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Enormous Success of Hillsong Church in New York City; World Cup Coming to Brazil

Aired June 8, 2014 - 06:30   ET


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: He's accused of causing a massive car crash that killed one person and critically injured comedian Tracy Morgan as well as two other people. And the truck's operator, Wal-Mart says if the driver was involved, the company will take full responsibility.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Number four, the FBI is investigating threats against Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl's parents. And it says it's taken them very seriously. Now, of course, we're hearing this as the "New York Times" reports that Bergdahl has told officials in Germany that the Taliban kept him locked in a shark cage for weeks in total darkness. The paper also says, Bergdahl was wearing his military uniform for the first time since he was captured by the Taliban almost five years ago.

PAUL: And number five, the Pope is hosting a prayer meeting at the Vatican today where Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will pray for peace together. They'll read invitations for peace and plant an olive tree in the garden. The two leaders were invited to the Vatican by the pontiff during his visit to the Holy Land last month.

BLACKWELL: Well, the numbers show that some churches are struggling to attract the 20-somethings, the 30-somethings that are waiting in long lines at Hillsong Services in New York City. That church, at least, is doing pretty well.

PAUL: A 35-year-old hipster, apparently, is the main attraction. CNN's Poppy Harlow spoke with this unique pastor about the church's success and where he stands on several major issues.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The music. The lights. The crowds. It looks like a rock concert. And the lines around the block are enough to make any nightclub envious. But this, this is church. And some New Yorkers can't seem to get enough of their unlikely pastor, Carl Lentz.


CARL LENTZ. I will not say that I'll walk through the valley of the shadow of death by take a look at my life, I realize (INAUDIBLE)

HARLOW: With his leather jacket and body Carl Lentz looks more like a rock star than the head of a Pentecostal Church.

LENTZ: The Lord is my shepherd and I lack nothing. One, two, three!

HARLOW: But this 35-year-old basketball fanatic, a walk-on at NC State who calls himself the unofficial chaplain for the New York Nicks, is a pastor, the lead pastor of a church, Hillsong NYC.

LENTZ: If you ran from church your whole life because you didn't like the organization, well, we meet in the club and we are not going to sing the songs you're used to sing and we are not going to preach a message you think you're going to hear.

HARLOW (on camera): You take issue when people call this religion.

LENTZ: I do. They can be religious about being car thieves. You can be religious, you know, criminal, but we have a relationship with God.

I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Come on somebody that is worth of Pentecostal shutdown.

HARLOW (voice over): This is the American branch of the Australian mega church Hillsong which boasts some 75,000 members in 12 countries. Lentz and his wife, Laura, started Hillsong NYC three years ago after meeting at the church's bible college in Sydney.

LENTZ: And I got on my, you know, proverbial knees one day and said Jesus, I need to give this a shot with you in charge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have tried to create a place that is safe for people, that's like a home to people. It's not for everyone, and that's OK and that's the great diversity and the beauty of the house of God, the church.

HARLOW: On an average Sunday some 6,000 followers pour in over the day's five services.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just leave like filled with the Holy Spirit. You don't feel judged at all when you walk in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But when I came here I found what I was looking for, I found God.

HARLOW (on camera): Found God?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Simple and plain. Yes. His presence here is phenomenal.

HARLOW (voice over): The church baptisms are carried out here, in a Times Square hotel swimming pool.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel amazing, I feel new.

LENTZ: This narrow gate to Jesus, some people are rolling right by it. HARLOW: Watch Lentz preach and you'll see his veins pop out of his

neck. His intensity silences the entire congregation.

LENTZ: Jesus is here.

HARLOW: Whether or not you agree with his message, there's no denying Lentz is magnetic.

LENTZ: And you cannot find hope. This has to be your moment to say let me try the chief shepherd that has never failed anybody. Let me give the creator a shot at my life. Let me give the ...

HARLOW (on camera): Is Carl the next Brian Houston, the next Joel Osteen?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could well be. Could well be.

LENTZ: It could well be they're complaining, Moses is already praising.

HARLOW (voice over): Brian Houston founded Hillsong 30 years ago in Australia with his wife, Bobbie.

(on camera): Are you concerned that people are coming for them more than for the message?

BRIAN HOUSTON: Not really. I've seen the same response all over the world, people learning up for church in London, Cape Town, Stockholm, even Paris. You know, kind of obviously, you know, he's a magnetic, attractive guy. I mean his tattoos are a problem, but big picture is ...

HARLOW: You don't like the tattoos?

HOUSTON: They're OK, they're OK.

LENTZ: They're stickers. Thanks, Bobbie, for pointing that out.


LENTZ: I'm - on this runway.


LENTZ: Bucket list.

HARLOW (voice over): He seems to revel in the spotlight, but Lentz would prefer you focus on his preaching rather than his wardrobe. He says he's been blocked from visiting inmates because prison staff thought he looked more like a criminal than a cleric.

LENTZ: It's so funny when people make comments about the way that we look almost like it's - they don't mean to be judgmental, but it's like I say what should we look like? You're implying that there's an outfit I could wear that would bring peace to you. The whole point of our faith is to come exactly as you are. Jesus loves you. He died and rose again so you could have life.

HARLOW (on camera): You've got to admit that the way you dress, the tattoos, the way you look ...

LENTZ: That's the whole point.

HARLOW: Gets people talking. And is that a bad thing?

LENTZ: No, of course, this is not a bad ...

HOUSTON: I mean you wonder why they call it a hipster church.

LENTZ: I'm not a hipster. Hipsters - hipsters ...

HOUSTON: You are the very ...


LENTZ: So, first of all let me explain a hipster is someone who lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.


LENTZ: Who has a much better beard?

HOUSTON: Where do you live?

LENTZ: Williamsburg, Brooklyn.


HARLOW (voice over): While Hillsong draws crowds, it also draws skeptics.

BRET MCCRACKEN, AUTHOR "HIPSER CHRISTIANITY": Any time a church can, you know, get people in the door it's a good thing but I think the problem and the questions I have is, if we're getting them in under the guise of like a cool experience or a cooler club type experience, is that going to sustain them?

HARLOW: Bret McCracken is the author of "Hipster Christianity, When Church and Cool Collide."

MCCRACKEN: Whenever a pastor, or celebrity pastor becomes the draw it's a distraction from Jesus. And that should be the draw.

LENTZ: Do you guys know your bible still works midweek?


MCCRACKEN: I don't know that the accoutrements and the big lights and sounds and music and style of a church is going to transform a young person's life in the long run.

HARLOW (on camera): Some might say this is Christianity light, is that fair?

MCCRACKEN: I don't even know what they mean by that. They try to say, from shallow teaching to emotional music. I don't buy any of it.

LENTZ: Even when your bank account says zero, we have Jesus. We're going to be all right, no fear.


LENTZ: I've heard the other critical bits of like well if you have a lot of people coming, you must be doing something wrong, and which is the weirdest concept in history, but wherever Jesus went, there were absolutely throngs of people trying to get to him.

HARLOW (voice over): And throngs of people tried just to get in to Hillsong.

LENTZ: Our goal is not to turn some cultish thinking into New York City like you come to our church we're going to change you. That's an arrogant premise.

HARLOW (on camera): Have people said that to you, that this is cultish?

LENTZ: For sure, yes.


LENTZ: Even though it's the most preposterous allegation in history.

HARLOW: Can you see where that might be coming from?

LENTZ: Only because people uneducated on what a cult is. The cult is when I tell you what to think and if you think any different, you are gone. That's a cult. We preach the opposite. Actually, you should go home and question what I preach. You should look it up in your own Bible.

HARLOW (voice over): But getting American youth to read a bible is more and more difficult. A 2012 Pew study found one-third of American adults under 30 have no religious affiliation, a big jump from past generations.

LENTZ: Sometimes they're like your church is filled with young people. I say, no, it's not, we just actually have some.

HARLOW (on camera): I'm not criticizing the traditional typical, what we - we picturize church??

LENTZ: I'm not criticizing it, I'm just calling it what it is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Christianity should be about unbridled, contagious joy, but religion has hijacked the fundamental ingredient of our faith.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLACKWELL: Well, next Poppy takes a look at how this church is attracting celebrities as well.

PAUL: And the question, is this alternative style the future of religion?


BLACKWELL: It's a church some say for the hipster millennial crowd.

PAUL: Yeah, and as you may be getting ready for church today, maybe not, CNN's Poppy Harlow takes a look at whether this is the new religion.


HARLOW: Hillsong Church is drawing in the crowds, and making big money. One reason? Their Christian rock band Hillsong United, with 14 million albums sold according to church founder Brian Houston.

(on camera): Some news reports pegged the church's worth at $50 million to $100 million. Are those numbers right?

HOUSTON: That would be in the ball park. It's tiny compared with the Catholic Church, of course.

LENTZ: And you can make out a check to Hillsong Church ....

HARLOW (voice over): use encouraged. Credit cards accepted.

(on camera): Some people might look at it and say, well, they live in a very cool neighborhood, nice place on the river, you know, that's not what I equate church with.

LENTZ: If you go down that road you simply cannot be poor enough for some people. Well, you can drive that car but not that car. But we're never going to cater to that mindset of people trying to tell us how to live.

HARLOW (voice over): As Pastor Carl Lentz's star rises a host of celebrities have gathered around him.

(on camera): Do you care about having celebrities in your congregation?

LENTZ: The goal of our church is from the nameless to the famous. Our church should have celebrities we believe, because we're trying to reach everybody. That's one of our goals.

HARLOW (voice over): There's Justin Bieber who tweeted "I broke down today after one of Lentz's sermons" and Lentz baptized NBA megastar Kevin Durant.

KEVIN DURANT: When I came out of the water, I just felt - I felt different.

HARLOW: We wanted to know where Lentz falls on social issues and politics.

LENTZ: My thing is that Jesus transcends politics. So, whether I'm right wing, left wing, Democrat, Republican.

HARLOW (on camera): Are you going to tell us?

LENTZ: No, that wouldn't be any fun. Some Christians say you can't even be a Democrat and even follow Jesus. That really bugs me.

HARLOW (voice over): Some of his positions are clearer than others. Don't get drunk. No sex before marriage.

(on camera): Are gay men and women welcome in the church?

LENTZ: Absolutely. We have a lot of gay men and women in our church and I pray we always do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not our place to tell anyone how they should live. That's their journey.

HARLOW: Every article I've read about you guys, says you decline to discuss gay marriage.

LENTZ: Yes, it's a misquote because I do discuss it, just not the way people want me to. When it comes to homosexuality I refuse to let another human being or a media moment dictate how we approach it. Jesus was in the thick of an era where homosexuality, just like it is today, was wildly prevalent, and I'm still waiting for someone to show me the quote where Jesus addressed it on the record in front of people. You won't find it because he never did.

HARLOW (voice over): But people are finding Hillsong, some 3,000 just turned up for one of the church's first events in Los Angeles.

LENTZ: Hillsong L.A. is on its way.

HOUSTON: The funny thing about Hillsong, whether it's the music or our churches is that we seem to do well where other people struggle.

HARLOW (on camera): So, will we not see you in the Bible Belt?

HOUSTON: I'm leaning up (ph) to live where we're called to be.

HARLOW (voice over): Lentz says he doesn't dream of building a megachurch or becoming a televangelist.

LENTZ: Success is not having a big church, the big portfolio, a lot of money, nice cars, prosperity for us is simply knowing Jesus and having the right to repent from a sinful life and cling to that cross every day.

Thank you, guys, for waiting. We didn't expect to be a capacity already, of course.

HARLOW: But he is redefining church for some. LENTZ: You whether you like it or not, God is your shepherd. Whether

you like it or not, he has never failed anybody and he's not going to start with you, whether you like it or not, you need to hear it. He is going to lead you into something better.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLACKWELL: Our thanks to Poppy Harlow and for more stories on faith, please sure to check out our belief blog at

PAUL: Well, World Cup fever is about to take over. The month-long games start this week in Brazil. We're going to take you through the competition and you know what? You know it. Some controversy, too.


BLACKWELL: LeBron James vows it's going to be all good for game two of the NBA finals tonight. He says it's going to be 100 percent. The Miami Heat all-star forward had a little hitch in his Giddyap for game one, actually had to be carried off the floor. So sad. Closing minutes to game one after he suffered a severe leg cramp, as soon as James left the game, San Antonio spurs went on a 16 to 3 run to win the game. Some are blamed an air conditioning malfunction for the cramps, it was more than 90 degrees on that floor, but San Antonio promises the AC will be up and running tonight. We should also say that James has suffered game time cramps before. Christi?

PAUL: Oh, Victor, it is the biggest sporting event on earth, the World Cup, it kicks off this week in Brazil. For the next month, hundreds of thousands of fans are going to pour into Brazil's 12 newly built stadiums and hundreds of millions more, maybe you, are going to be watching on TV sets around the world. CNN editorial producer Nadia Bilchik here.

Nadia, why are people so - over the World Cup?

NADIA BILCHIK, CNN EDITORIAL PRODUCER: As you said, it's the biggest sporting event in the world. But just to give you an idea of how many viewers, the finals of the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 there were 909 million viewers watching the final.

PAUL: Oh, my god.

BILCHIK: And this is the sport that brought us Pele and Maradona and David Beckham and now Ronaldo, and you think about it, kids around the world can play soccer. All they need is a ball and sometimes not even a ball, sometimes they literally take string and form it into a ball and kick that around. So, it's very much a universal sport.

PAUL: Um-hum, but there's a big controversy as I understand.

BILCHIK: Well, Brazil, people are saying we need hospitals, we need transport. We need schools. We don't need 11.3 billion dollars spent on World Cup infrastructure, and there's this great picture, it's a graffiti art that really went viral that exemplifies, here is a little boy and he's crying and he's hungry, and what has he got on his plate? He's got a football, and what are they saying? You know, the World Cup isn't feeding us. So big controversy in Brazil, but I will tell you, I spoke to many Brazilians this week, there is also great excitement.

PAUL: Well, and they're going to make money as well as the money they're spending.

BILCHIK: Well, this actually - FIFA makes the money. This is where the controversy is, the country usually doesn't make money. FIFA, the organization of the World Cup, is who makes the money. So it's a whole very complex scenario, as to how it happens but it's very prestigious for the country. So for South Africa in 2010, it was amazing. People saw South Africa in a new light and Germany in 2006 it was remarkable for Germany, because it was one of the first times since the Second World War, the people could be German and nationalistic and huge pride in being German.

PAUL: So, but this is such- so many people are obsessed with soccer. Why not so much in the U.S.?

BILCHIK: Well, it's growing in the U.S.

PAUL: It is?

BILCHIK: Just to tell you, 41 percent increase in viewership 2010 to 2006 and major league soccer has just find a $90 million deal with major networks, which is an increase of four times, so we are going to see much more than we have seen and it is going to be interesting watching the U.S. side play. They've got a bit of a tough road ahead of them, because their grouping is tough. The first team that the U.S. are going to play is Ghana and Ghana has beaten them twice, and then they go to Portugal and Portugal is seeded four, and then they play Germany, and Germany is seeded too, so it's going to be tough for the U.S., but what you will not be seeing this year are these, these Vuvuzelas.

PAUL: Oh, I remember those.

BILCHIK: And one, Christi, is for you. But what you are going to be seeing this year is something called a kashevpla (ph), and it sort of looks like a watering can. It's going to be much less noisy than the Vuvuzela.

PAUL: OK. There it is. Nadia Bilchik. Thank you so much.

BILCHIK: Good luck to the U.S. team.

PAUL: Absolutely. I second that. But I'm going to let her say ...


PAUL: Victor?

BLACKWELL: What, I don't get a vuvuzela?

PAUL: Yes, there's another one here for you.

BLACKWELL: OK. All right. See, that's why.

PAUL: We've got you covered.

BLACKWELL: This is why I was cut out of the segment! This is why I was cut out of a segment! You know, we've got some good stuff for you coming up after the break. You are going to want to see this. A very special gift from one first grader to his classmate diagnosed with cancer and at the top of the hour, one of the owners of California Chrome blasting the competition, blasting the sport saying that the other horses, their owners took the coward's way out. Their point for sour grapes.


BLACKWELL: Good news for you now. A little boy, he wanted to do something, anything to help when he heard that a student at his elementary school was diagnosed with leukemia, so he donated his hair, more than ten inches of hair. There's the snip. Senio Nu (ph) had grown his hair for more than two years. His mom says actually that he had wanted to cut it.

PAUL: Yeah, but it wasn't until he heard a fourth grader in his school in Wyoming was battling cancer. That's what prompted him to donate it to the non-profit organizations "Locks of Love." So, he got it cut at the year-end assembly in front of the whole school. Nu told our affiliate KGWN that he was a little nervous but he likes his new shorter haircut and his mom says she's happy that her son chose to donate his hair and she doesn't have to wash it anymore either, but good for him.

BLACKWELL: Benefit for everybody.

PAUL: Absolutely. Thank you for sharing your time with us this morning.

BLACKWELL: We've got much more ahead on the next hour of your "NEW DAY," it starts right now.