Mars Hill Church

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Mars Hill Church was a Christian megachurch, founded by Mark Driscoll, Lief Moi, and Mike Gunn. It was a multi-site church based in Seattle, Washington and grew from a home Bible study to 15 locations in 5 U.S. states.[1] Services were offered at its 15 locations; the church also podcast content of weekend services, and of conferences, on the Internet[2] with more than 260,000 sermon views online every week.[3] In 2013, Mars Hill had a membership of 6,489 and average weekly attendance of 12,329.[4] Due to controversy in 2014 involving founding pastor Mark Driscoll, the attendance dropped to 8,000–9,000 people per week. The church merged three of its Seattle locations and cut 30–40% of its staff to deal with decreases in giving.[5] At the end of September, 2014, an investigation by the church elders found "bullying" and "patterns of persistent sinful behavior" by Driscoll. The church elders crafted a "restoration" plan to help Driscoll and save the church. Instead, Driscoll declined the restoration plan and resigned.[6] On October 31, 2014, lead pastor Dave Bruskas announced plans to dissolve the church's 13 remaining campuses into autonomous entities, with the option of continuing, merging with other congregations, or disbanding, effective January 1, 2015.[7]


Early years[edit]

Mars Hill Church was founded in spring 1996[8] by Mark Driscoll, Lief Moi and Mike Gunn.[9] The church started at the rental house of Driscoll and his wife Grace with the blessing of Antioch Bible Church and the exodus of about 30 of its students.[10] They outgrew the apartment and started meeting in the youth rooms of another church.[8] The church had its first official service October 1996, with 160 people attending;[11] attendance quickly fell to around 60 because of discussions about the visions and mission of the church.[12]

In the spring of 1997 the church expanded to two evening services. The transition to two different congregations resulted in some anxiety and stir by members who didn't want the church to grow bigger, but it resulted in growing attendance.[13] Later that same year Mark Driscoll was invited to speak at a pastors' conference in California.[14] Driscoll's speech influenced the emerging church movement, and changed the focus from reaching Generation X to reaching the postmodern world.[15] The speech resulted in media coverage of Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll,[16] and put Driscoll in connection with Leadership Network.

The church continued growing. Inspired by Alan Roxburgh, Driscoll settled on an emerging and missional ecclesiology,[17] and a complementarian view on women in ministry. The church installed the first team of elders and they took over much of the work teaching classes, counseling and training new leaders.[18] Furthermore, the church started a course for new members, called the Gospel Class, to ensure that members were focused on the mission of the church and that they agreed with the central doctrinal statements of the church. The class has been running every quarter since.[19] In the fall of 1999 the church had grown to 350 in attendance every week and was able to pay Driscoll full-time. Prior to 1999, Driscoll operated as an unpaid pastor for three years.[20]

Multisite church[edit]

Mars Hill Church, Ballard campus, c. 2012

In 2003, Mars Hill Church moved into a renovated hardware store in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle.[21] In 2006, in an effort to reduce the overcrowding at its services, Mars Hill opened its first satellite campus in Shoreline. This change also marked their transition to a multi-site church, using video sermons and other multimedia improvements to the church's web site to connect the campuses.[21] Later in 2006 Mars Hill acquired two new properties in West Seattle and Wedgwood, which became their West Seattle and Lake City campuses.[21][22]

Since then, new Mars Hill locations were added using a multi-campus "meta-church" structure, connecting Driscoll's sermons via high-definition video to the remote campuses during weekly worship services. This format allowed each location to retain local leadership and ministries while under the leadership of the main campus. A fourth and fifth Mars Hill location opened in 2007, and in 2008 a sixth location was added in downtown Seattle. A seventh campus, in Olympia, Washington, opened in Fall 2008[23] and an eighth campus, the first outside of Washington state, opened in Albuquerque, New Mexico in Fall 2009. The church launched four new churches on January 15 in Portland (Oregon), Rainier Valley (Seattle), Sammammish (near Seattle), and Orange County (California), the same day as the first sermon in the "Real Marriage" sermon series, based on Mark and Grace Driscoll's book, Real Marriage.

On October 16, "black-clad demonstrators" gathered in front of the Mars Hill Church in Southeast Portland to "protest the church's stance on homosexuality." Approximately 20 protesters, "some of whom wore kerchiefs to cover their faces, shouted profanities at adults and children," and briefly blocked the entrance of the church.[24] Mars Hill Church Portland lead pastor Tim Smith expressed disagreement with the conduct of the protesters, but expressed defense of their right to free speech.[25]

In 2008 the church launched an online community-building network, called The City, to improve communication on all levels in the church. The City was purchased by the Christian publishing brand, Zondervan, before Christmas 2008.[26]

Church locations[edit]

Prior to disbanding on January 1, 2015, Mars Hill Church met at twelve locations, mostly in Seattle and Washington state, with three out of state locations in New Mexico, California, and Oregon. A few locations were closed or consolidated on October 12, 2014. After January 1, 2015, each church location dissolved into an independent congregation.[7] The remaining members of Mars Hill Ballard reorganized as Cross and Crown Church Seattle, led by former Mars Hill Downtown pastor Matthias Haeusel at Mars Hill's former Ballard location.[27]

Growth, influence, and disbanding[edit]

A Mars Hill Church elder/pastor delivering a sermon before performing baptisms at Seattle's Golden Gardens Park.

In 2013, The Church Guide released a list of the "Top Churches to Watch in America". The link ranked churches according to how much churches could learn from the ranked churches on particular topics. They ranked Mars Hill Church as #3 to learn from about church growth, #3 for innovation, #2 for church planting, and #4 overall. The list considered data from Outreach magazine's annual lists from 2004–2012 and other sources.[28]

In 2006, Mars Hill Church claimed $31,110,000 in assets.[29]

The Mars Hill Church network officially disbanded Thursday, January 1, 2015. Eleven of the Mars Hill Churches became independent churches and the remaining churches were dissolved. Prior to the churches disbanding, Mars Hill transferred the majority of its content from its website to where the church's sermons remain. The Mars Hill website now contains a history of the church and a church directory of the previous Mars Hill churches locations with their new names and websites.

Church leadership controversies[edit]

Structure and organization[edit]

As a result of the large growth of the church, their bylaws, which outlined how the church was organised, were rewritten more than once. The outcome of this process led to changes in leadership organization in November 2007. The new bylaws installed lead pastor Jamie Munson, preaching pastor Mark Driscoll, and pastors Scott Thomas and Tim Beltz as "executive pastors" who led the objectives of the church "under the authority of the Board of Directors," on which the executive pastors also served as directors. This change precipitated the firing of two pastors.

"Mars Hill leaders said in forum postings that one fired pastor was removed, in part, for "displaying an unhealthy distrust in the senior leadership." They said the other was removed for "disregarding the accepted elder protocol for the bylaw deliberation period" and "verbally attacking the lead pastor" — charges the fired pastor denied, the leaders added."[30]

Church reorganization in 2007[edit]

Former Mars Hill Church elders and members have criticized the church for its harshness in dealing with dissent within its leadership, citing as an example an incident during the church reorganization in 2007 where two elders disapproved of and suggested revisions to a draft version of the rewritten bylaws, which they viewed as consolidating power in the hands of Mark Driscoll and his closest aides. Both elders were disciplined and fired shortly thereafter. Church leadership instructed members of the congregation to shun the two former elders as unrepentant.[31][32] Additionally, members who have openly questioned or dissented with Mars Hill leaders have been asked to leave the church. This policy of church discipline was discussed during a lecture given on April 20, 2009 by Mark Driscoll for The Gospel Coalition.[33]

Controversy over disciplinary contracts[edit]

In early 2012 the church once again became a source of controversy over shunning and disciplinary proceeding when a young man under discipline released documents from his disciplinary contract to blogger and author Mathew Paul Turner. The documents include a discipline contract and an email from church leaders to the congregation directing them to shun him.[34][35][36]

Later leadership controversies[edit]

In 2014, Mark Driscoll was urged to step down by nine of the Mars Hill pastors in a private letter. The letter quoted respected evangelical pastor Paul Tripp as saying, of Mars Hill Church, "This is without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I’ve ever been involved with."[37]

In 2015, after the disbanding of Mars Hill, an executive elder of the church stated that "There has been much talk about the abusive and coercive culture at Mars Hill. What many people do not realize is that some of the very people who were calling for an end to this type of abuse were using abusive tactics." The executive elder stated that he was blackmailed by a staff who asked for more severance pay. He also stated that "former Mars Hill elders were working to file formal charges against me also. I was told that a former lead pastor was approached to lead a group of people who hoped to force my resignation so that I 'could not help Pastor Mark Driscoll'." [38]

Pastor and theologian John Piper referred to the controversies and subsequent church closure as a "Satanic victory."

"It was a defeat for the gospel, it was a defeat for Mark [Driscoll], it was a defeat for evangelicalism, for Reformed Theology, for complementarianism...It was a colossal Satanic victory."[39]

Response to controversies and report investigation findings[edit]

Mark Driscoll's leadership[edit]

In October 2014, a group of elders released their investigation of the accusations with "some 1,000 hours of research, interviewing more than 50 people and preparing 200 pages of information." The report concluded that Mark Driscoll had never been charged with "immorality, illegality or heresy," and considered "some of the accusations against Pastor Mark to be altogether unfair or untrue." Additionally, many of the "other charges had been previously been addressed by Pastor Mark, privately and publicly. Indeed, he had publicly confessed and apologized for a number of the charges against him, some of which occurred as long as 14 years ago."[40]

In response to the allegations, several prominent pastors publicly defended Mark Driscoll, including mega-church pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, and Gateway Church's founding pastor Robert Morris. At the 2014 Gateway Conference, Morris told the audience that he counseled Mark Driscoll directly, and that media reports were largely untrue. Morris cited recent media reports of lead pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church as experiencing similar coverage. At the conference, Mark Driscoll was invited up to the stage where he told the audience that he received death threats and that his children allegedly had rocks thrown at them. Driscoll stated that "I'm just trying to figure out how to be a good pastor to my family first."[41]

On December 28, 2014, Rick Warren gave the final Sunday sermon at Mars Hill encouraging its remaining members to "give grace" to its leaders, "You need to be grateful for all the ways that God used Mars Hill Church. Be grateful for all the ways God used Mark Driscoll." Driscoll had previously delivered a sermon at Saddleback Church the weekend Rick Warren grieved the loss of his son.[42]

Result Source contract for the Real Marriage Book[edit]

In March 2014, controversy arose over the marketing of Mark and Grace Driscoll's book Real Marriage, based on their experience of counseling couples in the church, which later became a sermon series in the church.[43] The church had contracted with the marketing firm Result Source, which utilized "bulk buying" to affect metrics on the New York Times Bestsellers list.

On March 28, 2015, a former elder of the church revealed that Driscoll had not been involved in initiating nor signing the contract with Result Source. The elder stated that the business relationship with the marketing firm was initiated by a pastor who resigned shortly thereafter, and remaining church leaders disagreed over the completion of the contract, stating that it would reflect badly on the church and Mark Driscoll.[44]

Plagiarism allegations[edit]

The church was also affected by a series of controversies in 2013 and 2014, including allegations of plagiarism. However, the publisher Tyndale House denounced the allegations stating that Mark Driscoll adequately cited the work of Peter Jones. "Tyndale rejects the claims that Mark Driscoll tried to take Peter Jones's ideas and claim them as his own." [45]

Mars Hill Global Fund[edit]

In June 2014 an online petition asked Sutton Turner of Mars Hill Church and Dan Busby of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability where the money raised through Mars Hill Global Fund actually went. The church reported that "Mars Hill Church began to use the term 'Global Fund' to solicit gifts restricted for 'capital development and expansion'. As communicated in the Global Newsletter on July 7, 2009, the Global Fund was used to raise resources for the following purposes: 'start new Mars Hill campuses, plant new Acts 29 churches, and equip leaders at the Resurgence Training Center'. In the 2009-2011 time frame, over 80% of the funds given to the “Global Fund” went to Acts 29 church planting, with additional funds used for the Resurgence Training Center and church planting in India." Additionally, "subsequent to June 1, 2012, in early July 2014, Mars Hill Church sent approximately 6,000 letters and 3,765 emails to individuals who had made gifts as a global donor subsequent to June 1, 2012. In these communications, Mars Hill Church offered to redirect the donor’s gifts, made as a global donor during this time period, specifically for planting churches in Ethiopia or India." [46]

Acts 29 Church Planting Network[edit]

Acts 29 Church Planting Network[47] is a separate 501(c)(3) from Mars Hill Church but was founded by Mars Hill in 2001. It is an interdenominational network of pastors and churches from around the world whose focus is to assess and equip qualified leaders, plant new churches, and rejuvenate declining churches. The current president of Acts 29 is Matt Chandler. The offices and leadership of Acts 29 moved from Mars Hill Church in Seattle to The Village Church in Texas in March 2012.[48] In August 2014, Acts 29 removed Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church from the network.[49]

The Resurgence[edit][50] was an outgrowth of the teaching ministry at Mars Hill Church. The intent of the ministry was to provide a large repository of free missional theology resources in hopes of serving the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ in culture. Additionally, Resurgence announced that starting in 2008 they began publishing a line of books called Re:Lit (Resurgence Literature) in partnership with Crossway.

The Resurgence website ceased operation mid January 2015, approximately 2 weeks after the disbanding of the Mars Hill Church network. Although the website is no longer accessible the content is available as part of the Mars Hill Church archiving effort.


  1. ^ Rose Egge (2008-07-14). "Mars Hill Church one of nation's fastest growing". Ballard News-Tribune. Archived from the original on 2008-08-03. Retrieved 2008-10-04. 
  2. ^ "Mars Hill Church Media Library". Mars Hill Church. Archived from the original on October 13, 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-17. 
  3. ^ Ronald E. Keener. "Seattle is among the least churched cities in America". Church Executive. Archived from the original on January 24, 2011. Retrieved October 4, 2008. 
  4. ^ "2013 ANNUAL REPORT" (PDF). Mars Hill Church. 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 19, 2014. Retrieved 1 September 2014. 
  5. ^ "Mars Hill to consolidate 3 Seattle churches, cut staff". The Seattle Times. September 7, 2014. Retrieved September 7, 2014. 
  6. ^ Connelly, Joel (Oct 19, 2014). "The pastor's "persistent sinful behavior": Why Driscoll quit Mars Hill". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved Oct 19, 2014. 
  7. ^ a b Connelly, Joel (Oct 31, 2014). "Mars Hill will dissolve into 'individual, self-governed churches'". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved Oct 31, 2014. 
  8. ^ a b Driscoll, Confessions, p 38.
  9. ^ Driscoll, Confessions, p 54.
  10. ^ Archived from the original on October 16, 2013. Retrieved February 19, 2016.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. ^ Driscoll, Confessions, p 76: "Between 160 and 200 had shown up for our big kick off service."
  12. ^ Driscoll, Confessions, p 82-83: "Though our church was brand-new, we had already lost focus of our mission [...] Our attendance had declined to about sixty or seventy people..."
  13. ^ Dricoll, Confessions, p 93: "Since we still could not find a Sunday morning location, we decided to split our 6:00 p.m. service into two services [...] When I told our people that we were going to grow beyond 150 people and expand to two services, some of them freaked out."
  14. ^ "Generation X...Three Myths and Realities" (PDF). Leadership Network. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 19, 2010. Retrieved 2008-11-09. 
  15. ^ Driscoll, Confessions, p 98: "And it shifted the conversation from reaching Generation X to the emerging mission of reaching postmodern culture."
  16. ^ Driscoll, Confessions, p 98: "I was not prepared for the media onslaught that came shortly thereafter. Before I knew it, National Public Radio was interviewing me, Mother Jones magazine did a feature on our church, Pat Robertson's 700 Club gave me a plaque for being America's "Church of the Week" and did a television story on us, other media outlets started asking for interviews, large denominations were asking me to be a consultant..."
  17. ^ Driscoll, Confessions, p 108: "I began wrestling with his basic concept and came up with the following emerging and missional ecclesiology, which has governed our church ever since."
  18. ^ Driscoll, Confessions, p 110-111.
  19. ^ Driscoll, Confessions, p 112: "The Gospel Class is anA series of Bible studies that I taught to ground our people in our essential doctrines and missiology... The class has run every quarter since it began."
  20. ^ Driscoll, Confessions, p 113-116.
  21. ^ a b c "Mars Hill - History". Archived from the original on August 19, 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-08. 
  22. ^ "Mars Hill Church | Lake City » Welcome to Mars Hill Lake City". Archived from the original on October 15, 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-08. 
  23. ^ "Parishioners connect at new campus of Mars Hill Church". The Olympian. Retrieved 14 October 2014. [dead link]
  24. ^ "Protesters demonstrate against Mars Hill Church in Southeast Portland". Oregon Live. Retrieved 2011-10-16. 
  25. ^ "Mars Hill Church Portland Faces Protest Over Stance on Homosexuality". Christian Post. Retrieved 2011-10-17. 
  26. ^ "Zondervan Acquires Online Community-Building Resource for Churches - The City". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on April 26, 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-07. 
  27. ^ "Cross and Crown Church". 
  28. ^ "Top Churches to Watch in America" (PDF). The Church Guide. 2013. Retrieved 20 Apr 2014.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  29. ^ Kiley, Brendan. "Church or Cult? The Control-Freaky Ways of Mars Hill Church". The Stranger. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  30. ^ Tu, Janet I. (2007-11-18). "Firing of pastors roils Mars Hill Church". Seattle Times. Archived from the original on 2009-01-13. Retrieved 2008-12-17. 
  31. ^ Spangenthal-Lee, Jonah (November 22, 2007). "Fired and Brimstone: Mars Hill Megachurch Has No Room for Two Dissenting Pastors". The Stranger. 
  32. ^ Worthen, Molly. "Who Would Jesus Smackdown?". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-01-06. 
  33. ^ "Gospel Coalition 2009 - Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth". The Gospel Coalition. Retrieved 2009-08-22. 
  34. ^ Turner, Matthew Paul (Jan 24, 2012). "Mark Driscoll's Church Discipline Contract: Looking For True Repentance at Mars Hill Church? Sign on the Dotted Line". Jesus Needs New PR. 
  35. ^ "Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll faces backlash over church discipline case.". Slate Magazine. 10 February 2012. Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  36. ^ "Mars Hill church again a source of controversy". KOMO News. Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  37. ^ Bailey, Sarah Pulliam (August 28, 2014). "Pastors' letter on Mark Driscoll: Step down from all aspects of ministry and leadership". Religion News Service. Retrieved August 28, 2014. 
  38. ^ "When to Quit". 
  39. ^ "John Piper Calls Mark Driscoll Scandal a Satanic Victory, But Says God Uses Tactical Defeats to Further the Gospel". Gospel Herald. Retrieved 2015-08-03. 
  40. ^ "Pastor Mark Driscoll's Resignation". Retrieved 14 October 2014. [dead link]
  41. ^ "Former Mars Hill Pastor Mark Driscoll Reports Death Threats Attacks at His Home". 
  42. ^ "Rick Warren Tells Mars Hill Congregation On Its Final Sunday: Don't Be Bitter". 
  43. ^ "Real Marriage series at Mars Hill". [dead link]
  44. ^ "Former Mars Hill elder gives inside story of controversial plan to boost Mark Driscoll's book sales". [dead link]
  45. ^ "Tyndale Releases Results of Mark Driscoll Plagiarism". Tyndale House. December 18, 2013. 
  46. ^ "Answering Financial Questions". Retrieved 19 November 2014. [dead link]
  47. ^ "Acts 29 Network". Acts 29 Network. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  48. ^ "Acts 29 Network >". Archived from the original on June 28, 2014. Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  49. ^ "A Message from the Board of Acts 29 Concerning Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church". Acts 29 Network. Archived from the original on August 10, 2014. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  50. ^ "The Resurgence". Retrieved 14 October 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]