Megachurch Bait and Switch: Mars Hill Church and the Jesus Festival

Mars Hill Church occasionally answers the questions of some journalists. The Huffington Post did a feature story on the Jesus Festival that never was. On Monday, I wrote about the once planned but later canceled Jesus Festival which was to be funded by the extra $3 million received by Mars Hill at the end of 2013. Initially, Mars Hill wanted $2 million to help fund extra initiatives outlined on their website. The project was described on several webpages, but on one of them, at the bottom, was this statement:

*All gifts during the Living for a Legacy sermon series are donated to the church’s general fund and can be used for operating purposes.

Prior to this statement, the pitch was delivered with several specific items in mind:

During this season, we as a church will be raising money—above and beyond our normal budget—to help fund a few special projects related to the long-term health of our church legacy:

  • New homes for church families: January 12, 2014, is a huge day! We’ll be opening new buildings for Mars Hill Church in Tacoma, Everett, Olympia, and Huntington Beach, and it’s the grand opening for Mars Hill Phoenix. On that day, we also launch the book of James.
  • Christian education: In the coming year, we’ll be partnering with two universities to offer an accredited undergraduate and graduate education in Bellevue, primarily to equip young men and women heading out into a world where Christians are an increasingly despised minority.
  • Jesus Festival: On August 22, we’ll host our first-ever Jesus Festival at Marymoor Park near Seattle. Everyone at Mars Hill churches far and near is invited for this unique opportunity to grow together and evangelize within the surrounding community. Fun for kids, music, gospel preaching, baptisms, and good times at no charge because it’s always good to practice for the kingdom with a party!
  • Mars Hill Global: In 2014, we plan to support 20 additional church planters in Ethiopia, and 10 additional church planters in India—73 overall, for a legacy that extends beyond our own congregation and country.

We’ll have much more to share about these projects in the coming weeks. Go to to give online and set up recurring giving for 2014. We are asking the people of Mars Hill to give an additional $2 million above and beyond normal giving by the end of 2013 to make all this happen. Please pray about what your portion is and pray for everyone to do their part.

The pitch reads one way but the statement at the bottom after Mark Driscoll’s name provides the disclaimer necessary to actually mean something else. In that story, Mars Hill deacon Justin Dean is quoted as follows:

During our annual end of year fundraising campaign we often share some of the exciting things that we have planned for the coming year. Last year one thing we shared was the Jesus festival, originally planned to occur this week. In line with the mission of our church, the festival would have been a great evangelistic opportunity to share the gospel and great music with the community. We regret that the festival and other summer events have had to be canceled, and we would love to still be able to host a festival like this in the future.

Contrary to what has been reported, we did not raise money specifically for the Jesus festival. Gifts given during the end of the year campaign, as well as any gifts given to Mars Hill Church, go towards ministry operations, evangelism, and church planting all over the world.

Dean says somebody reported that the money was raised specifically for the Jesus Festival.  I don’t know where that was reported. I did not say that the money was raised for the Jesus Festival only. There were other things mentioned in the appeal and the money could have gone to any one of those. However, there is a takeaway point here. Bottom line for potential donors to Mars Hill Church: it doesn’t appear to matter what the pitch is, the money you donate will go wherever the executive pastors want it to go. Dean told HuffPo: …”as well as any gifts given to Mars Hill Church, go toward ministry operations, evangelism, and church planting all over the world.” So when the church leaders ask for donations “above and beyond our normal budget—to help fund a few special projects,” they apparently don’t mean it.