Our plan is not to have an outreach ministry. I think that’s a pretty much a tragic term because if it’s not outreach in general it should not be a department. We don’t like to say that we’re going to do outreach. Everybody is an outreach every day of the week they walk out the door.
CP: What are the roles for Joel and you at the church?
Lentz: Well, my wife and I would be the pastors on the ground here. When it comes to the leading, the teaching, the preaching and the motivational aspect, that’s us. When it comes to the music and some of the things we do around the country, whether it be some of the worship tours we’re involved with, Joel has handled every decision we make.
Every key decision, Laura, myself and Joel make it together in agreement. It’s pretty much a joint effort in everything we do.
He’s such a good musician. I’m not a good musician. So that’s a no-brainer. He can handle that by himself.
For us, it would be to never narrow our little human minds and try to get our heads around this because if we can stay with the big picture, God will stay bigger.
So everyday we are going to wake up and say: “Okay, Lord, we’re going to dream huge. No matter what someone tells us, you can’t use this venue– nope, we can. You can’t reach those people–we’re going to believe we can reach them.”
CP: What are your hopes and prayers for Hillsong New York this year?
Lentz:We’re just believing that we are going to help more people than we’ve dreamed. I think our church is in a really strong place to begin with. I think it’s a pretty successful place to be. Rather than start from scratch, we have a foothold like we do already.
CP: What are some of the main challenges you see in planting Hillsong NYC?
Lentz: Main challenge is for us to keep our vision big enough. When it comes to challenges, there is no mountain here that God can’t move in a day.
For us, we really believe in building the local church in general and we feel like we have a lane. We often use the analogy of a running lane. We are all running the same race with the same destination. We’re not running your lane. It’s not better or worse, just different.”
comment (from recent article)
11:22 AM on August 17, 2013
I like his concept of ‘running lanes’. I feel similarly about different religions & prophets. I believe that ultimately the “Message” we’re all receiving is the same, but the way the message is delivered & the person delivering the message might be different. So some of our rules & customs might be strange to each other, but at the heart – live a good life, be charitable & kind and you will move from this plane to better things … is what all of us believe.
Talk about leaving it to the interpretation of the listener! You can drive a bus through Lentz’ statements. It’s seems Hillsong are happy running on the Broad way that leads to destruction. How are we all running the same race? Is he talking specifically about Christianity, or religious persuasion generally? Who would really know? The girl who left her comment in reference to Lentz’s statement obviously thinks he means any kind of religious icon. This is from a supposed Christian pastor. It’s woeful! He is representing Christ, not as a spokesman for a religious organisation, but that’s what Hillsong has become, a sophiscated form of Scientology, that gives lipservice to the Lord Jesus, but offering a skubalon of ecumenical ‘go no where’ theology “having a form of godliness (a resemblance of the original, or a superficial veneer), but denying the power thereof”
David Wilkerson who made New York his mission field, who witnessed to gang members in the Sixties, and who pastored Time Square Church in New York for over 35 years had this to say about churches who are entertainment driven;
I’m not about to put up a silly skit and preach a 15-minute message
on ‘how to cope’ to a multitude of people who are dying and going to
hell. I tremble at the thought.”</
Jesus said, “The fields are white unto harvest,…” Hillsong are seeking success in fields of Gold!
Article by Stoyan Zaimov,
Christian Post Reporter
July 18, 2013
Article by Katherine T. Phan,
Christian Post Reporter
February 17, 2011|6:47 am