Saturday, September 20, 2014

Forbes: Mars Hill-cautionary tales from the Enron of American Churches--people may think things go back to 2007 but in real estate purchase terms things go back to 2005

Many have described the start of the change going back to 2007 and there is a historic basis for making that claim.  But let's remember that when the re-org of 2007 happened Driscoll and others said the problem was that Mars Hill Church was poorly architected to be a multisite campus.  Later narratives would assert that Driscoll needed to spend more time with his wife but in 2007 the narrative was unified around the necessity of being able to be nimble and better architect Mars Hill for a multi-site approach.

So why doesn't anyone raise the question of how and why Mars Hill leadership committed to multisite in 2006-2007 again?  It's not even as though Mars Hill hadn't been multisite circa 1999-2001 when there was the Earl building, the Paradox and what became Harambee.  Mars Hill had been multisite before, even before the 2005 by-laws were in place.  The idea that the by-laws had to be revised so that there was more addressing of multisite has been asserted but never once given a systemic defense.

In fact if you compare the 2007 by-laws to the 2005 by-laws there were fewer references to campus leadership structures.

But let's forget all of that for a moment, let's get back to what the announced plan was circa 2005 to early 2006
Confessions of a Reformission RevMark Driscoll, Zondervan 2006
ISBN-13: 978-0-310-27016-4

page 176

Our current facility cannot accomodate much growth beyond our current four Sunday services. Additionally our kids' ministry is bursting at the seams, our Capstone classes are in desperate need of space, and our cramped, windowless office space would be perfect if we were a third-world sweatshop.

So the elders voted to purchase a 43,000-square-foot dumpy warehouse Jamie found one block away from our current building. [emphasis added] When the project is completed, we will have two buildings only a block apart, each hosting church services, with 1,300 seats in one location and a projected 1,000 seats in the other. We will be able to grow to more than 10,000 people per Sunday through multiple services in multiple locations. Each service will have live worship teams, but I will only be live in some services and in video in others.

in his July 30, 2006 sermon in 1 Corinthians Driscoll said several things about the property mentioned in Reformission Rev:
Part 26: One Body, Many parts
1 Corinthians 12:12-26
Pastor Mark Driscoll
July 30, 2006
There is the building a block away. We purchased it a year ago. It was heading into foreclosure. We purchased it for under market value. It has increased in value since that time, and this is just some interior and exterior shots of the space, and our plan was to turn that into a large room to see maybe 800 to 1,000 people. And so, what we have instead decided to do, first, we’re going to keep that building – and it’s been great – ‘cause according to King 5 television, they had a report that said that 98105, which is this zip code, is one of the five fastest, increasing valued zip codes in the State of Washington. Since we bought that building, as it was going to foreclosure, we already have gained a million dollars in equity in that building. We have no intention of getting rid of it, but here’s what we do want to do with it. We want to knock half the building down and just turn it into parking to increase our parking capacity. Secondly, the other half of the building – we don’t feel that we have to use right now because of some other things that have come available that we’re gonna tell you about – but we’re gonna keep it. We’ll rent it out with the hopes that a tenant will pay most of our mortgage. We can keep it then, and then if we ever do wanna build on it, we can develop it and do whatever we want with it but we feel it’s important right now to watch and see what happens with this neighborhood, particularly what happens to parking, and then make a determination down the road as to best use.
And the reason that we don’t need to develop it as we had thought is because of some other things have come available. Among those is Shoreline and these are some shots from the Shoreline campus and where we are meeting at Christa Ministries, at [Schirmer] Auditorium. Four hundred seats, plus a full daycare. It’s amazing kid space. Huge gym for the kids to run around in. Lots of parking. They’re letting us use that on Sunday and now this fall for beginning, for midweek programming for nothing. It’s free. We don’t even pay for janitorial, we don’t even pay for utilities. It is a savings of over $100,000.00 a year. We can be there for two more years. It’s a savings of 200 plus thousand dollars. We love Christa. We’re very, very grateful for their kindness to us. Eventually, we will need to purchase a permanent site for our Shoreline. We’ll need to get them a permanent purchase campus, ‘cause we can only be there for two years. I mean, wouldn’t it be great if somebody let you how the house for two years for free? I mean that’s a very kind gift, so we are actively looking for another place to buy….

There's a question here whether the issue was whether the needed to develop it the way they intended or whether they even could develop it the way they intended.

Page 72/145 from Mars Hill: A miracle of Jesus
November 9, 2007
Section: Stewardship
Answers submitted by Pastor Jamie Munson
Q: What is the status and future plans for the property M.H. owns just north of the Ballard campus?
We purchased the building on 50th with the intention of performing a massive renovation, and by connecting it with our Leary building, to create a large campus in the middle of the city. Since the 50th building dedication, our renovation plans were delayed by our attempt to obtain a change of use permit. During the permitting delay we were gifted a building in West Seattle and undertook renovating and opening that building as our next campus. [emphasis added]  At the time of these changes we communicated this to the members of the church openly and honestly as we wanted to be faithful to the stewardship and generosity of the body. 
Also, each quarter a letter is sent to members, along with their donor statement, urging faithful stewardship and giving updates to vision and building strategies. In addition, Pastor Mark wrote a lengthy letter that was sent to members electronically, and handed out at all campuses explaining the shift to a multi-campus church before the West Seattle campus opened.  Due to the restrictions and expense of building a single large building in our city our focus has shifted from one large campus to becoming a multi-site church of smaller campuses.  Your elders feel this will enable a more effective and cost-efficient spread of the Gospel throughout Seattle and beyond.  It will still take capital campaigns and the purchasing of facilities but allows us to spread and grow more quickly as Jesus leads. [emphasis added]
We are leasing part of the 50th building to generate some revenue. We are also performing a minor renovation of portions of the building to alleviate our current office and production space needs.  This will eliminate the need for leasing office space for our use.  In addition the property provides some much needed parking relief for our Ballard campus and also needs such as storage.  An average church of our size functions with about 4 times as much square footage as we do with our Ballard campus.  Storage, meeting rooms, office space and parking are greatly needed and this property serves those with purposes in the mean time. Future development options are being considered as well but there are no firm plans for these.  This is further complicated as the city is considering further zoning changes and restrictions in industrial areas of the city.  Until this legislation is decided it hangs property owners up as the future possibilities of the property are unclear.  We are hanging on to the property and using it to the fullest extent possible in the mean time.

Translation:  Mars Hill elders in 2005 agreed to launch a capital campaign and purchase a $1.5 million piece of real estate that was zoned for industrial use without bothering to look into the licensing and land use restrictions in advance; Driscoll announced in a book that was published in April 2006 what the grand vision was for this piece of real estate but within months of the publication of the book was excitedly talking about how Mars Hill finally got a piece of real estate Driscoll had wanted for Mars Hill for a decade; and then the move to multisite as the more effective and cost-efficient spread of the Gospel was taken up. 

Except the thing is, if the elders had done their due diligence about the land use issues to begin with multi-site wouldn't have been taken up as the alternative.  Had they looked into the land use restrictions for the property that were already in place they could have NOT BOUGHT THE PROPERTY TO BEGIN WITH.  And whose brilliant idea was it to scout out that property?  According to Mark Driscoll, it was Jamie Munson.

So there's a sense in which all of the last seven years of chaos and tumult were because a bunch of guys called elders of Mars Hill decided to buy a big expensive piece of real estate and didn't have the balls to admit they made a stupid decision.  No massive piece of real estate bought that can't be used for Mark Driscoll's advertised vision in Confessions of a Reformission Rev?  Arguably no need for the multisite alternative and the associated "necessity" of new by-laws that did less to address multi-site and more to consolidate executive elder power while shrinking the minimum required size of the executive elder board.

If Mars Hill Church has been an Enron of American churches it might be good to refocus attention not merely on the big, obvious things like governance changes and debates but to go back even further to the incident and consequences that were consistently cited as the reason for the necessity of those actions.  If Mars Hill elders hadn't bought the 50th street building (which is still pending on sale with an asking price of $7 million) the entire history of the church could have been different.

In fact between the 2005 real estate purchase and the 2007 firings and trials the common denominator here seems to have been Jamie Munson, whom Mark Driscoll credited with scouting the 50th street building in Confessions of a Reformission Rev and whose own email preserved at Joyful Exiles testify to his role in the trials of Paul Petry and Bent Meyer.

Given how often Mars Hill leadership returned to multisite as the reason for the re-org in 2007 it's worth noting that had Mars Hill leadership not bought an expensive piece of real estate they couldn't even have used for the grand vision Mark Driscoll cast in his 2006 that re-org couldn't have been presented as the reason the re-org was necessary. It's a lot less glamorous to say the church had to restructure itself because Mars Hill had to compensate for the incompetence of its own visionary leaders who were scouting out real estate to buy with church members' money they couldn't even use as planned than to say that the new age of multi-site meant that the organization needed to be more nimble and quick.  More nimble and more quick would culminate in trying to open half a dozen new or relaunched campuses within have a year while shilling a book with citation errors in it in the first half of 2012.  In the wake of a variety of signs the leadership was committing and had committed to real estate expansion and publishing projects that were problematic the leadership of Mars Hill may have decided that instead of slowing down and backing off that the way forward was to keep doubling down. 

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