NEW YORK – After months of drumming up support through worship gatherings and volunteer meetings, Hillsong NYC, the first U.S. location of Hillsong Church, is kicking off weekly services this Sunday.
When the New York City branch of the Australian-based Pentecostal megachurch started meeting in October, there may have been critics who wondered whether the city really needed "another church."
But the Hillsong church plant, led by Pastor Carl Lentz and his wife, Laura, has laid some of those doubts to rest as hundreds of people kept pouring in for the occasional services.
On Sunday, Lentz blogged about the tremendous response to the NYC location. Since last fall, over 200 people have made decisions to follow Jesus and over 400 people have signed up as church volunteers, the pastor wrote on the Hillsong Church blog.
Tonight, he will welcome the church's burgeoning core group and greet new faces at the 4pm, 6pm, 8pm services held in Irving Plaza near Union Square. The leadership of the New York church also includes United frontman Joel Houston, the son of Hillsong's lead pastor Brian Houston, who will also be present at the first official weekly service.
Lentz commented that the church's attempt to reach out to people of "varying depth, dogmas, denominations" can sometimes lead to "over-thinking strategies and simply trying too hard."
He maintained, however, that when it comes to church planting for Hillsong NYC, it's best to keep the strategy simple: Jesus.
"Some of those things turn out to be awesome, some turn out to be completely non-applicable due to the nature of a particular city," wrote Lentz.
"But our reality and core conviction at Hillsong Church NYC is and always will be, that the supernatural power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ grows the church and transformed lives are the absolute, all-time best advertisements ever created."
That's not to say the church doesn't care about strategies or its church service experience, according to Lentz. Hillsong NYC has employed various media venus from television to Twitter to market its church services and any visitor to one of the gatherings will see a dedicated crew of technicians, smiling ushers, and worship leaders working together to ensure the church services are a celebration of God's grace.
Lentz emphasized that while the church will pursue growth through strategies, improvement of its church service experience, learning lessons from its mistakes, and the power of prayer, he will trust the church to a higher power.
"But when all is said and done, I'm not confident that our church is going to help people because our music is great, our venues are cool, our ideas are 'hip and funky' and are teaching is helpful and passionate. I'm confident because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever," Lentz stated Sunday.
However, he did stumble upon one interesting approach to church growth while conversing with a friend who helps nightclubs attract customers.
When Lentz asked his friend what helps some nightclubs dominate the scene while others fade away, the friend replied, "Models and Bottles," based on his observation that whichever club has the most model-esque type clientele and cheapest high-grade alcohol wins.
Lentz applied his conversation to Hillsong NYC, saying "We have strategies. We have detailed plans and vision. But perhaps the Cross on Calvary is our 'Models.' The sanctification of those who believe is our 'bottles.' Without those two things defining everything, 'we got nothing.'"
Hillsong pastor Brian Houston also took time Sunday to express his hope for Hillsong NYC.
"Our desire is to have a church where everyone can find a place to belong. A place for the diverse population of this influential city…the actors, creative's, businessmen, entrepreneurs and families alike to get connected and grow in faith, hope and love, find salvation in Christ - the lost and the found, creating a family and moving the Kingdom forward," he wrote Sunday on the church's blog.
"Our commitment to New York City is not fleeting," added Houston. "[I]t is not about one weekend, or one year…we are planted in New York and we believe God is writing this incredible story."
Affiliated with Australian Christian Churches, the Australian branch of the Assemblies of God, Hillsong Church has four main campuses with 14 extension campuses across Sydney. In addition to New York City, the multi-site church has international branches in London, Kiev, Cape Town, Stockholm, Paris, and Moscow.