The Megapopular Churches That Celebrity and Instagram Built

Hillsong Church NYC: A Bit of an Outlier

I saved this one for last because it’s a little different than the others. Part of the Hillsong churches movement, which originated in Australia under Brian Houston’s leadership, one could argue the draw of the Hillsong movement (and its music) laid the foundation of Hillsong NYC church, while social media and celebrity sightings grew and grew it.

Started in 2010, the church has spread from the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan to locations in New Jersey, Connecticut and Boston. The church sees about 9,000 attendees each week. On Instagram, the church has 252,000 followers.

Pastor Carl Lentz is no stranger to celebrity. Also a pal of Bieber, he has appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s program to explain the premise of Christianity. In 2017, he appeared on Dr. Oz’s show to give a brief message on the importance of prayer.

Hillsong NYC has seen a handful of celebrities darken their door. Bono, Nick Jonas, Bieber and his fiancé Hailey Baldwin have all attended services. In fact, Lentz was the one who baptized Bieber.

Despite all the celebrity sightings, Hillsong NYC’s social media pages seem a little less promotional than the others do. Perhaps this is because the church has a few more years under their belt compared to Vous and Zoe. That’s not to say their posts aren’t polished. While a surprising majority of Hillsong NYC’s Instagram posts could also double as a clothing company’s promotional page, nestled in their posts featuring hip, young New Yorkers are nuts and bolts messages about service times changing and upcoming events.

Is This the Future of the Church: Celebrity Pastors and Polished Instagram Feeds?

While it can be tempting to look through the Instagram feeds of “celebrity pastors” such as these and judge, at best all we have is an outsider’s view of these ministries. It’s hard to say what is being taught week after week in sermons, small groups and Bible studies without being a member of the churches. The social media posts are simply a method of reaching people.

And the people these churches are trying to reach use social media. ALL THE TIME. Tomorrow the method may need to change. What is left after the celebrity sightings and the social media buzz die down will be the heart of the church, and as with every church on the planet, there is a mix of people who are there for the right reasons and those who are not.

As popular as these pastors are, they are no replacement for the local church with a pastor who lives in the physical community. I’m not saying one is better than the other. I’m just saying perhaps in our social-media-driven world we need both.

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Megan Briggs
Megan Briggs is a writer and editor for ChurchLeaders.com. Her experience in ministry, an extensive amount of which was garnered overseas, gives her a unique perspective on the global church. She has the longsuffering and altruistic nature of foreign friends and missionaries to humbly thank for this experience. Megan is passionate about seeking and proclaiming the truth. When she’s not writing, Megan likes to explore God’s magnificent creation.