Carl Lentz is the prototypical Brooklyn hipster. With his scruffy beard, artsy tattoos and cuffed shirts, Lentz, 34, embodies the young, rebellious feel of New York City’s most populated borough. But the Virginia native has a message that supersedes his appearance — and he’s bringing it to Manhattan.
Lentz, the newest pastor of Hillsong Church, merges the secular with the spiritual, incorporating references to pop culture and quips and slang. Considering his tactics, it’s no wonder the house of worship is reaching major success.
Out of the 200-plus evangelical churches in Manhattan alone, Hillsong is the fastest growing, according to Tony Carnes, who headed the research project, “A Journey Through NYC Religions.”
The house of worship, after about two years, reports an estimated 5,500 of church attendees who flock to Irving Plaza near Union Square weekly to receive Christian messages taught in an unconventional way. Each week, Lentz delivers his sermons on the stage of a concert venue that has hosted bands like U2 and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The main benefit of offering a different flavor than traditional churches is that the paradigm occasionally affords the opportunity to connect with people like Steve Dagrossa, 31. Dagrossa is a recovering heroin addict who has found hope in a place that accepts individuals for their dressed-down, broken selves.
“It’s unconventional but we’re not a conventional city,” Dagrossa said in an interview with The Associated Press. “This isn’t the Bible Belt. This is New York.”
Lentz embodies Hillsong’s unofficial mission to attract young, vibrant, broken people who share a common passion for God. The young pastor has already established an impressive presence on Twitter and Facebook, and is no stranger to celebrities like Jay-Z and Justin Bieber, whom he recently linked up with to grab lunch and talk about faith.
Critics of Lentz’s nontraditional approach to delivering the Christian message might consider the impact he is having on the wider community. Pop culture jokes, basketball allegories and references to rap lyrics aside, Lentz declares that above all, Hillsong operates on a single goal: “This church is always only about Jesus…It’s always, it’s only about Jesus.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.