How Hillsong NYC’s Carl Lentz is Breaking Barriers for the Gospel

Pastor Tim Timberlake, a next generation innovator and Pastor Carl Lentz, who pastors one of the fastest growing churches in America, Hillsong NYC recently sat down to cover everything from why some pastors are so weird to the un-importance of being “relevant.” Lentz and Joel Houston oversee the two-year old New York church plant commissioned by the storied Australian ministry, Hillsong Church and what God is doing there is nothing short of remarkable—so far 11,000 people have made decisions to follow Christ, roughly 6,000 people call Hillsong NYChome. They have a volunteer nucleus of 500+ people and the church isn’t even two years old yet!

In this article Pastor Lentz and I discuss how each of us can experience God’s best for our lives, and what can happen when a group of people become contagious with the message of Jesus Christ!

PT: As a believer how can we communicate the message of the Kingdom of God better?

PC: I think we need to continue to do a better job of communicating it exactly like Jesus did! Everybody has their own views on exactly “what and why and how” Jesus did what he did but I don’t understand how that can be, simply because the evidence is there for all to see. And the evidence in my mind, demands a verdict of truth in love. Unapologetic, grace filled truth.

Now in our sometimes weird Christian world, apparently some people believe that truth has to make people “get with it or get against it.” I don’t see it like that. Yes, some people ultimately hated hearing the truth so much that they murdered Jesus because of it, but our Bible proves that multitudes would gather just be around Jesus and since Jesus hit this earth there has never been a more “received message” in history.

He used to eat and spend huge amounts of time with people who surely would not have necessarily “gotten with it” but they still wanted to “get with Jesus.” I see this happening in churches now and I love it. Classic, silly conventional church wisdom says, “You have to be soft to reach and attract many people.” I’ve heard it said about churches like mine, “They get big numbers because they don’t preach the truth.” That’s just stupid logic propagated by people who have lacked effectiveness and rather than getting humble and getting help, they get bitter and get worse.

I think preaching the truth attracts in a supernatural way. This gospel is so good that even if you choose to continue to “live bad,” you want to hear more of it. The phrase, “Some need to belong before they believe,” is absolutely true. Sadly, some people, some churches simply don’t want to do the hard work of actually living like a Christian long enough to prove to people why they should believe. It’s much easier to throw stones from a pulpit then love your neighbor for years outside of it. Thank God that is changing.

We are currently battling a trend of a generation that wants to get congregations standing and shouting. I think that’s fine. But the ultimate goal has to be to get congregations convicted, inspired and moving. Communicating the gospel for us should be like selling ice water in the desert: easy money! This is not complicated. It’s not easy, but it’s not complicated either.


PT: What steps or methods do you take to reach across the barriers of age, ethnicity and different cultures at Hillsong NYC?

PC: More than steps or methods, I think it’s the spirit of Hillsong Church that is more prevalent and generally unintentional. Steps and methods have to come out of a spirit, not vice versa. Otherwise it’s hollow and people can see through that. So if you create church programs to “reach the youth” or “help the inner city,” that’s great. But if you have a heart and vision and drive to help as many people as possible and preach about Jesus as completely as possible, I think the people in your church become the best method of all time.

People always ask “how many community outreach programs do you have?” I always say “thousands, they are called members of our church.” Additionally, I always hated “feeling reached out to.” Meaning, there is nothing worse than feeling patronized. It’s insulting. Churches sometimes are notorious for treating our non-Christian world, which are often far sharper and quicker to sniff out a motive, like idiots.

So let’s say I “want to be more relatable” to a certain demographic and I typically don’t wear a backwards hat and tank top, and suddenly stroll in a preach like that “to reach people,” it’s just insanely unauthentic. Walk out that example and spread it to different areas and you see where I’m going. It could be said that the number one void inNYC for instance, is transparency. So logically, if you are that, you will fill that void. I try to stay true to who I am as a follower of Jesus. Our Hillsong Church movement does that the best we can collectively as a movement.

I never worry about “being relevant.” I think it’s possible to honor different cultures by educating yourself and getting wisdom on areas you are not familiar with. For instance, I call my father frequently and say “Dad, how does this idea/sermon/theology application sound to a man in his 60’s who has served Jesus for decades?” And he will give me insight. I may ask a single mom of five in our church, “What does this feel like to you? From your view?” I think that’s just simply doing your best to serve people better.

Our church has radical diversity and I mean that. Some people would say “It’s a young church” but that’s simply because it’s so foreign to see any young people at all! But the heart of Hillsong Church globally is to bring the gospel to everybody, everywhere. We will naturally be more influential in some spheres more than others, and that’s okay. But we will never stop doing all we can do “diversify this gospel asset.”

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