The first thing I saw when I walked into the Hillsong Church service on a dreary Sunday morning was a sign that said, 'Welcome Home' and immediately I understood how this place gave Justin Bieber back his purpose in life. The Church has made headlines over the past year as more and more celebrities pledge their allegiance to this sort of religious movement. Everyone from athletes, musicians, and A-list stars including Bieber and Selena Gomez have brought on the hype when it comes to Hillsong Church, and I wanted to know what it was all about. I wanted to know why and how this church changed their lives — or, at the very least, clears their mind of all fame and status and grounds them into the humans that we all are.
To be honest, when I walked up to the Hillsong Church location in New York City, I was kind of intimidated. It didn't look like any church I've ever been in and there was a massive security presence. I noticed about ten burly men in black suits standing tall with their hands behind their backs. There were two police officers standing next to the door. Thankfully, there was no line to get in but I have to admit, I was a few minutes late.
However, before actually stepping inside the doors, my bag was checked and a member of the security team used an airport like scanner to make sure I wasn't hiding anything dangerous on my body. One thing is for sure, Hillsong Church takes the safety of their members very seriously.
As I walked in, I was told to go all the way up to the top balcony. After climbing several flights of stairs, I walked into a huge ballroom. No really, it was bigger than any Broadway show theater I had ever been to. Every seat was taken. So, as I stood in the back and observed, I continued to see why Justin has become so connected. Not only is there a live band, there are stage effects, there are lights and the music is something you can dance too. Everyone sings along as the words of each song are displayed on large screens at the front of the ballroom hall. I felt a sense of community, a sense of love, and a sense of purpose.
The people of Hillsong Church are completely invested in the words being spoken. But, at the same time, phones are out, social media is open and the atmosphere is completely laid back. It's unlike anything I've ever seen. It's obvious that the churchgoers come from all walks of life, sporting sweatpants and t-shirts, a very Justin Bieber approach to modern church wear, to trendy jackets, pants and shoes. Anything goes at Hillsong Church. And what I found the most rewarding was that the preacher talked about life. It's almost as if anyone can come to Hillsong Church and feel connected to the speeches and the preacher's word.
Of course, the fundamental core of Hillsong Church is about Jesus Christ and honoring his name; however, they also teach you to believe in something much larger than yourself. They teach you to put others before yourself. They teach you to understand that we are all equal and that is what I think Justin, Selena, and every celebrity that belongs to Hillsong Church feels when they walk through those doors. Like I said before, it's the sense of community and belonging that will really change your perspective on things.
One of the lead pastors at Hillsong Church is Carl Lentz and he has been a huge influence on Justin's life. The pair has actually become quite good friends more than anything else. In a recent interview, Carl explains what it's really been like getting to know the international icon. He said, "He's this generation's Michael Jackson fame-wise. People are desperate to know why, what, or who he's hanging out with. I tell people that he's just like everybody else — he just wants people that love him."
Carl continued by talking about what hanging out with Justin has done for him. "It gives me perspective," Lentz said of spending time with the pop star. "If I were to hang with you for a day and watch what you do [...] I would have a better sense of empathy with what your every day is like. With Justin over the years, it's been interesting to get a glimpse into the insane pressure of his fame and celebrity."
Unfortunately, the day I went to the Church in the Big Apple, Carl was in Los Angeles for the 2017 Hillsong Church USA conference. Understanding his presence in the celebrity community and how his words have become so powerful at Hillsong Church, I'm curious to hear him speak. I'm curious to find out why Justin, Selena, and everyone that he's friends with are so motivated by him. I may just have to go back to Hillsong next Sunday when Carl is back in town.