(Photo: Carl Lentz Facebook)
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.
"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," an Associated Press report on Thursday describes the 34 year-old pastor, whose church draws an estimated 5,500 people each Sunday at Irving Plaza near Manhattan's Union Square.
Lentz 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.
"If you're new to our church, we love you," Lentz said. "Don't be alarmed by the craziness you see."
Some of its members, such as 27-year-old Meredith Anderson, say that the ministry has been an opportunity for a number of people to connect in a different way with other followers of Christ.
"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," Anderson said. "But because it's young people, because there are young people there, I feel more comfortable."
Others 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.
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.
"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," Lentz said.
"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," the pastor continued.
"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."