(Photo: Hillsong NYC)
NEW YORK – Nearly a month after its official launch, Hillsong Church New York held its second major gathering in New York City Sunday night.
The response to Hillsong NYC, the first U.S. congregation to be launched by Australia's Hillsong Church, has been strong. Church services, one scheduled at 5:30 p.m. and another at 7:30 p.m., each drew crowds of at 500-700 people to its venue at Irving Plaza.
The first service drew such a young, hip crowd and long lines that some passers-by mistakened the event for a concert. The age range for most of the attendees was 18 to late 20s.
Many attendants on Sunday said they were already part of a church in New York but they wanted to show support for Hillsong.
Kami Ajaye, a member of World Changers Church New York, said she originally heard about the church's launch during a broadcast segment on Trinity Broadcasting Network. She said she wanted to attend to help Hillsong "plant the seed."
Jen Berry, a youth pastor alongside her husband at Full Gospel Church in Long Island, said she was attending to watch Hillsong worship live and apply that back to their youth services.
"Their worship style is really effective for youth," said Berry. "Most of the songs we perform at our church are from Hillsong."
For some attendees, Hillsong's expansion to New York was an answer to prayer.
Pahola Soares said she tried several churches in New York but never felt like she fit in. After she learned Hillsong was coming to the Big Apple, she joined one of the "connect groups" and liked it so much that she signed up to become a church volunteer.
"I joined because I want to be part of a new church – the beginning of something – not an already established church," said Soares, a student at University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey. "I like how they have people coming together from all around the world and becoming a big family."
During the service, leaders of the new congregation were quick to address any misconceptions about the church and its purpose.
"This is not a concert. This is not a show. This is not a club. This is a church," said the church's head pastor, Carl Lentz, who will be ministering alongside his wife, Laura.
In his introduction, he explained his vision for Hillsong NYC as being more than a weekly service but a community of believers that can touch the lives of others with the love of Jesus.
The vision for the U.S. branch was first announced in February by Pastor Brian Houston, founder of Hillsong Church, based near Sydney, Australia. The Pentecostal pastor acknowledged that the New York metropolitan area already has "many great churches" and that the populated, multicultural city would pose many challenges. But he highlighted Hillsong's heart for New York and said they are excited to "come alongside" the churches and be a blessing to the leaders and congregations there.
Reiterating Hillsong's mandate, Houston said, "We desire to build a church that loves God and loves people – one that reaches through cultural barriers, provides relevant and biblical teaching from the Word of God, a compassionate church that cares for and brings solution to the countless challenges facing humanity, and a church that resonates with the sounds of powerful praise and worship, glorifying our Almighty God."
United frontman Joel Houston, son of Pastor Brian Houston, delivered the sermon on Sunday and spoke about how success is not found on stage but in living out a life that emulates Jesus.
The popular worship leader became emotional when he recounted an encounter with a homeless person on the street that helped him realize his image before God. He related that to Jesus' encounter with a leper in Matthew 8.
"Looking into his eyes of the man I saw myself and how God sees me: rags, brokenness, failure, certainly not success," he shared.
Houston, who will be based out of New York, said he hopes for Hillsong NYC to not be about "what happens here on this platform but who we are in our lives."
Similarly, Lentz commented after the sermon, "People think Hillsong is a church of superstars. But we are extremely fallible, not gifted enough for that stage if not for what Jesus has done."
The church plans to hold its next gatherings on Dec. 12 and Jan. 16. Venues will be announced for all dates. Regular services will begin in February 2011.
Hillsong Church currently meets in eight locations around the world.