Thursday, June 19, 2014

end of fiscal year approaching for Mars Hill, probably nothing to be particularly concerned about

Warren Throckmorton has recently posted an email that is said to be making the rounds.  Quoting just some of the message attributed to Sutton Turner ... :

,,, From 2007 to 2011, I was a podcaster like many of you. My family and I would download Pastor Mark's sermons weekly and Jesus used them to grow our family in godliness. As I think back, I don't know if I ever received a communication from Mars Hill asking me to financially give back to the church that blessed my family and me week in and week out. That's why I'm writing this quick email.  The financial picture of Mars Hill for the rest of the year depends largely on how we finish this year. Right now we're making plan as for what we can do -- and what we can't do -- next year.

Thankfully you and I believe in a God who is in control of everything. But you and I still have a role to play. In the near future I'll be asking if you can make a special gift to Mars Hill to help the church end the fiscal year strong.

Your gift to Mars Hill means that Pastor Mark's sermons are recorded and streamed for free, to anyone in the world who wants to learn more about Jesus and love more like Jesus loves. ...

It's not as though Mars Hill never solicited micro-gifts from online podcast listeners but it would make sense why Turner might never have been contacted given that he wasn't necessarily staying in the US at the time MHC was soliciting gifts.
Prophets, Priests and Kings
Trial: 8 witnesses from 1 & 2 Peter
May 3, 2009
1 Peter 5:1-5
starting about 0:47
... I have announcements for you.

Additionally, is an initiative led by your Lead Pastor Jamie Munson and here's where we're going: from seven campuses of Mars Hill to a hundred; from upwards of 10,000 people on any given Sunday to 50,000 in the next ten years. Leading this is Pastor Rick Melson, one of our executive elders and he's a great guy. We stole him from John Piper in Minneapolis. I'll rephrase that, we borrowed him for a long time to the glory of God from John Piper in Minneapolis, and he [Melson] is also running the Resurgence Training Center--it's a school that will open in the fall so that we can have a leadership engine to train more campus pastors, church planters and potential elders. We're seeking fifty students for the fall term.
For all of this we will need to raise four million dollars above and beyond budget and Pastor Jamie has a really smart idea to take microgifts from a lot of our fans online. There's upwards of 20 million downloads of our sermons and content every year. [We're] asking those people who enjoy all that we give away to give some small gifts to help fund this global expansion and initiative. Many have asked--it's cool, we've recently had checks as large as ten thousand dollars--saying, "We love you. We listen to a lot of things. Here, how can we help?" So we're going to open that opportunity up. We're going to invite you to give as well, above and beyond your general tithes and offerings. And, amazingly enough, a generous donor stepped forward and said "I'll do a million-dollar matching fund. For everyone who gives any amount I'll match that up to the first million dollars." So that's the great kick-off. We praise God for that.
So Mars Hill has solicited donations from their online audiences over the years.  And why not?  Turner just may never have been on the list.

Although Throckmorton and others have wondered if MHC is not doing well financially the numbers reported in the last two fiscal years suggest that while the number of people who give nothing is potentially the highest it has been since the earliest days of Mars Hill the number of high end and mid-tier donors giving has increased and the revenue seems to have gone up.  Unless something truly catastrophic has happened (and to go by the public statements and activities of Mars Hill the lead pastor Mark Driscoll being shown to have plagiarized in at least seven of his published books and had one of those books bought a place on the NYT bestseller list apparently doesn't count as catastrophic)  Mars Hill probably doesn't really want for money. 

While Munson was formally president he publicly endorsed the idea of growing even when it's not necessarily a good idea but Turner seems to be more fiscally restrained.  Or at least that's been suggested out and about and it seems probable.

Although by June 2012 Driscoll announced that MHC had run into another difficult season and that a lot of people had to be laid off because of shortcomings in the financial model, these things were said to be fixed by switching from an annual budget to a weekly budget.

The cycle of falling short by at least a little here and there sort of continued, though.

Then again, falling short of budget and laying a few people off became normal enough around Ballard that it's hard to describe that as anything close to emergency mode, though some bloggers and commenters might be tempted to see things that way.

But then it could be that in 2012 when there was a lean season there were different kinds of expenses.  It may have been FY2012 was when MHC entered an agreement with Result Source to buy a place for Real Marriage on the NYT bestseller list.  There was also a brief, tossed off comment from Driscoll about something else that had happened, apparently some time in 2012.

After Easter, We’ll launch a new sermon series called the Seven, looking at Revelation 1–3 and the seven churches to which John writes in those chapters. Most of the series was filmed live on location in Turkey—and it’s epic. We even rented the city of Ephesus for a day.
So how much did it cost to rent the city of Ephesus for a day?  Between buying a spot for Real Marriage on the NYT best seller list and renting the city of Ephesus for a day for some epic film-making what did that cost? Those may be the kinds of expenses that have been dialed back by a new and more fiscally cautious Mars Hill, perhaps?

Back then Driscoll was sharing how MH had historically stunk at giving.  But that seems a bit unfair.  The church could, on the spur of the moment, donate about eleven tons of food to a regional food pantry when asked.  The change in policy that was set up in 2012 would eventually get described by Mark Driscoll as Mars Hill avoiding its own fiscal cliff.  Curiously, about a month later Driscoll was apparently sharing with Mars Hill this idea that "we're not a wealthy church" as though 30+ million dollars was poor.  Compared to an oil company, sure, but how many not-wealthy churches have even one Red camera, let alone have a pastor sharing in a tossed off line how they even rented the city of Ephesus for a day. It's not that they can't spend money on stuff like that, of course, it's that spending money on renting cities overseas while legal officers and pastors hemorrhage out of the leadership culture might send mixed signals.  The first half of 2012 was also when the Driscolls moved out of the city of Seattle and out of King County into a million-dollar home in Snohomish county. Whatever tight season was afoot at Mars Hill in the first half of 2012 that lean season did not necessarily apply to the Driscolls.  And if it had turned out that Real Marriage didn't have any plagiarism in it and if its spot at the top of the NYT bestseller list hadn't been bought then congratulations on an honest success would be in order, truly.  Unfortunately ... well ...

Anyway, by June 2012 Driscoll had shared how things were changing and by the end of FY2013 it was another "best year ever" but this time it was Sutton Turner rather than Mark Driscoll sharing the news that:

We’re in the best financial health in the history of Mars Hill Church, with ample finance staff, policies, and contingency to ensure good stewardship.
So the idea that now, of all times, Mars Hill might in any way be short on funds seems improbable, unless something really terrible has transpired in the last year but to go by Mars Hill's public statements and activity there's not much sign that anything bad in the way of finances would even be reasonable to infer.  You don't hire a capital development manager if you 1) think there's no money out there and 2) you think you can't possibly get some of it.  Sure, the International Paper Building didn't turn out to be quite as God's will as originally advertised by Thomas Hurst but maybe the elders of Mars Hill just misheard what Jesus was allegedly telling them.

Mars Hill is probably doing fine, based on what they've shared publicly.  IF there is any concern about money being in short supply this would more likely be because of the massive capital expansion projects of finding a new corporate headquarters home in Bellevue and taking a second-or-third shot at starting a school that would necessitate more funds.  Considering the whimper with which the Resurgence Training Center seems to have ended after no more than a sort of two year academic year it remains to be seen whether investing in Mars Hill Schools as either a student or as an investor is necessarily a great move.  A school started with some association with his church planting community was something Driscoll envisioned back in the earlier days of the church.

The mere possibility that in the earliest days of Mars Hill Mark Driscoll DIDN'T have a vision of starting a Bible college or seminary of some kind is so easily contested by so many years of public testimony from Driscoll himself that it was the subject of a blog post.

But then these days a majority of Driscoll preaching and teaching is actually no longer available at the Mars Hill website.  So if you're giving to the cause there's possibly half or more of the formerly available materials that are no longer available.

For that matter, Driscoll's relatively recent attempt to cast himself as being a fatherly type doesn't quite account for how recently he's leaned on anger as part of his homiletic style.  It's not as though proposing that most people don't even do anything until they get ticked off wasn't part of the roll out for A Call to Resurgence.  2009's "How dare you!?" wasn't really that long ago.  That was back when Driscoll was sharing publicly from the pulpit that he didn't have a side company for book royalties and wouldn't have one.  Then in 2011 that changed.  Driscoll's never been a stranger to controversy but in the last year at least some of the controversy has touched upon the fact that if you just look at what he publicly said about pastors and publishing and God boxes then and compared all of that to how he has spoken and written and behaved in the now that the 2014 Mark Driscoll can come across as though he's the kind of person 2004 Mark Driscoll warned everyone at Mars Hill Fellowship to be wary of. 

But so far all of that does not suggest that people aren't giving faithfully to the mission of Mars Hill Church or that there's any reason the financial situation in FY2014 should prove to be poorer than previous fiscal years.  Of course ... it's conceivable that maybe behind the scenes there are significant concerns but let's just assume for the sake of discussion that that would actually come to light in some documentable form.  The average attendance DID go down from FY2012 to FY2013 and more and more people in the last few years who have called MH home aren't giving anything at all ... but it's tough to infer from that a real financial crisis because it's common for a minority of hugely dedicated people to keep an organization like MH fiscally floating.

To date there have been grand visions of starting a music label that sort of turned into a partnership with Tooth & Nail.  There have been grand visions of a Resurgence Training Center that's turned into Mars Hill Schools, a partnership with Western Seminary and Corban University.  And along the way there was sort of a good-for-Bellevue thing.  So far Mars Hill has a track record of trying to build something in Mark's vision-casting plan from the early years from scratch that seems to fizzle and fade to then later get replaced by Mars Hill partnering with or somewhat assimilating an already functioning iteration of the basic concept a year or two or three later.  After all ... it's not like re:sound is easy to spot these days.  And the Capstone Institute ... it sort of doesn't exist any longer, either. Not that music labels and Bible schools are bad ideas, just that Mars Hill has been trying to get these two particular elements of Driscoll's early vision-casting plan off the ground off and on for at least a decade, give or take a particular project.  Arguably Mars Hill is too young a religious movement to really have the infrastructural competence and capital to pull these things off in the homegrown/home-brewed DIY fashion so assimilating the moderate successes of others may be the most reasonable approach for them.  And it's not like the Pacific Northwest has been famous for a distinctly evangelical seminary so that's actually, to a fellow evangelical, a theoretically very laudable goal. 

It's just that after seven books have been shown to have citation errors and a number of egregious factual errors ... Driscoll and Mars Hill have not quite shown themselves the ideal peeps to be spearheading these projects on behalf of evangelicalism in the Pacific Northwest ... strictly in the opinion of Wenatchee The Hatchet.

But ... if a person is going to give to the cause then finding out how much it actually cost to rent the city of Ephesus might be interesting.  MHC has said that the Result Source contract cost significantly less than the $210,000 reported by World Magazine but has yet to provide the evidence for why this would be the case and what the real number would be.  As the vision of global expansion and funding for that expansion continues the numbers get bigger along with the ambitions.  That's not necessarily a bad thing ... but it's worth thinking about how many iterations of the record label and Bible college have been cast off and forgotten about as if they never existed Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll seem to have gone through in the last ten years before cutting a check for yet another attempt at something that has been aimed for since the earliest days of Mars Hill Fellowship.  Maybe the third or fourth time will be the charm, though. Who knows?


PNWGuy said...

I know this is a small detail in the grand scheme of things, but since you've mentioned it multiple times I feel obliged to give clarification regarding renting Ephesus for a day

As someone who was part of the group that went to Turkey, I can tell you that we didn't have the city for an entire day, it was more like 3 hours in the evening. Our group arrived in the morning, at which point there were already a ton of other sightseers there, and we assembled in the smaller of the two coliseums to hear Mark's first sermon (this one was more of a historical sermon and didn't make it online). Afterwards we got to check out the rest of Ephesus before leaving to go do other activities, and came back in the evening to hear Mark's second sermon (the one featured in The Seven series), at which point we more or less had the city to ourselves. There was a very good and practical reason for this: mid-day July temperatures in Turkey are not to be taken lightly.

Now granted, I don't think Mark's about to go and say "yeah all those times I said we rented Ephesus for a day, it was actually 3 hours", but I figure you should know from someone who actually went.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Thanks, PNWGuy. It seemed improbable that the city was 1) rented for a day or 2) even more than a small part of it at any given time but you probably know that in the absence of anything said by anyone other than Mark himself (who we by now know is prone to sweeping hyperbolic statements about a few things) leave things up in the air.

Mark saying "we even rented the city of Ephesus for a day" is one of those tossed off yet sweeping statements that is simultaneously characteristic of him and, as we've just seen, eventually brought forth someone to clarify that, well, uh, yeah, what actually happened was slightly different. :)

When Mark talked about a "decade of depression" that seems more like ten years where he repeatedly overworked himself into health troubles about every three years rather than being an actual decade of clinical depression since by his own account he never really sought professional consultation on that stuff.

But now that you've put it that way it makes sense why Mark would interpret that as a "day". :) Thanks again for the informative and clarifying comment.

Richard said...

I'm always a bit confused that they seem to lead with the podcasting thing, as sort of an example of "awesome things that we do that we need donations for". I mean, I listen to a *lot* of podcasts, and most of them are done by unpaid volunteers who just enjoy doing it. They maybe ask for a few donations to cover the cost of a new microphone or maybe a some software to help make the audio chatting work or whatever. In the case of Mars Hill, it's presumably the audio track of a sermon that's already being preached for its own purposes, live. I'm sure there's some production effort going in there, but is it really the sort of thing that would affect the bottom line of a massive enterprise like Mars Hill in any way?

Adam Dolhanyk said...

is there a way to contact you directly?

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

when these kinds of requests have come up before the policy has been to suggest you

1) go to some old post more than a month old,

2) throw in a comment with your contact information and what you're interested in discussing or conveying, that will

3) go into moderation so your contact information and interests can be kept semi-free from public feedback and then

4) being open to the possibility that things may not quite take off. It takes a while and sometimes I don't get back in touch at all but if you're open to taking the above route, we'll get to see how things go.

LeslieBetz said...

So, I've been trying to understand this lately. My husband and I quietly left Mars Hill about 4 years ago and cancelled our City accounts and have basically lost contact with Mars Hill. I haven't heard from them since we left. But a week or two ago, I started getting these financial emails from them asking me to give $. The same emails cited above by Sutton and about being podcasters (consumers?). Just trying to make sense of how they found my email (what OLD list were they even digging up?!) as I am no longer a member or on the city.
It's annoying to not receive an email from them for 4 years and then to get a "give us more $" email.
My husband and I gave a lot of our time, money and hearts while we were there and these emails are rather insulting seeing as nobody particularly reached out when we left.