The Branding of Mars Hill

Branding"the process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumers' mind, mainly through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme. Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers"

Mars Hill is back in the news once again in order to issue an apology. We’ll get to that in just a bit… First a little background information.

In late August The Seattle Times published an article entitled “Mars Hill Empire Expands”. (link)  Here are several pertinent excerpts from that article:

"Toward the end of last year, Seattle-based Mars Hill Church announced that in addition to opening a campus in Everett, it would be opening one in Portland and another in Orange County, Calif."

"Mars Hill's expansion has been marked by grand ambitions, technological and business savvy, entrepreneurial energy — and, some would say, occasionally heavy-handed business dealings."

"For a church to go into a faraway city requires either prior connections, strong media exposure or "a national reputation with a distinctive brand," Bird said. 'Mars Hill is the latter.' "

Yes, Mars Hill has become a distinctive brand as it duplicates itself around the country.  One of the ways it has accomplished this is by filing an application last August to trademark its name and logo (we assume prior to its expansion).  Yes, we're talking about a church here and not a business, right?

Here is what happened next, as explained in a Mars Hill blog post:

"We’re not the only church called Mars Hill, and occasionally there arises confusion between us and other churches that share the “Mars Hill” name, particularly as we now have our churches in four states. This was the case recently when one of our members called us to find out if we had planted Mars Hill churches in the Sacramento, California area. We had not, but when we went to these churches’ websites, it was obvious to us how people could be confused. Each of these three connected churches in the Sacramento region—planted in 2006, 2007, and 2010—bore the “Mars Hill” name and their logo was substantially similar to the logo we’ve used since 1996."

Given that the Mars Hill Church of Seattle was branching out in California, what could it do to establish its brand in a new market?   The church elders and attorneys decided to protect the Mars Hill name and logo by sending a Cease and Desist letter to Mars Hill Community Church in Sacramento.  Christianity Today discussed this fiasco in an article entitled "The Story Behind the Mars Hill Trademark Dispute". (link)

The CT article begins as follows:

"Seattle's prominent Mars Hill Church says the way it handled a Sacramento, California, church's similar name and logo was a mistake. The California church, meanwhile, has promised to redesign its logo and website.

Officials from the Ballard, Washington, multisite church say a member called attention to the Sacramento church's website, asking if the churches were connected. When elders saw a logo similar to their own, which has been in use since 1996, they sent a cease-and-desist letter to Sacramento's Mars Hill Community Church, which has three locations if its own. Mars Hill Seattle filed an application to trademark its name and logo in August.

'The purpose of including both the name and logo in our filing, as opposed to just our name or just our M logo, is to allow us to prevent other churches from combining a 'Mars Hill' name with a substantially similar logo, like what we saw with the Mars Hill churches in Sacramento,' said Mike Anderson, director of communications at the Seattle-area church, which is pastored by Mark Driscoll. 'We are not concerned with other Mars Hill churches unless their logo and branding is [similar to] ours. Based on our research, there were no other such churches.' "

After the Mars Hill (Seattle) elders admitted to their grievous error and the Sacramento church agreed to change its logo and website, Mars Hill Community senior pastor Scott Hagan shared his thoughts with Charisma News. (link)

Here is some of what Hagan expressed in a heartfelt statement:

"I want to express my thanks for the several calls, voice mails and texts I received over the weekend from the pastoral leadership team at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Their words and explanations were both gracious and believable. I hope you will find my words the same as I try to be both detailed and brief.

The issue of the Cease and Desist Letter seemed to strike a raw nerve in the broader body of Christ…

I want to confirm that three staff members from Mars Hill Seattle called and asked forgiveness for any stress and confusion that was caused by the letter we received from the Stokes & Lawrence law firm…

Both Chris Pledger and Dave Bruskas were clear and sincere that the proper step should have been to call us first. We accepted their apology and would like the Mars Hill Seattle congregation to know that your leaders took this step (We are assuming on behalf of pastor Mark Driscoll). They assured us they would not seek any type of legal action, even though they did apply for and were awarded a federal trademark in August of this year for both the name and the logo design. Mars Hill Seattle also posted on their blog late Saturday night a message of clarity and grace. It was greatly appreciated.

Our concern stemmed from a letter we received from Stokes & Lawrence asking that we cease all use of our name, domain names and all artwork. The letter stated we had a two-week window for compliance. It was very unsettling knowing that, if enforced by a court (which it appears it could), it would cost our ministry and our two satellite plants thousands of dollars to rebrand, redesign, reprint and re-educate our regions of the changes."

Please click on the Charisma News link and read all of Hagan's statement because it is very eye-opening.  We are extremely impressed with the graciousness of Pastor Hagan and believe he models Christ's humility far better than Driscoll and his crowd. 

To read about this debacle from the Mars Hill (Seattle) perspective, here is the explanation provided on its blog.

We were going to include a photo of the Mars Hill (Seattle) logo, but since they are so protective of their special "M", we decided not to take a chance on getting in trouble with their attorneys, after all, it's trademarked…

For those of you wondering where Mars Hill is mentioned in the Bible, here is the verse.

"Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious."  Acts 17:22 (KJV)

When I think of the Mars Hill mentioned in this verse, I think of worldliness. Perhaps Driscoll’s Mars Hill is more like the Mars Hill in the book of Acts than I ever imagined. Sadly, the logo / trademark debacle may be just the tip of the iceberg… 

Lydia's Corner:  2 Chronicles 24:1-25:28    Romans 12:1-21    Psalm 22:19-31    Proverbs 20:8-10


The Branding of Mars Hill — 75 Comments

  1. Deb
    Good article and good night! BTW, the real Mars Hill logo is Mark Driscoll and that is one logo that should have attached the warning: tither beware.

  2. Deb
    There seems to be one person distinctly missing from the elders phone calls to the Sacramento church.
    Where was old Mark in all of this???

    Did Mark Driscoll, the wind beneath the sails guy, make a call or was he a bit too busy checking his wife’s emails?

  3. 1. I have a bit of a problem with a church being BRANDED. Corporations and consumer products, sure. But churches? Unless, of course, they’re merely selling a product…

    2. You know, despite all the hundreds (thousands?) of First Baptists, First Presbyterians, St. Marks, Sacred Hearts, etc., out there, people seem to have no problems telling them apart. I don’t even assume that two different First Baptists or First Presbyterians are in the same denomination.

    3. Too bad some enterprising pastor didn’t think to trademark any of the above names!

  4. Amanda: I think Driscoll’s church is trying to operate like a franchise corporation – think Dunkin’ Donuts or McDonald’s.

  5. Pingback: Feel-the-love department | Civil Commotion

  6. Tom

    If I were you, I would accept ads on this one. You could make a killing. Are you branding your name, yet? Just remember who your friends were when you just another “little guy” before you joined the ranks of crack investigative reporters! GO DAWG!

  7. Amanda
    These churches are not involved in pastoral ministry. They are merely involved as middle men to push a product from the famous pastor. If you note, from what I can tell, macho Driscoll hid behind the skirts of his elders (sarcasm intended) and let them deal with the fall out. I believe that he was behind this big time and his fragile girlie ego got wounded. To even consider this sort of act shows the depths of problems in this ministry, and especially with Driscoll. Hmmmm, maybe he’ll come after us for claiming he has a girlie ego next.

  8. Numo

    And from what i can tell, the meals are just as nutritious… (I see rapes and molestations….)

  9. In my research of the Mars Hill logo fiasco, I came across an interesting blog post written by one of our readers — Wenatchee the Hatchet.

    Mars Hill Church as a trademark, probably another sign it’s a denomination/institution/franchise

    Here are the highlights:

    “A cease and desist order to a church calling itself Mars Hill down in Sacramento suggests any number of things. One is that those people down in Sacramento may have lived in some special bubble world where the internet doesn’t exist. Two, those people have also lived in a part of the United States where Mars Hill, whether a Driscoll brand or a Bell brand, hadn’t gotten much notice in the last fifteen years.

    And brand is exactly what comes up. Mars Hill just turned fifteen years old recently and is no longer just in Seattle. It is present in three states and multiple campuses exist. It is, as I have been saying, a denomination. If Driscoll and the elders at Mars Hill ever wanted to imagine Mars Hill would not become another denomination or institution a cease and desist order to a group of uncreative church planters in Sacramento should put to rest any doubt about the institutional and denominational nature of Mars Hill now. Even as far back as about 2003 when people would ask me what Mars Hill was like I’d say, “Basically Calvinist Baptist without dispensationalism, which I’m okay with.” Well, I was at the time, obviously.

    Well, if the cease and desist letter is legit then congratuations, Driscoll, Mars Hill is a denomination that can use its branding and trademark as leverage against little start-up churches like the one you planted fifteen years ago. And, legally speaking, this “can” be done, but along the way you have to concede that the little church you planted has become the denominational institution that throws its weight around to make little churches fall into line. It has become the kind of church and institution you used to complain about. Citing trademark to tell a little church in Sacramento to cease and desist is a case where a big megachurch tells a little start-up what it can’t do on account of branding and trademark. Doesn’t that sound like a big ol’ institution telling a sincere little group of godly guys with a vision for missional community that they have to jump through some hoops?

    One of the great ironies about Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill in the last fifteen years has been watching Driscoll and his church turn by steps from a little church plant that met in his house into a massive institution, a denomination and a brand.”

  10. Deb
    Complete with its own CEO who gets many perks. The faith is looking more and more like Wall Street. We have redesigned Christ in our own image – American success at its finest.

  11. As a business owner who has had to send a few cease and desist letters to various entities trying to impersonate the company, this is a very aggressive action and is done only when the imposter company is perceived to be a big threat.

  12. Pingback: The Branding of Mars Hill | The Wartburg Watch |

  13. J. Terry,

    Thanks for chiming in about cease and desist letters. I am grateful that Driscoll’s church has come under scrutiny for its callous action.

  14. The thing that amuses me about Deb’s choice of photo for the post is… that Disney is incredibly aggressive about going after perceived violations of its trademarks and copyrights – including characters.

    So there’s a double dose of irony in that Mickey Mouse shirt.

  15. This statement on the Mars Hill Church blog is laughable: When cases like this arise in the business world, it’s customary for a law office to send a notice asking the other organization to adjust their branding to differentiate it.”

    It’s not customary to send cease and desist letters- it’s costly and time consuming for the company. Law offices don’t just “send” a notice- they have to be contracted and instructed by the company to do so. Cease and desist letters do not “ask the other organization to adjust their branding to differentiate it” they demand it under threat of further legal action, and always for the purpose of ceasing (immediately) and desisting (from any further use of).

  16. doubtful

    Infallible is not the same thing as wooden inerrancy. For example, if I say the sun is rising, then I am factually incorrect. But, the truth of my statement is understood. Another example is the mustard seed which is not the smallest seed in the world as stated in the Bible. Yet, it was the smallest seed know to the people of that day. The Scripture is infallible in it’s pronouncement in that matter since Jesus was making a point that a small amount to faith can do great things.

  17. J Teryy
    I believe you are correct in your assessment about the extreme nature of this response. Why? Because Mark Driscoll is being protected by the elders. Note- he is not being spoken of at all in this matter. It was a really, really dumb thing to do and everybody knows it. Does anyone really think that the elders did this without Driscoll’s involvement. He was probably leading the charge.

    The elders appear to be taking the fall for what was highly likely Driscoll’s decision. This macho pastor appears to be hiding behind his elders skirts.

  18. Wenatchee The Hatchet,

    Thanks for those links. I also read the comments.

    If anyone wants to see the two logos side-by-side, click on the first link. This whole situation is ridiculous!

  19. Dee I think you are correct in assuming that any legal action taken by the church would have to be ok’d by the head pastor. I never cease to be amazed at the stupid things that churches do, try to get away with,and how they explain their actions when they’re caught. Some of these pastors would never cut it with a job in the real world, their decision making process is so skewed.

  20. Large corporations routinely send cease and desist letters over potential copyright infringements, without prior contact. They have to, otherwise they can be accused of not enforcing their brand rights and end up losing them by default. That doesn’t mean a church should do it to another church, but it just shows the corporate mentality of some churches. I also doubt that the Sr. Pastor of a mega church that sent such a letter would have any prior knowledge of it, just as a large corporation CEO would not. They have legal minions for that stuff.

  21. It’s doubtful that Driscoll had anything to do with the letter being sent because he has a long history of delegating actual administrative work to other people so he can focus on vision stuff and creating content. Driscoll has at times overlooked details in sermon notes on things as simple as attributing to Boaz that he read from Psalms that were written by David, his great-great grandson before having those things pointed out to him. The church operated for several years without any by-laws at all so I’m with Evidence in doubting that Driscoll was much involved. I do however think it is very likely a “concerned member” contacted Mars Hill leadership because they thought the logo must have been an infringement of some kind.

  22. Having reviewed the two logos, I believe that the California churches would have won the trademark suit had it been brought. Trouble is, they might have had to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so. I think the moral and ethical thing for Driscoll’s church to do is to revoke that concession by the California church and let them have their logo, which is surely sufficiently different to avoid confusion.

  23. Arce
    You are suggesting a Christian response. That might be a little difficult for a guy who believes you should punch people who disagree with you in the nose.

  24. Ted
    I’m with you. I’ve seen this pattern before. The elders take the hit for the pastor who must be protected at all costs.

  25. The thing is not all stupid ideas and bad moves made by and within Mars Hill have a strictly top down origin from Driscoll. The courtship fad got some support from a prominent member who had widely sought after daughters. All the elders signed off on the 2005 capital campaign despite outside business owners warning them to not pursue that project because of land zoning difficulties. Then there are the various messes caused by not-entirely-competent counseling pastors.

    It’s not always as simple as Driscoll being protected by an elder group that takes the hit. In some cases they were all that arrogant and foolhardy. In other cases elders who raised questions about the viability of the courtship fad were just ignored. The courtship fad wouldn’t have had the shelf life it had there if there weren’t a prominent member who liked to throw his weight around saying that’s how his family did things. He also happened to have attractive daughters who were widely sought after. But in the end the courtship fad was bluster without substance backed by inattentive control freak dads who wanted either retroactive or pre-emptive veto power on decisions only their daughters could make.

    The thing I’ve seen on the Mars Hill and ex-Mars Hill side of things here in Seattle is a temptation to self-justifying revisionist history based on an assumption of being correct by both groups. I don’t trust the judgment of either constituency without reservations.

  26. No, I think that’s an easy assumption to make, though. The executive elders are more probably chosen not because they resemble Driscoll but because they don’t resemble him. He needs actually thoughtful and competent planners to implement his vision. If Driscoll only ever picked executive elders who were made in his image Mars Hill wouldn’t have survived long enough to be a subject for this blog. The post-2007 leadership structure allows Driscoll to be divested of the responsibility of actual management while still retaining executive level control in decision-making. It’s like a CEO of a firm who can do all the vision casting and raising money by being the public face of the company while leaving the rest of the officers to actually run the company. He doesn’t particularly need to know that much of what’s going on so long as he feels he can make all the important decisions and his executives can make sure what he wants done gets done.

    Most executive elders selected within the last four years have been outsiders brought into executive leadership with no real prior connection to Mars Hill. The lower tier elders are probably still all self-nominated from within the organization and membership rosters. But there hasn’t been a process of public announcement of candidacy and time for members to question the nomination (that I know of) in a while. I’m not aware that even circa 2002-2006 that there were many cases where a man nominated himself to be an elder and was not considered except in a case where the man couldn’t have been in the country enough to viably perform the roles expected of a pastoral office there.

  27. W Hatchet

    So, are you saying that the church is being run by outsiders brought in? By who? When I see something like this last incident, it does seem to me that it is run like an American corporation and not a living, breathing church body. How come the guys brought in are higher and the local church elders, self nominated are “lower” level elders? Also, are you saying that Driscoll had absolutely nothing to do with this branding thing? Why not? Is he too busy receiving visions of people being raped and molested? This whole thing seems a bit bizarre to me. I think I need to reread the book, Pagan Christianity.

  28. “Implement his vision”

    I don’t know if these are Driscoll’s words or thoughts, but I have certainly heard other leader’s assert these types of phrases like “our vision, my vision, our purpose.” It often comes across as if this person or group has some “inside” knowledge of what God is doing. I guess it looks like Mars Hill does think that way if they feel the need to protect “their logo.”

    Do their actions speak volumes about where their heart is?

    I am growing weary of hearing these phrases from leaders. All Believers are of one body and we’re all called to the same mission. Jesus didn’t leave us with multiple missions (unless I missed something?). Why does it seem like spreading the “good news” has been reduced to “my piece of the pie?” I’m not just speaking logo’s here either. We could consider specific theologies, logo’s (sheesh), methods of sharing the gospel, etc. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over this stuff sometimes.

    I wonder what God, along with Jesus at his side, thinks of all this (nonsense?)?

  29. I find it hard to believe that “outsiders” have much – if any – influence on Driscoll.

    (Putting it mildly…)

  30. One more thing . . . so we have church leaders lording over their flock and now do we have Mega (or wanna be Mega’s) lording it over other churches?

    Yes, I’m ranting – sorry.

  31. Yes, I’m saying most executive leadership since 2007 has been brought in from outside in terms of member history. Most of the executive elders since 2007 have been brought in from other church and parachurch ministries and did not (to my knowledge anyway) have any observable history with Mars Hill prior to being brought on board). Since I’m not a member any more I can’t confirm who has been bringing these outside leaders in but it would be a relatively safe guess that Driscoll (and previously Munson and Thomas and others) brought in or suggested candidates for executive eldership in the last few years in addition to Driscoll finding people himself.

    Mars Hill as a whole and Driscoll in particular seem to be committed to growing as fast as possible as long as possible. This means that the church has had a history of being committed to growth at a rate that has been faster than 1) it’s ability to competently develop and maintain its own infrastructural stability and 2) to cultivate and sustain a viable and consistent donor base as a non-profit. Outside executive leadership is a concession that Mars Hill leaders (including Driscoll himself) fundamentally lack the competence to keep the church growing at the rate Driscoll wants the church growing without running into annual budget shortfalls. That’s my take, for what little it is probably worth.

    Having spent about a decade connected to Mars Hill I’ve seen that Driscoll tends to have spent a lot of time on sermon content but more often blogging content and book materials recycling content from his 2001-2006 period. I’m not suggesting Driscoll has nothing to do with branding but I am suggesting that it’s too easy to assume Driscoll is the ultimate puppet master when ex-members who have retained connections to the church are in a position to suggest that a lot more things are delegated than may appear.

    What has happened in several settings is that Driscoll will pick someone to accomplish task A after making public statements within the church about what A is supposed to be. After a year or three when A is accomplished or is not accomplished in a satisfactory way leaders get transitioned out. At the level of staff it’s common for deacons and staff to be brought on to paid positions and then laid off within a year because of budget shortfalls. For about five years it was common for the church to fall short of budget projections to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars. When push came to shove the decision was often in favor of technological upgrades than to keep people on staff.

    The assumption of some ex-Mars Hill members is that people get fired and shunned but this is not always true. These ex-members are potentially reading their own bitter experiences on to all other cases without bothering to investigate things, or willing to believe rumors and assumptions. There are ex-pastors who have been retransitioned back into formal pastoral work (Shavey, McKinley and Munson are relatively recent examples though they may not necessarily have jobs now or in a few months for all I know). Other ex-pastors (Noriega, apparently) are still connected to a Mars Hill campus/church. Because I stay in touch with my friends at Mars Hill I know that ex-pastors do not all vanish out of the Mars Hill network the way some famously fired pastors have because of getting shunned.

    Now Driscoll could be delegating brand enforcement to the actual administrative leads within the organization while working with other people to find new places to extend the brand, working out new book deals, and similar content. He’s gearing up for a book tour to promote “Real Marriage” and has come back from a conference with fellow manly pastor Doug Wilson.

    Or he “could” be micromanaging every little detail in every controversy people here imagine he must be. As I tried pointed out in my reference to the 2005 capital campaign if Driscoll were actually as involved in real research of legal and business issues the 1.5 million dollar boondoggle in Ballard probably wouldn’t have been purchased. Lots of infrastructural and financial mistakes get made in a church like Mars Hill but if meteoric growth is kept up then the systemic failures of the leadership structure can be glossed over because the brand can be considered to be growing too fast to fail.

  32. “To the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars” says more than you might have intended it to say, W…

  33. W the Hatchet

    Wow, you know so much.Thank you for taking the time to explain all of this. So, he hung out with Doug Wilson. Now there is a combination. Wilson is quite bizarre so he probably relates well to Driscoll.

    You said “I’ve seen that Driscoll tends to have spent a lot of time on sermon content” If you look back, I believe we have a comment by Driscoll that he spent about 2 hours on his Sunday sermon while watching a ball game. I have not been impressed with “deep” content but maybe that’s not what people want from him.

    As I have said before, I think there is something “wrong” with Driscoll and I believe there will be a break down one day.

  34. Eagle – I think we agree on a lot of things… including McLean Bible. (I avoided it, to save my skin and brain and all – though I did end up in some D.C.-area charismatic churches that got very, very weird.)

    I suppose one of the differences is that I am still Christian… though now I feel free of the weight of oppressive churches. (I’m still not a member anywhere, though that might change, given time.)

  35. Eagle (again) – we have had similar experiences, as far as I can tell from your comments.

    So … as far as I’m concerned, you’ve got the freedom to ask all the questions you want; to believe, not believe, or be somewhere in between. Lots of us have been there, done that and are still dealing with fallout. It took me 5+ years to get to a point where I felt like I was beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

  36. “…As I have said before, I think there is something “wrong” with Driscoll and I believe there will be a break down one day…”

    You’re right Dee. Like a fault line that’s long overdue. And when the doo-doo does hit the fan, it’ll be 6:00 o’clock news worthy.

  37. In the past, a church’s brand was essentially its denominational connection. If a church was part of a denomination, that affiliation was the church’s identification, marketing etc.

    But people have been reacting cooly in greater and greater numbers as the years go by. People don’t like denominational rules, power plays etc.

    So, more churches are independent. More thought is given to church names, logos, etc. That’s the part of the church that John Q. Public sees. I believe it is important for churches to give this some thought and to put their best foot forward.

    So branding is here to stay – unless denominations become more popular once again, which I doubt.

    That means that intellectual property laws will become more important in the days ahead. But churches need to be careful when relying on and using these laws to protect their rights. It seems that Mars Hill was not in this case.

  38. I’ve never suggested Driscoll doesn’t know, I’ve been pointing out that Driscoll is not necessarily the active participant in a cease and desist letter situation. Delegating these kinds of activities to other leaders insulates him from having to bear any brunt for a decision that turns out to be stupid or ill-advised whether it was his idea or not. I attended Mars Hill from late 1999 to late 2008. I saw the church grow from about 140 people to about 3,000. I m anaged to learn and observe a few things about the place before I moved on to another church.

    numo, I intended to say what I said about budget problems at Mars Hill. Driscoll would mention significant budget shortfalls from the pulpit and urge members to tithe and bring out statistics on how few members were tithing. I’ve been friends with people at Mars Hill who had jobs and then had them cut even as new furniture was purchased. Misguided property investments and recurring budget shortfalls leading to mass layoffs were one of many reasons I opted not to renew my membership. There were several other reasons but I don’t want to bore people with those in this discussion thread. What I do try to do is bring in information and background that is often missing in discussions of Mars Hill from both fans and detractors alike. There was a point when Driscoll was not buying his own hype quite so much and I’ve gotten to know people from the first families that participated in Mars Hill. A lot can change in fifteen years. The place I joined that was co-founded by Driscoll, Moi and Gunn was gone a long time ago.

  39. W – that’s a LOT of money you’re talking about. I can’t envision any church in the area where I live being party to such sums (not joking).

    megachurches are a whole different world – like megaplex entertainment centers combined with pushy car salesman tactics. Not my cuppa!


    Eagle: yes, my social life was kaput, with a very few exceptions. But there was a gag rule affecting me for a while, too. (Long, long story – it was pretty damned awful.)

  40. “Misguided property investments…”

    Just does not compute in these parts re. church. Seriously – I don’t understand this; it’s completely business-oriented. (by which I mean very much for-profit.)

  41. There was a time when the leaders thought the building they bought in Ballard near the central Ballard campus would be campus 2 but that turned out to be a bust when they learned they hadn’t fully investigated land use and zoning codes for the property. It would have been far too expensive to refit the property for use as an actual church campus and so it got used as a rehearsal space, office space, and some parts may have been rented out. The glass half-full types said that the space was being used as efficiently and effectively as it could be under the circumstances but when members found out the gap between the projected vision and the actual state of the project a lot of members (including me) were very disappointed. I know people who left Mars Hill and are now Eastern Orthodox and a parish may have an annual budget that amounts to just ONE WEEK of tithes and offerings at Mars Hill and that would be just counting morning services.

    Having said that, it can be pretty easy to assume it’s a business venture. I’ve met enough people at Mars Hill that they don’t see it as a purely business venture, not most of them. I’ve seen a lot of people at the church (current and former members) who have a lot of vision without a lot of competent follow-through. There was a non-profit that got started by some well-meaning folks at Mars Hill that sputtered out and didn’t really amount to very much. I wouldn’t say the idea was a bad idea but it was, in its way, typical of Mars Hill as a church culture, excited at the prospect of doing something that seems new without realizing that reinventing the wheel comes at the price of efficiency and competence. A pastor once had a project where he put the entire Greek NT and OT on a website with a whole mass of tools for Bible study. It was a wonderfully designed site and a great idea. Problem was the pastor didn’t think through that the project was in violation of a major copyright on a critical manuscript collection held by an internationally well-known Bible society. So the whole website had to go down.

    These are just two case studies of smaller projects pursued by people in Mars Hill that exemplify one of the cultural problems in the church as a whole. Running after a vision of doing big things without adding up all the realities of getting the thing done in a sensible way has sort of been in the air at Mars Hill to a point where even side projects pursued by current and former members reflect that.

  42. Wenatchee The Hatchet,

    So glad you joined this discussion! Your insights are extremely invaluable. Can there be any doubt that Mars Hill is more of a business enterprise than a ministry?

  43. Anonymous

    That was a great comment. Denominational loyalty has waned and you may be correct that it will never return. Besides the branding of individual churches, there is also a branding of groups with theology identity-for example the Gospel Coalition. More and more churches are affiliating with such a group. Could it be that “First Baptist by Gospel Coalition” is not far behind? Could there be unofficial denominations?

  44. W the Hatchet

    You said “I’ve been friends with people at Mars Hill who had jobs and then had them cut even as new furniture was purchased. Misguided property investments and recurring budget shortfalls leading to mass layoffs were one of many reasons I opted not to renew my membership.”

    It is now very trendy to set up a church with perfect coffee bars, fancy seating (better than most movie houses), great equipment, etc. Recently I sent out a tweet that giving is down, in general, and that the money is being used for fancy facilities and less and less is being used for missions, relief efforts, etc. Many churches are turning into
    bless me” clubs in which the participant/investor wants bang for the buck and that means coffee and entertainment.

    BTW this is not a Mars Hill phenom. One only needs to look at the Robert Jeffress’ 120 million dollar addition with the outside fountain that will” draw the throngs to Christ”
    Makes me wonder how Jesus ever made it in this world-homeless, hanging around on hills, etc. However, he did, on occasion, change water into wine. Could that have been the first marketing venture??

  45. Numo

    Gag rule? The church has become so petty. Just know this, you have some friends here. One day we need to have a reunion. I have always wanted to do a Segway tour of DC. Maybe we could do a meet and greet for anyone interested.

  46. Numo
    How many edifices did the early apostles erect? Building does not seem to be discussed with much gusto in the Scriptures except for the temple which God allowed to be destroyed in 70 AD.

  47. W (do you mind me nicknaming you)

    I wonder if we hold up big things in a church because we are not devoted to the small things. There seems to be a small but significant group of ex-evangelcials who have made a run towards the eastern orthodox church. (My dad was Russian orthodox). In one article I read about this, it seemed to indicate that people were tired of the shock and awe church services with trendy messages on sex, etc. They love the ancient worship along with the liturgy and say the worship experience is profound. There is a lot less nonsense about the “au courant” theology -you know, “left behind” prayer of Jabez”, “neo-whateverism”. In fact, you have just given me an idea for a post.

    BTW, we plan to post your stuff on the song of Solomon. You are a most insightful person. Thank you for taking the time to comment here.

  48. Dee:

    You are right. There are unofficial denominations that exist now.

    Even within the SBC there are various affiliation groups where like minds participate.

    I believe that the cost and necessity of theological education and a well run missions program are the best advertisements for denominations to continue. But those ties, even where they exist, are really thin. They are not so tenuous and sparse in contact.

    The true “fellowship” of like minds exists on another level.

    Maybe that’s been true for a long time, though. The SBC came apart because 2 views of the Bible and culture created 2 types of churches. Denominational programming held them together for a while, but it wasn’t enough. When you look at the 2 directions the groups have gone, their emphases and ethos etc., it makes you wonder how they stayed together as long as they did.

    Regardless of what happens to denominations, branding and marketing are here to stay.

    There are good aspects and bad aspects of branding and marketing. In the US, the Mormons have done it better than anyone.

    Major US Christian denominations are hopelessly clunky. I can’t see them producing anything that really communicates well.

    The Methodists “Catch the Spirit” was a great phrase.

    The SBC’s change from The Baptist Sunday School Board to LifeWay was brilliant. The other denominational publishing houses and bookstores have not kept pace. That put the SBC as the major player in that arena. The downsides are that they chose a bad logo, AND that the book biz is really tough these days with Kindle, Amazon etc., but that part they can’t control.

    The SBC also changed the names of some agencies, which was also a major thing for a denomination to do.

    But witness the discussion regarding a name change for the SBC and you see why denominations are dying. It’s such a no-brainer, and yet there is all this fretting about heritage, history and such. Denominations involve so many constituencies that people end up fighting about holding on to things that should be jettisoned.

    With the changes in technology (computers, printing, media) a single church can do a lot these days. And the churches should. Why not be creative? Why not try to speak the a new generation or new people who enter the US from other countries?

    Also, with the change in communications and travel, it is easy for churches to be connected. So these new affinity groups can form, communicate, have conferences etc.

    The danger, of course, is crossing that very fine line between trying to communicate and present oneself as appealing etc. without becoming cheesy or making the creative side of things an idol.

  49. Bridget2:

    “One more thing . . . so we have church leaders lording over their flock and now do we have Mega (or wanna be Mega’s) lording it over other churches?”

    Wow! That is a great way of putting it!

  50. Sounds more like marketing than mission. Gotta get more market share and drive top and bottom line growth!

  51. W seems to know a lot of good information, but was he ever an “insider” at Mars Hill? Was he ever an elder?

    W’s critique of why various projects and ministries attempted by the “laity” there never got off the ground sounds reasonable, but neglects a glaring reality: in a celebrity-driven megachurch, no ministry which has even a remote possibility of sharing the spotlight with “El Numero Uno” will be allowed to survive and prosper. The same for any strong leader. The well-publicized history of Mars Hill, for example, is littered with the purges of elders, founding pastors, staff members and others, who, when the spotlight slightly turned their way, were cast out and the church’s website scrubbed of their writings, sermons, images, and names – as if they never existed. Those that still remain are there because they are either still “useful” or pose no perceived threat.

    As W pointed out, staff and elders are brought on as needed to implement the vision of El Numero Uno, then cast aside when they are used up. However, El Numero Uno remains on top and boasts of the fact: “My plan has not changed at all. I intend, by God’s grace, to be a pastor at our church for my lifetime. I am now 40 years old and you can write my name in for the next 25 years.” ( ).

    Although, the church’s 2010 Annual Report does not disclose what the compensation, perks and acoutrements for the kingly reign add up to, it reveals a corporate empire with over $31 million in assets, over $18 million in annual income, and over $15 million in expenses (over $288,461 per week):

  52. BTW: Mars Hill is not the only celebrity-driven megachurch where strict allegiance to the emperor’s vision is mandatory. Check out the membership oath for Elevation Church, referred to as “The Code”, which requires:

    “4. We Are United Under One Vision – Elevation is built on the vision God gave Pastor Steven. We will aggressively defend our unity and that vision.”

  53. Is the modern church game just amazing – guru pastors on big salaries with a revolving door of recruits filling the pews of those who’ve left by the back door.

    Glad I escaped when I did.

  54. @Dylan Morrison

    Living in England may give you a very distorted view of the US Christian community. I know that the media over here IN the US gives out a very distorted picture so why not over there.

    In some analysis done about two years ago 1/2 of the churches in the US had 75 or fewer members. (Or regular attendees. Not sure which.) 90% of the churches in the US had 350 or less members.

    The mega church with growth driven agendas is NOT what most of the people over here attend. But it is what most of the non attenders see as “normal”.

    Says he who recently left a church with of over 2000 as it was a mini example of what you describe. I’m mostly settled into a place with about 1/4 of that number.

  55. Dee/Deb –

    Speaking of branding, have you heard anything about “Potter’s House,” they called themselves “A Christian Center.” I was driving down the street and saw the sign; thought – “Wow, a church right there.” When I came home and looked them up, it didn’t seem so exciting any more, and then I found myself thinking how strategic it was that their little building (looks very humble) was within a half mile of not one, but two colleges.

  56. I’m friends with a number of those purged elders. I’ve been friends with Paul for years and love hanging out with him. Last night I had dinner at Lief’s pizzeria. I’m not “insider” in having ever been an elder, or even a deacon, but I’ve been too close to people who used to be elders and deacons to have not picked up a few things about stuff done to my friends. I remember how the first worship pastor got sidelined and how a number of vital people in the early years got blackballed after Driscoll decided he was a Calvinist and that women couldn’t have important leadership roles after al. When the 2007 firings happened my friend who was the first worship pastor said he was disappointed to hear that some seven years later the same kind of stuff was happening.

  57. To be fair, there have been quite a number of coffeehouses and churches over the years that have called themselves “The Potter’s House.” Names like that were quite popular during the 70s (Jesus Movement, charismatic renewal, etc.).

    Yeah, I’m dating myself by saying this, but who cares?!

  58. Sam T, Hubert’s Greek website didn’t fail because Driscoll thought it was stealing limelight from him. 🙂 You may want to think that but it really was about failing to sort out basic licensing and copyright violation issues before launching the site. Hubert even said so in his old website.

  59. The well-publicized history of Mars Hill, for example, is littered with the purges of elders, founding pastors, staff members and others, who, when the spotlight slightly turned their way, were cast out and the church’s website scrubbed of their writings, sermons, images, and names – as if they never existed.

    AKA doubleplusungood refs doubleplusunpersons…

    El Numero Uno remains on top and boasts of the fact: “My plan has not changed at all. I intend, by God’s grace, to be a pastor at our church for my lifetime. I am now 40 years old and you can write my name in for the next 25 years.”

    “4. We Are United Under One Vision – Elevation is built on the vision God gave Pastor Steven. We will aggressively defend our unity and that vision.”

    AKA Long Live Big Brother…

  60. Headless Unicorn

    “Aggressively defend” our unity? What is the unity based on? Jesus or Steve? Aggressively defend-you mean like Jesus, on the Cross? Or Jesus at His trial?

    I wonder, if in the Book of Life, certain names will have been purged or forgotten?

  61. Is this Steve the Steve Furtick who made a video so insufferably smug I couldn’t watch more than twenty seconds of it?

  62. Wait a minute … this Elevation Church?

    Oh, yeah, I wondered why that name Furtick rang some kind of bell.

    At least Driscoll convinced Mars Hill members to give food to give to the Salvation Army Port Angeles corps in the last couple of weeks. I know that won’t make people here like him any more than they do but when Driscoll stops being a shock job preacher for a few minutes he can encourage his church members to do something actually helpful. This winter could get rough and the Salvation Army has been hit very hard in the last few years by the recession. I’d still have my old job there if things were better.

    Maybe this will offset Mars Hill guys drinking alcohol at Camp Arnold circa 20001-2002? 😉

  63. W
    Somehow, I think the church fathers must be shaking their heads trying to figure out how things got to this point. Did they really drink at a church camp? Don’t get me wrong, i am not opposed to “a little wine of the stomach.” But this sound like one story I would love to hear.

  64. There’s not much of a story to it. A bunch of guys drank beer and had a seminar on home-brewing at a Mars Hill mens retreat at Camp Arnold. The Salvation Army is famously dry as a church (in small part because of their alcoholism rehab programs). Well, one evening a staff person or officer came to check on how things were going and saw all the imbibing. Mars Hill was asked not to come back. Not all MH people there were happy about the situation. One guy mentioned that, as a dad, it bugged him that open bottles of beer were sitting around that his toddlers could have grabbed.

    It wasn’t much more than that and I wasn’t there but it got a lot of discussion in the wake of the Salvation Army asking Mars Hill not to host mens retreats at Camp Arnold anymore. When some members claimed to say the rules should have been clearer that I WORKED for the Salvation Army at that point and there was no excuse for Mars Hill people not knowing rules, still less ignoring them if they knew what the rules were. I’m not aware that anybody got drunk but it was a huge breach of hospitality in having booze on a Salvation Army camp. That’s about it for that particular story.

    I’d still have my job at the Salvation Army if the recession had not gotten as bad as it’s gotten so if MH members give 11 tons of food to help the Sallie that means the church members have lived down the booze thing from a decade ago as far as I’m concerned. 🙂