Posts Tagged ‘Mars Hill Church’

Was Chris Swan fired at Mars Hill?

August 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Sorry folks; I have no idea. I had never heard of Chris Swan [link] until search terms started leading people here.

Mars Hill/Acts 29 is a big organization, and any organization of a certain size has people joining and leaving in much the same way breath enters and leaves a body. Perhaps his transition is just as ordinary.


a quick note about Dave Bruskas

August 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Yes, Dave Bruskas, now-former pastor of City On A Hill (now Mars Hill Albuquerque) has apparently [link] left Mars Hill Albuquerque for a position in the Seattle area [link]. The transition was apparently an amicable one [link], although I have not seen an official announcement for those of us outside the Mars Hill Church circle of light, etc. We wish the Bruskas family all the best in their new situation.


a quick note about Mark Driscoll

August 15, 2011 1 comment

Congratulations on local pastor Carlos Montoya for getting his blog article “Real Men Repent” distributed on the Mars Hill website [link].

Carlos was the youngest pastor at Calvary (Chapel) Santa Fe back in 2001-2002 when everything came unwound, and I’m happy for him that he’s managed to stay in the ministry and find another church organization to be part of; that being said, I have to hope that picture of him is meant to be ironic; he just doesn’t look right in a plaid shirt and a Mark Driscoll haircut.

Speaking of real men repenting: did Driscoll ever apologize for his “most effeminate worship leader” gaffe? I’ve been out of circulation for a while, so he may have and I may have missed it.


Scottsdale Bible Church

Scottsdale Bible Church gives every indication of being a well-organized church. The bulletin lists phone numbers and/or email addresses for the elder board, senior pastor, executive pastor, the leads for various efforts that aren’t strictly speaking pastoral but are apparently paid staff, the pastoral care coordinator and the pastor emeritus. There’s a substantial schedule of activities with dates, times, locations and contact numbers. There’s the usual contact card and executive summary for first-time visitors. And there’s a summary of financial information for the fiscal year to date, showing that giving is up very slightly, and they’re running a small  (1.5%) budget surplus through 45 weeks.

This is no mean feat given that the Phoenix area is one of the places worst-hit by the collapse in housing prices. It is reasonable to expect that people who attend SBC have as they say participated fully in the current recession. I think their budget/attendance numbers bear this out.

If I focus on the people who carry the ministry I end up with something like an 80/20 model, where I assume that 20% of the people give 80% of the money. If I project the 45-week giving number ($7,672,601) to a full 52-week year that’s $8,866,116 for nominally 6000 people. If we extract the 80/20 number that’s about $5900. If for comparison’s sake we do the same with the Mars Hill Church 2010 annual report, which covers a different but overlapping period of time, the comparable number is more like $7500, or 27% more. In other words, Scottsdale Bible Church may appear to be a church full of rich people, but it isn’t necessarily a rich church.

This may be due partly to the fact that it is chock-full of retirees as well. I’d say roughly half of the people attending the 8AM service had gray hair; I rather doubt that’s the case at any of the services at any of the Mars Hill campus churches.

But I digress; I wanted to be sure to mention something that’s been on my mind regarding churches and the current recession. I had expected that there would be lots of foreclosures and bankruptcies; instead I’ve seen churches selling their buildings to formerly renting churches (this has happened twice that I know of here in Santa Fe alone) or merging with financially healthier churches. See e.g. the new arrangement between Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, VA and its new satellite Airlee Court Baptist Church in Roanoke, an hour away [link]. While I’m not overly thrilled at the idea of satellite churches or campus churches, where they gather to watch television and have at best a local assistant pastor, I have to admit this is better than an established church going dark altogether.

Regardless, I appreciate this minimal amount of apparent disclosure regarding money on the part of SBC. I wish this were the norm among independent churches; in my experience it is not.

Mars Hill Church and the 80/20 Rule

February 26, 2011 5 comments

Mars Hill Church released its Fiscal Year 2010 Annual Report back on February 16 [link]; I’ve cached a copy [PDF] and recommend reading it. Also, I need to get back to it to refine some wild guesses I made about Mars Hill Albuquerque salaries.

This is an annual report, and as such is a mix of numbers and stories. Most annual reports are a mix of real information and public relations, meant to convey a sense of both transparency and enthusiasm. Sometimes it’s hard to tell one from the other. There is no Securities and Exchange Commission monitoring these reports and making minimal guarantees under threat of force the way there would be for a for-profit company. Churches especially aren’t obligated by the government to be accountable for every dollar they touch, etc.

All that being said the Mars Hill Annual Report makes for an interesting read; it makes clear what Mars Hill considers its distinctives (pages 14-15) and what distinguishes them from e.g. Calvary Chapel or Sovereign Grace Ministries or any other paradenominational organization.

One of the nuggets is on page 54-55 under the heading “Mars Hill Church Attendees by Annual Giving Range,” where there’s a pie chart with slices representing people who attend Mars Hill campus churches and and their giving levels: 21% give $0, 43% give $1-500, 15% give $501-1500, 11% give $1501-4000, and 10% give >$4000.  This general pattern is familiar among churches: a small number of people give most of the money, most people give little or nothing, and there’s a third group in the middle that’s hard to describe.

Here’s how the annual report describes giving overall:

The top 21 percent of givers made up 86 percent of all of the 2010 donations. Among those who contributed nothing, some were non-Christians or visitors. As long as Mars Hill continues to grow at the present rate, these ratios will likely remain static as new attendees join while present attendees mature spiritually. The goal is not that 100 percent of attendees would give over $4,000, but that all Christians would learn to give regularly, generously, and sacrificially, each according to their means. Because giving is an act of worship and love for Jesus, we don’t expect non-Christians to give. Therefore, since we want non-Christians to continue coming to Mars Hill Church, there should always be some $0 givers. Christians who give $0 may need to repent, but non-Christians who give $0 should feel welcome as guests.

Yeah there’s a fair amount of Christianese here, but basically they’re saying that their donors more or less follow the 80/20 rule [link], which is fairly typical for churches generally. They don’t touch the question of tithing (the word “tithe” doesn’t appear in the report), so there’s no discussion of giving as a percentage of income. I am guessing this is because they were able to calculate this number (how they estimated donor numbers for cash donations I can’t imagine), whereas they would need a lot of personal data to calculate tithing rates accurately.

I don’t know why the Pareto number describes above tends to settle where it does, nor do I know how one would go about shifting it. Ideally a church would consist of believers who are giving (somewhere) at a sacrificial level; I’m not sure that money should all always go to their local church. It’s not reasonable to expect the Pareto number to be 50 (50% of the people giving 50% of the money) since almost any church has rich people and poor people. Having the donations concentrated in the hands of a relative few (where a power clique sponsors most of the church’s activities) tends to concentrate power in a handful of pews; I’m not sure what happens on the other end of the spectrum. I’ve never seen it.

Mars Hill Albuquerque

January 10, 2011 Leave a comment

The service at Mars Hill Albuquerque (MHA) opened with a short loud set (3 or 4 songs) by the band, interspersed with prayers and, because this was the Second Sunday of Advent, a candle-lighting with a reading by someone on stage. This more or less fit in with what I was expecting from a church with a mix of evangelical megachurch and Reformed elements: the rock band being the former; the candle-lighting, reading, and Advent references the latter.

A worship band faces some challenges generally: they run the risk of being gushy and fake (prayers too earnest week after week, breaking down of the fourth wall a bit too confessional, etc.) on the one hand, and being too distant, rock-show-y or wallpapery on the other. The house band at MHA ran more to the latter extreme; there were instrumental solos and the band members rarely looked at us during their performance. Also, while they had clearly taken precautions (the drums were behind a hinged perspex drum shield and the drummer used bundled dowel “cool rods”) they still packed a wallop. I’m inclined to blame the shape of the room.

One of the reasons I wanted to visit Mars Hill Albuquerque (MHA) was that I understood that they were essentially a “video church,” where they would gather every week to see a video of the previous week’s service at Mars Hill in Seattle. So imagine my surprise when the music opened with a short video featuring Mark Driscoll reminding us to give and telling us that he’d “see us next month.” The latter part meant we’d be hearing Dave Bruskas preach a sermon live; the former tied in with the morning’s handouts.

Where many (most?) churches have a bulletin or an order of service or a full copy of the morning’s liturgy, MHA handed out two items, both professional-looking, both reminders to give money to Mars Hill. The first was the Mars Hill Weekly, a six-section trifold with a short update from Chris Swan at Bellevue (WA) saying that they’d signed a lease, are running 1500 on Sunday in a space that seats 500, another from James Harleman announcing plans to open a campus in Everett (WA), a Connect Card we could use to sign up to get involved, and a single panel outline of the morning’s sermon. The bottom quarter of the outline included a banner that read “GIVE: GIVING CHEERFULLY AND SACRIFICIALLY OF OUR FINANCES IS PART OF OUR WORSHIP.”

The other handout was a letter-sized was from the Generous Campaign; its main points were these:

  • An overleaf with the word GENEROUS and a quote from Luke 12:34: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
  • A short message from Pastor Jamie Munson reminding us of what Mars Hill did with donations in 2010.
  • The three main points of the Generous Campaign: Stability, Expansion, and Legacy; these were respectively a reference to the financial base required for church operations; the plans the leaders at Bellevue and Shoreline have for opening new campuses, along with a brand new campus in Portland (OR); and a reminder that the church has commitments to children’s ministries for 1000 children a week and bands for 1300 services a week.
  • A mailer for sending a check or credit card information in the mail, along with spaces to report “evidence of God’s grace in your life in 2010” and “prayer requests for 2010.”
  • A pointer for the 2010 Annual Report, available in January.

I will eventually get to the sermon; I’ve got a lot more notes on that, but I was really surprised to look back at what I had and discover just how much of it had to do with money. The handouts really did nothing to undermine the expectation I had that Mars Hill tells itself an expansion story that, while occasionally larded with Christianese (“The Lord has grown the Bellevue Campus,” “let’s make Everett known for Jesus”), is as much (if not more) a business story as a religious story.

I was struck by the novel use of the word “generous” here; I’m accustomed to hearing it as a virtue to be modeled in treating fellow believers or one’s fellow man  (“be generous to each other”) rather than one’s organization (“be generous to Mars Hill so the leaders can expand the organization”). Or maybe I’m accustomed to hearing requests for money as pleas rather than as commands. Regardless, there’s something about the Mars Hill approach to raising money that struck me as at best direct and at worst, well, something worse.

Mars Hill Albuquerque

January 4, 2011 1 comment

Back on December 5 I visited Mars Hill Albuquerque [link] with my wife and baby; we needed to be in town for a Christmas social function and my wife was indulgent enough to let me visit the Lobo Theater in Nob Hill for church followed by lunch at a surprisingly good Vietnamese place before we went off to meet our social obligations.

The audio from the sermon we heard is available [link]. Please don’t just take my word for what was said and how it was said; give the sermon a listen yourself and make up your own mind.

Today’s post is mostly background, about why you or I should care about Mars Hill Albuquerque. Or rather, why you should care about a church from Seattle having a campus/church plant in Albuquerque. And to a first approximation that comes down to two words: Mark Driscoll.

I’ve said elsewhere that I don’t understand what’s so special about the Mars Hill phenomenon; I don’t understand why anybody is paying any special attention to Mark Driscoll. My best analysis as of two months ago was that the Mars Hill equation might go like this:

Mars Hill = Calvary Chapel – The Sixties + The Nineties + Reformed Theology

I might even be tempted to add in something about the personalities of Chuck Smith (Calvary Chapel) and Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill) because while Calvary Chapel was initially the home of an existing movement of sorts (The Jesus People), as far as I can tell nothing similar has happened in Seattle. And of course because so much of the conversation about Mars Hill in the last five or so years kind of starts and ends with Driscoll.

And beyond that there’s not much: I would have said essentially that Mars Hill is the beginning of another non-denomination like Calvary Chapel, using a lot of the usual church growth/megachurch approach to starting and building churches (a pastor with a strong personality; strong brand; de-emphasis of traditional denominational distinctives; personalities and language familiar to anyone with a background in business/marketing; etc.) but with a Reformed twist. Because to be fair when I’ve seen the obvious question asked: “what’s the difference between e.g. a Purpose-Driven Church and an A29 Church?” the answer I’ve seen is, essentially “because we’ve got Reformed Theology and they’re something else/less/deviant/apostate/etc.”

On further reflection the truth as best I’ve been able to discern it is a bit more complicated. And we’ll pick that up in the next post.