Given that it's possible some of the most important potential sources on Mars Hill's decline in general and the decline of Mars Hill Bellevue in particular may never speak on the record, it's understandable that the article at The Gospel Coalition is by turns interestingly informative about the aftermath of MH and skeletal; some statements to the effect that Mars Hill seemed to collapse in just a few months are provably wrong but if they come from people who weren't inside Mars Hill as members or leaders it's hard to fault people who weren't connected to the inner workings of the collapsing corporation for genuinely believing everything came crashing down in just a few months. We've discussed at some length how there was internal evidence that all was not well in Mars Hill between 2011 and 2013 here in the past; with Bellevue there's some particular local history that needs to be revisited so that it may clarify why this specific campus might have experienced a substantial crisis of faith in local leadership in addition to the top tier Mars Hill leaders--it's material that would be virtually impossible to find or even imagine existed if you weren't connected to Mars Hill in some close way over it's roughly two-decade run. So, let's get to the statements pertinent to what was once MH Bellevue.
Ground zero was the Mars Hill Bellevue campus, where Driscoll preached live and in person. Within weeks, the congregation of 3,000 plummeted to 700.
The church stayed in its building, joined by fellow Mars Hill campus Sammamish, and replanted as Doxa church on January 1, 2015. Their new pastor was Jeff Vanderstelt, who had been leading his own church plant about an hour south of the Bellevue campus.
While controversies directly connected to Mark Driscoll such as allegations of plagiarism; verification of the use of Result Source to secure a #1 spot for Real Marriage on The New York Times bestseller list; concerns about authoritarian leadership; and other concerns were high profile in the last year of Mars Hill, it's important to stress that there was controversy in the Puget Sound area connected to Mars Hill that was specific to the Bellevue campus.
It's understandable that no one outside King County would be likely to remember the International Paper Building incident.
capture from October 26, 2013
From the LETTER FROM PASTOR THOMAS HURST:
As we walk down the path God has laid out for us, we want to share with you a bit of a paradigm shift: Bellevue is now in “core group” phase. [emphasis added]
While many churches plant with a core group of 25 people, or 250 people, Mars Hill Bellevue is currently a core group of 2,500 people. As we look ahead, the Bellevue elders and the Executive Elders are not just praying for 1,000 people, or 5,000 people on a Sunday, we’re praying for 10,000 people to worship on a Sunday at Mars Hill Bellevue…10,000 individuals whose lives are forever changed by the Gospel. To this end, we need to think, act and pray differently, starting today. If we wait until tomorrow, a year from now or three years from now when our lease is up, it will be too late.
With this in mind, we have found a site in Bellevue that meets these needs. I’m asking you to pray with us as we explore what it will take to move Mars Hill Bellevue to this new location, and how you can be a part of the mission.
The International Paper Property on 120th St.
After many months of searching and narrowing down our choices, only one building in Bellevue is available that meets the needs of the church that God is building on the Eastside. A few weeks ago we made an offer on a property in the Bel-Red corridor on 120th St. which is currently owned by the
International Paper Company. [emphasis added]
The space is about 180,000 sq. feet on 10.5 acres of property, located directly on the new light rail line being developed in 2017. The City of Bellevue has plans to develop the area immediately surrounding this site with retail, restaurants, and urban housing.
After renovations the property could feature:
Seating for 3,000+ per service
Local Bellevue Church office space
Central Operations office space
Media & Communications space
Much larger Kids Ministry area
Space for Mars Hill Students
Training classrooms for a future Bible college
Ample parking space on-site
Large common areas
Mars Hill Bible College
Part of this vision includes opening a Bible college. Recently we sent out proposal requests to the best Bible colleges in the U.S. with the intention of partnering with one of them to establish an accredited Bible school at Mars Hill Bellevue. We want to provide sound theological training for your children as we raise up the next generation of leaders and church planters.
We’re Not Done Yet
Upon submitting our offer for this property, we’ve hit a snag.
Sound Transit, the government agency responsible for building and operating the light rail transit system, has purchased this property to protect their interests, even though we offered to outbid any other offers. [emphasis added]
Sound Transit intends to use this property to build an Operations & Maintenance Satellite Facility (OMSF), basically a large barn they will use to maintain the light rail trains, much like the one located in Georgetown just south of downtown Seattle. They have five locations in mind for this facility, and this property on 120th St. is currently their top choice.
“Good for Bellevue”
We believe, though, that this property is the location that God wants us to use to further the mission of the Gospel through Mars Hill Church, so we are continuing to pursue this property and work with Sound Transit to come to an agreement that works well for everyone involved.
We believe a Mars Hill church at this key location is far better for the church, better for the City of Bellevue, and better for the community and local economy than a transit maintenance barn. We will provide:
Immediate benefit to local commerce (restaurants, hotels, transit and more).
More jobs to Bellevue (150+ employees).
Much needed conference/multi-use space to Bellevue.
Ridership for Sound Transit will increase due to our large events and regular attendees because we will be located directly on the transit line.
We plan to use the existing structure, which supports local green initiatives and the development plan for the Bel-Red corridor.
The City of Bellevue can benefit greatly by having both Mars Hill Church’s largest facility and the Sound Transit OMSF located in the city. While Sound Transit has several options for their maintenance barn, we only have one option for our church. Our intention is to work with Sound Transit as they decide by the end of the year whether to use this location or choose one of the other locations that they have available to them.
Unfortunately we find ourselves in a position where we are going up against the government. Given the perspective, we are a small church with little chance of being able to make the government change their decision. However, we will continue to move forward with faith in a God who is bigger than any government.
One of the simplest historical problems with the claim that Bellevue was in "core phase" was that it seemed hard to buy the idea that a church that was reportedly planted back in 2005 could still be in "core" phase eight years later. There was a blog post a few years back on the mystery of this "core phase" here at Wenatchee The Hatchet, from which we'll have to quote extensively owing to how many things got purged from the net.
Pastor A. J. Hamilton wrote the following about Mars Hill in Bellevue:
Bellevue was an A29 church plant which then converted to a MHC campus and exploded in attendance. We then sent their campus pastor out to plant another church in San Diego and an existing A29 planter took the role. It is no wonder that Bellevue has aggressive church- and campus-planting strategies that other campus leadership teams look to for best practices.
Mars Hill Bellevue
In the mid-2000s, a Mars Hill elder planted church on the Eastside of the greater Seattle area called The Vine. This plant was led by a Mars Hill pastor at the time, Jesse Winkler. The Vine started with a small core group from Mars Hill and eventually grew to be somewhere between 100 to 200 people.
Many people from that area were still driving into Seattle to attend Mars Hill in Ballard, and the number of people grew so large that we decided to consider planting a church east of Seattle. We met with Winkler and asked him if he wanted to continue as an independent church with us planting another one far enough away from his church so as to not drain his people, or if he wanted to become a Mars Hill Church. He took some time to fast and pray, seeking God’s will, and was convinced God was asking him to partner with Mars Hill to lead one church made up of people from The Vine and Mars Hill. The Vine church became Mars Hill Eastside in 2008, which eventually became Mars Hill Bellevue.
After the merger, the church saw immediate growth, going from 200 people to over 500 people almost overnight. Some Sundays, men were asked to stand outside in the wet and cold of Seattle to listen via speaker because we couldn't fit everyone into the small funeral home in which the church met for the multiple services. Since then, there has been much fruit, as Mars Hill Downtown Bellevue just moved into a new building in the heart of Downtown Bellevue and is seeing over 2,000 people worship Jesus and serve the surrounding community, hundreds of which are a result of new Christians who met Jesus and were baptized at Mars Hill Bellevue.
Additionally, Mars Hill Bellevue, along with some other Acts 29 churches, helped fund Westview Church in San Diego, California, with Pastor Jesse spearheading that plant. And the church has sent a core group of a couple hundred over to our newest location, Mars Hill Sammamish (which I’ll talk about later in this post).
So what's in the link?
The Bellevue church started four years ago, after merging with The Vine in a Redmond funeral home. It was a quiet launch, but it was only a few weeks before the church outgrew its space. Three years ago it moved into a remodeled gym at Eastside Christian School, near Bellevue College, but the group has been in pursuit of a more permanent situation since. Pastors discovered the John Danz building about two years ago. The church overcame a number of obstacles, including raising $2 million dollars to renovate the space, before its grand opening yesterday.
In the '70s and '80s, the Danz building played home to one of the biggest four movie theaters in the area. In the past 10 years, its served as a Good Guys and an Underhill's furniture store. It now has a new purpose. Pastor Mark Driscoll was so moved by what is going on in Bellevue, he committed to preaching a couple evening services a month at the new location. "This is a fantastic place," he said, spectating the growth. "I feel like I'm a kite, and God's a hurricane."
And while we're at it here's a post published September 2, 2010.
Jesse Winkler is planting Westview Church | www.westviewchurch.com
Jesse planted The Vine church in Seattle, Washington in 2005. In 2009 The Vine was adopted as one of the sites of Mars Hill Church and God put a calling on Jesse to move back down to Southern California and plant a church in Rancho Penasquitos of North County San Diego. Jesse is married, has four children and has been a guest speaker at The Resolved Church a number of times. Currently Pastor Duane is serving as one of Jesse’s virtual elders until he is able to find and develop qualified elders. Jesse is currently having soft launch vision and core group gatherings and is officially launching in November 2010. Here’s a word from Jesse about it:
With such a cloud of witnesses establishing that Jesse Winkler planted The Vine in 2005 and that The Vine eventually went on to become what was called Mars Hill Bellevue, the idea that by 2013 Mars Hill Bellevue was in "core phase" was preposterous. The other, even more substantial problem was that whether or not MH Bellevue was in "core phase" or not, the desired real estate had been purchased some time before Mars Hill leadership expressed interest in the real estate.
To read a quote from Justin Dean telling The Seattle Times God wanted Mars Hill to have that Bellevue property you can go over here:
Obviously Mars Hill in general and Mars Hill Bellevue in particular was forced to move on. The INternational Paper Building was not going to be an option.
By November 2014 Hurst resigned from eldership and moved on away from formal ministry.
By this time, of course, Mark Driscoll had announced his own resignation. By the end of October Mars Hill Bellevue had begun a transition to become something else.
One of the names that used to be more prominent in the Mars Hill Bellevue scene was Matt Rogers. Rogers, some may recall, wrote a missive regarding a protest that happened in 2014 outside MH Bellevue. Rogers had a role on the Board of Elders tasked with investigating Mark Driscoll
From Pastor Matt Rogers:
This past Sunday outside our building about 60 professing Christians led a protest, left a bit of trash,
and slandered good men. Inside the building our church family worshipped Jesus. Let that image be what defines us. Others will cast aspersions, but we will worship Jesus. ...
There was a point when Matt Rogers was listed the registered agent of the Bellevue Doxa-Eastside church, but that was back in October 2014.
UBI Number 603448198
State Of Incorporation WA
WA Filing Date 10/29/2014
Expiration Date 10/31/2015
Agent Name Matthew Rogers
Address 620 106th Ave NE
Chairman Rogers, Matthew 620 106th Ave. NE
Bellevue, WA 98004
Director Hurst, Thomas 620 106th Ave. NE
Bellevue, WA 98004
Director Skelton, Jason 620 106th Ave. NE
Bellevue, WA 98004
Director Molvar, Roger 620 106th Ave. NE
Bellevue, WA 98004
You won't find Rogers' name listed on the site now, however. While Hurst's resignation was announced, Matt Rogers' disappearance from the leadership roster of what was once Mars Hill Bellevue and later Doxa-Eastside has no journalistic documentation that Wenatchee The Hatchet is currently aware of.
All told, Mars Hill Bellevue's precipitous decline is explicable not only in terms of the general controversies associated with Mark Driscoll, it could also be explicable in terms of local scandals that people beyond King County possibly never heard about in the first place, dust-ups that would scarcely have merited national or even regional coverage but that played a possibly significant role in the congregation losing trust in the honesty or competence of local Mars Hill leadership.
There's little room to doubt that if God wanted Mars Hill in general and Mars Hill Bellevue in particular to have the International Paper Building they'd have it by now. Since there is no Mars Hill and Mars Hill Bellevue relaunched as Doxa-Eastside and still doesn't have the International Paper Building it would seem like a safe guess that if God wanted Mars Hill to have that real estate there would still be a Mars Hill around to have it. Transparency from the leadership teams of the new churches will be a good thing and in the case of what was once Mars Hill Bellevue, that congregation could have been particularly rocked by the gap between what the public statements by PR and top-tier leadership had to say with local campus leadership and the reality of what didn't come to pass about God's will for Mars Hill in Bellevue. As easy as it is to chalk up the cataclysmic decline of the corporation formerly known as Mars Hill to scandals directly connected to Mark Driscoll there were, as we've demonstrated at some length, some other controversies that not only involved top-tier leadership but which would have also implicated the reputations of leaders at the campus level. Every day a pastor at Mars Hill Bellevue went to church on Sunday in 2014 one of the dark clouds looming over any given church service was "Good for Bellevue".