When a Fund Isn't a Fund: Mars Hill Church Tells Another Mars Hill Global Fund Story

Today’s Mars Hill lesson: Global doesn’t mean global, and Fund doesn’t mean fund.
Late last week (Oct. 8-9), a reader, Alex Terry, contacted Mars Hill spokesman Justin Dean with questions about the Global Fund. Alex asked Dean about the legitimacy of the November 2011 memo I posted on October 1 which called on Mars Hill Church to engage in “highly visible” mission projects as a way to fund other Mars Hill non-missions projects. Dean responded and Alex alerted me to the conversation and wanted my response to Dean’s side of the story. I got involved at that point and asked Dean several questions as follow ups to his comments. I encourage readers to view the entire conversation which is at this link.
Regarding the memo, Dean told Alex:

The memo posted on that blog is not an official memo or active working document, and to the best of my knowledge it never was. I’m not sure where it came from. Most likely it was a doc somebody on staff made as a proposal and it never went anywhere from there. I’d be happy to answer any questions you have about Global. Obviously it was never our intention to deceive donors, and to date we have received very few comments from actual donors who have been confused.

In response, I ask readers to again read the memo (available here). Dean says the memo “never went anywhere” and yet nearly everything the memo recommended has happened. The church did fund low cost but “highly visible” projects (e.g., donating Amharic Bibles to Ethiopian church planters, funding a pastors’ conference, supporting 40 church planters at $170/month each, etc.). The memo suggested that the public not know the extent of Mars Hill’s support for missions. As of today, Mars Hill has not told the public how much was spent on missions between 2012-2014.
Also, as the memo suggested, beginning in 2012, video footage of the “highly visible” mission projects was regularly played prior to sermons as commercials for the Mars Hill Global Fund. And as I point out below, Dean acknowledged in this conversation with Alex that the church internally did not consider the Global Fund to be “a fund.” The memo in question advised that only small amounts of money coming in under the Global Fund brand be allocated to missions. In response to Dean’s explanation, Alex went to the Global FAQ page and reproduced the following paragraph:

Where have past gifts been used? During fiscal years 2009-2014, over $10MM dollars has been given to Mars Hill Church by the Mars Hill Global Family. During that same time period $22.48MM has been spent on church planting in the US, India and Ethiopia. In 2009-11 over 80% of funds given by the Mars Hill global family went to Acts 29 church planting and funds were consistently spent in India for church planting in each of those years. In 2012- 2014 expenditures for church planting efforts in India and Ethiopia were increased with the preponderance of expenses related to church plants and replants in the U.S.

Alex then asked Dean:

I couldn’t tell from the FAQ on what the church spent on missions from 2012-14 and where it was spent. Is it possible to break down the yearly giving for those years to the Global Fund and what it was spent on?

Dean replied:

Despite what you may have read on blogs, we never had a separate fund for Global so we don’t have separate accounting for Global. We have used some confusing communications in the past, and have done much to correct that, but Global has never been a designated fund. We do spend money on church planters in Ethiopia and India (as indicated in the FAQ), but we don’t provide specific accounting of our different expenses. Just like we don’t provide how much we specifically spent on pens and tape, we don’t break out other expenses. I hope that makes sense.

No, to me, it doesn’t make sense. Dean later modified his statement about the Global Fund’s separateness, but even here the statement flies in the face of the statement on the FAQ page. On that page, Mars Hill claims:

In 2012- 2014 expenditures for church planting efforts in India and Ethiopia were increased with the preponderance of expenses related to church plants and replants in the U.S.

If there is no way to account for difference expenses, then how can the church be confident that expenditures were increased for church planting in India and Ethiopia? How do they know the preponderance of expenses went to U.S. church plants? Comparing expenditures for Bible donations, and support for Ethiopian church planters to pens and tape is not credible. First, I suspect Mars Hill could tell you how much they spent on office supplies and second, it is inconceivable that Sutton Turner did not keep track of those expenses. Re-read his memo to Mark Driscoll and Dave Bruskas on the 2011 financial crisis to see what kind of expenses Turner tracked. Second, Mars Hill church reported on the missions efforts in their FY 2013 Annual Report and surely could track how much was spent on those projects.
At this point in the conversation, Alex contacted me. I suggested he ask Dean some questions based on my blog posts which he did. Alex wrote Dean in response:

This is probably where my confusion lies – my interest in this first began when I read a blog post on Patheos where Warren Throckmorton quoted Rachel Macor, a former staffer with the Mars Hill Finance Department, saying that the Mars Hill Global Fund was restricted and had its own account number. Throckmorton also provided a link to this Mars Hill post titled “Where Were You on April 24, 2011”. There is a drop-down menu that lists the Global Fund as a fund separate from the General Fund, Campus Fund, Easter Fund, etc. Additionally, this video shows the Giving page on the Mars Hill website (pre-May 2014) that also lists the Global Fund as separate from the General Fund. If Global was never considered separate from the General Fund, then why list it on the website as a separate fund in a drop-down menu? Does this mean that the Easter Celebration, Campus Fund, Military, and Legacy Project all tie into the General Fund as well (since they appear to also be listed as separate funds in the drop down menu).

Dean’s response repeated the information contained on the Global FAQ page:

We used the term “global fund” to distinguish between donors online who attended our churches and those who don’t. We realized it was confusing and changed it. 6000 people donated using that designation. We contacted all of them and offered to designate their funds towards Ethiopia and India if that is what they intended for their donation and they were confused by our terminology. Only about 20 people asked us to designate their donations, and we gladly did that.

At this point, I wrote to Dean to ask him to confirm the conversation was legitimate and ask him again for an explanation of the statement that the Global Fund wasn’t a fund. His reply contains a new wrinkle in Mars Hill’s communications regarding the Global Fund. Dean said: Alex and Warren,

I was incorrect to say we never had a separate fund setup for Global. The details of this issue can be confusing, I was confused as well and I gave you a wrong answer, and I apologize. I have done some checking and prior to 2012 we did have a separate fund. However, since 2012 we have not had a designated fund for missions work or international church planting. Beginning in 2012 the term “Global Fund” was used on our website to distinguish between global donors and local church donors. We realized the terminology used was confusing so we changed it to “General Fund (Local & Global). This is explained on our Global F.A.Q. page.
For those that may have been confused by our terminology we contacted them earlier this year in an effort to make it right. We mailed 6,000 letters and sent 3,765 emails to anyone who had given as a global donor since 2012. We received 33 total responses; 7 people let us know that there was no need to change their gifts, and 26 indicated that they would like their previous gifts applied to ministry work in Ethiopia and India. We were happy to make these changes, totaling $39,399.

After months of avoiding the issue, this is a startling admission. Here Mars Hill acknowledges that they internally changed how they viewed the Global Fund without telling donors and without changing the name of the fund. However, as I have pointed out numerous times, the term “Global Fund” did more than distinguish Mars Hill members from non-members. This video makes it clear that one could be a member or a non-member and still give to the Global Fund as distinct from the General Fund:
Prior to May 2014, Global in one drop down menu referred to a non-Mars Hill location and Global Fund in another one referred to a fund different than the General Fund. The term Global Fund did not distinguish between global donors and local donors because both global and local church donors could give to the Global Fund. Very clearly the church portrayed the Global Fund as a fund until May 2014 and now admits that internally they considered it a fund before 2012. Why did it take two years and public scrutiny in order for the church to alert donors, members and non-members alike, that the Global Fund wasn’t really a fund?
If anything, Dean’s admission adds more credibility to the memo I posted on October 1. The memo said:

Flagship Projects Of the money that comes into the Global Fund, designate a fixed percentage internally for highly visible, marketable projects such as mission trips, orphan care, support for pastors and missionaries in the third world, etc. (ten to fifteen strategic operations in locations where Mars Hill wants to be long term). this percentage should be flexible (not a “tithe”), and not communicated to the public. Support for Mars Hill Global would be support for Mars Hill Church in general, but the difference and the d!aw would be that a portion of Global gifts would also benefit projects that spread the gospel and serve the needs of people around the world.

Dean said there was no fund after 2012 and that is exactly what this memo suggested should happen. However, in 2012, the church started referring to Mars Hill Global as the arm of the church that did missions (see image at the end of the post) and provided members and non-members alike with the Global Fund as a giving option. In the FY 2013 Annual Report, the only projects listed under Mars Hill Global were international mission projects. The church marketed the Mars Hill Global and the Global Fund as the church’s international mission ministry (just as the Global Fund memo suggested) but “the preponderance” of the money was spent on U.S. projects. This branding took place until May 2014 when I started writing about the Global Fund.
According to Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability guidelines, organizations have an obligation to be clear about where donations are going. Organizations should not be able to market a fund as a mission fund and then internally decide that those donations can go elsewhere.
Earlier in the correspondence, the importance of greater transparency from the ECFA was highlighted by the fact that Dean appealed to the ECFA as an proof of Mars Hills’ sound practice:

As an auditor I’m sure you’ll appreciate that we submit to outside CPA firms to review our financials, as well as submit to the ECFA who has reviewed our financials and in particular has reviewed in detail our donations from our Global audience and all communications and efforts around Global.

Dean here claims that the ECFA has reviewed the materials regarding the Global Fund. However, I suspect the ECFA did not review this memo. Since the ECFA will not comment, there is no way to verify what they have reviewed. In light of Mars Hill’s statement here, the ECFA should let the public know what they have reviewed and explain the rationale for approving of Mars Hill’s handling of the Global Fund.
The image above was captured from the Mars Hill FAQ page in July 2014. Mars Hill Church altered this page to remove the phrase “International Missions (Mars Hill Global)” shortly after I posted it.

IOTC Brings Theocratic Lessons to the Public School

The Institute on the Constitution continues their quest to bring theocratic lessons to school children. Regularly requesting non-deductible donations for their efforts, IOTC is working to start inappropriately named, “American Clubs” to public schools. IOTC’s lead teacher David Whitney teaches that only born again Christians should be citizens, the federal government has no role in commerce, and that civil government should worship God according to their reconstructionist ideas.
Unfortunately, some teachers are buying in to these ideas. Take this unidentified public school teacher (I’m guessing from Maryland or Ohio):

If I knew the school where this club was established, warnings could be provided to parents in that district. Unfortunately, there is little a school district can do to prevent the distortion of the Constitution to be presented by the IOTC.
If anyone recognizes this teacher, let me know.

Mars Hill Ballard Building For Sale

Mars Hill Ballard is also for sale.

Earlier, I reported that Mars Hill Sammamish is on the market. The tweet above links to a listing for Mars Hill Ballard.
Tomorrow is the first day of the planned combination of Mars Hill University District (also for sale, although I have heard it sold), and Mars Hill Downtown with Mars Hill Ballard. They will be meeting in a building which is on the market.
The listing, like the Sammamish one, hopes for a buyer which will lease the building back to the church. The church clearly needs cash and is willing to give up assets in order to maintain the location. It may be that there are potential buyers who would prefer to own something for their money rather than simply donate it to Mars Hill Church.
The building is also on the market as a possible lease situation with another tenant using the building from Monday through Saturday.
According to the listing, Ballard has a new name — Ballard Big Box. In fact, none of the listings for Mars Hill properties have the church name on the listing.

Mars Hill Sammamish Building For Sale

Yesterday on this post, a commenter left a provocative message that I decided to investigate. First the comment:

You should know- They’ve already determined what the outcome of the charges assessment will be. Mark will be out of the pulpit for a longer period of time than what has already taken place, and he will be placed on a restoration/spiritual care plan. He will be rebuked lightly and publicly, but he will not be disqualified.
One additional piece of information that was sad to hear- Mars Hill has sold MHC Sammamish. They haven’t told the congregation yet, but they have decided to sell and close that church in an effort to save Bellevue.

I haven’t found out much about the first claim but I did learn something about the second one. Mars Hill Sammamish is listed for sale.
Initially I emailed Sammamish pastor Alex Ghioni and asked if he could confirm or deny the sale of the building. He forwarded the email to Justin Dean who emailed today to say:

Pastor Alex forwarded me your email. I can confirm the Sammamish church has not been sold.

However, it is listed for sale:
According to the listing (for more information on the building see this pdf), the current owner (Mars Hill) wants to continue to occupy the building for an unspecified length of time:

Sammamish Church 
Current church owner to lease back long term

In contrast to the statement of Justin Dean, a source in the church told me the building was sold without the knowledge of the Sammamish congregation. The listing agent Steve Pelluer declined to confirm either story.  At present, the official position of Mars Hill Church is that the building has not been sold.
Mars Hill Sammamish used to belong to Evergreen Christian Fellowship. The first service as Mars Hill Sammamish was January 15, 2012.
UPDATE: After I emailed Alex Ghioni to ask about the sale of the Sammamish building, he disclosed to the congregation that other plans were in the works for the building (see his City post here). Thanks to an anonymous commenter for providing the information.
UPDATE: Mars Hill Ballard is also for sale.

Update from Mars Hill Church Board of Advisors and Accountability on Mark Driscoll Investigation

Just out in the Mars Hill Weekly:


Six weeks ago Pastor Mark stepped aside while our Board of Advisors and Accountability examine accusations brought forward by former staff and elders. That extensive process is nearly complete and we expect to have those results to share with you very soon. In the meantime, we ask for your continued prayers for Pastor Mark and his family, Pastor Dave Bruskas and the lead pastors as they continue to preach and lead during this time, and also for the Board of Elders while they prepare their final report. Lastly, please pray for our Mars Hill Church family that Jesus would be glorified in our lives.

This update pertains to the allegations brought forward by former staff and elders, the BOAA has been silent on the concerns raised by the then-current pastors who raised issues regarding the BOAA. I wonder when those concerns will be heard.
Feedback from sources has been mixed. Dave Kraft made a public statement after his meeting whereas all others have commented anonymously. Some have expressed optimism that the allegations will be validated but that the results might not reflect the gravity of the findings. I expect a public statement from the church by the end of the month.

Calling for More Transparency from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability

Rob Smith continues to raise questions for the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. In a column this morning, Smith asks: Why is ECFA certifying churches without requiring the same public disclosure as non-churches?
While Smith believes the government should not insist on wider disclosure, he believes the ECFA should insist on a similar level of disclosure from the organizations who are accredited by the organization. Lack of transparency should be a red flag about the church and about the ECFA.
While they may be above it all, the comments at the Change.org petition continue to sharply criticize the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability for their handling of the various problems at Mars Hill Church. The ECFA remains silent in the face of nearly 140 signers as of this morning.
The comments bluntly call on the ECFA to drop Mars Hill and restore credibility to ECFA accreditation.
Former member Sara Brinton said:

We were members at Mars Hill for 10+ years. Through those years, we gave sacrificially. Although my husband had a good corporate job, there were lots of months we struggled to afford groceries because of the amount we were giving to the church. Mars Hill taught us that this was the right thing to do. We gave because we thought we were on mission – that we shared a genuine desire to see people in our city and around the world meet Jesus. We are devastated as more and more of the truth comes out. We are angry and we feel we have been deceived by a church that was misusing funds and taking advantage of orphans and widows.

James Petroski wrote:

The ECFA seal means nothing if MHC is allowed to receive a positive rating by the organization.

Jim Caldwell wrote:

The financial integrity of every entity effects every other group in the ECFA.

Al Doyle wrote:

Over the years, as a donor, I have relied on ECFA to vet and authenticate the practices of Christian professing non-profit organizations. As a former Board member of more than one 501 (c ) 3 organizations, I have relied on ECFA guidelines to shape financial practices. This is a very public and egregious situation that needs immediate investigation and attention with the intent to protect the interests of the hundred of faithful donors giving to a cause that may be misrepresented.

Stephanie Hopkins:

I listened to MH sermons while attending a healthy church for years. After moving to Seattle, I attended MH-Ballard for most of 2011. I was deeply concerned and disgusted by what appeared to me to be deceptive fundraising campaigns and exorbitant spending practices for a church once I was attending and part of their communication network. What stood out most was an email at the end of the year thanking us for helping meet budget after a month of pleas for funds specifically to help a list of projects and open four new campuses – nothing about the fundraising goal amount being something like half regular budget was mentioned until we were told that is what the money raised was going to first and that anything extra in the next few days would actually go to the projects we’d been receiving emails and messages about the funds going to all month. I stopped giving and eventually attending specifically because it seemed to me that their financial practices were opaque and deceptive. Unless and until the ECFA removes MHC, I can be nothing but suspicious and skeptical of their endorsement of any organization or church. As long as MHC is endorsed by the ECFA I can only believe that their endorsement is nothing more than a purchased rubber stamp.

That Time When Mars Hill Church Considered Moving to California

Lately, I have gotten several inquiries from readers who have heard that Mars Hill Church leaders considered moving Mark Driscoll and church headquarters to California and that in preparation for such a move, the church made possible a rental property for the Driscolls in Orange County.

Talking with several former leaders and in light of this memo, it appears there is some truth to the story.
IrvinePropAccording to those familiar with the arrangements, Mars Hill Church provided Driscoll with substantial extra salary in order to afford a rental home in an upscale, gated Irvine, CA neighborhood (currently $6500/month, scroll down for the rental price history). The church asked church members to donate furniture but paid for furnishings not donated. The arrangement lasted from late 2011 until late summer, 2012. Some former leaders said Driscoll preferred the climate in Southern California. If so, that would not be a shock.

I asked Mars Hill Church spokesman Justin Dean about the story, and whether or not Mars Hill still has property in CA. He replied:

Warren, thanks for your inquiry. We do not discuss salary and compensation details of any member of our staff. However I have also verified that we do not maintain any property or living quarters in the CA area for any staff, including Pastor Mark Driscoll.

Due to the lack of transparency at Mars Hill Church, current and former members have many questions about how money is spent. Clearly, members have been in the dark about how their tithes and offerings have been used. Even Dean’s response is indicative of an area of discussion that is off limits to those people who provide the resources via tithes and offerings to pay the bills for the decisions made by the executive elders.

Edited (8/17/21) to add the memo detailing the plans to move the Driscolls to Southern CA.

Petition Asks Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability to Suspend Mars Hill Church

GlobaFundA petition posted today “Mars Hill Church – Walk in the Light” at Change.org asks the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability to suspend the membership of Mars Hill Church. The petition specifically points to a memo on Mars Hill’s Global Fund which planned to use “highly visible” mission projects as a draw to gain donations which were mostly used to support Mars Hill’s expansion and current expense spending. Very little actually went to missions according to the church, although Mars Hill leaders will not disclose details about how much went to missions and how much to fund current expenses.
The petition states:

Despite numerous scandals of confirmed deception to donors Mars Hill Church points to its ECFA standing to assure donors of its accountability and transparency. This is misleading donors and frustrating members and ex-members who are calling for financial questions to be answered.

The statements of support for the petition are quite strong. Alexa Shelley wrote:

I am an attorney for an ECFA-accredited organization. We are proud of our ECFA accreditation status and, I believe, it is important to many of our donors. For Mars Hill with its questionable accounting practices and complete lack of financial transparency to remain accredited only calls into question the meaning or value of any ECFA accreditation, including that of my organization. Frankly, if ECFA sits back and does nothing, in my opinion, it will devalue the ECFA accreditation of all accredited organizations…

Susan Gingrich:

I’m signing because it’s time for the Church to get its own house in order before the IRS does. ECFA is not doing its job and does the evangelical world no favors by looking the other way in the glaring light of Mars Hill’s obvious failure to walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel in its financial (and likely other) affairs.

Benjamin Dennison:

Using promo videos of foreign locations to get people to give to “missions”, while spending nearly all the money raised for U. S. buildings and keeping the exact amount secret (as revealed in a recent internal memo), is a disgusting and immoral practice. Mars Hill needs to own up to exactly what was planned and done with the Mars Hill Global Fund, and promise transparency going forward.

Megachurch Methods: The Lead Pastors and Executive Elders Wellness Program (UPDATED)

In a bid to retain pastors, Mars Hill Church leaders implemented a wellness program in the summer of 2013. I first became aware of the program when John Catanzaro’s — Mark Driscoll’s naturopath physician — license to practice as a naturopath was suspended in January 2014. Then recently, I obtained more information about the program and the associated costs. The program is of interest because of the costs involved and the fact that the program involves Catanzaro whose license was suspended due to the use of cancer vaccines he was not authorized to administer. Catanzaro’s hearing is slated for November.
In response to negative publicity surrounding his loss of license, Catanzaro put out a press kit which referenced his work with Mars Hill Church. He claimed to be a special advisor to Mark Driscoll and to be working with the church to create wellness programs. Even though Catanzaro was at one time (perhaps still is) Driscoll’s naturopathic physician, Catanzaro’s articles were all removed from The Resurgence website when his license was suspended.
A source told me that the lead pastors and executive elders received monthly visits to Catanzaro’s clinic and were eligible to get IV vitamin treatments, and various supplements. The cost was around $100k for the first six months of the program according to one former pastor. Another former pastor told me that the cost was nearer to $7k/year per pastor ($126k for all pastors). Yet another said the visits were often marked by high pressure tactics to buy even more supplements and get more treatments.
I asked Mars Hill Church spokesman Justin Dean about the program.  Below is his response:

Since the summer of 2013 we have provided a Wellness Program as part of the competitive benefits package we offer our Lead Pastors and Executive Elders for treatments not typically covered by our healthcare plan. We take the wellness of our families seriously and have been happy to provide this added benefit for these pastors. These included optional IV vitamin treatments, check up and back adjustments, and nutritional supplements. This was developed with Dr. Catanzaro’s office but was expanded to include other doctors. The costs associated with the program were not over $100k for the first 6 months. Due to our current financial situation all program costs are in review. 

 I also asked, “Just one follow up; are those “others doctors” in Dr. Catanzaro’s office?” to which he replied, “They are able to see other doctors at his [Catanzaro’s] office in addition to doctors at an entirely different facility. ” 
People differ in their beliefs about the benefits of naturopathic treatments. Vitamin C treatments are controversial but I doubt they hurt much (or do much good). The amount of the program sounds high for what is offered which seems relevant given the current financial situation at Mars Hill.
Dean said all program costs are “in review” — as they should be. This wellness program was being funded at about the same level and about the same time as the “highly visible” mission projects in Ethiopia and India designed to draw money into the Global Fund. Now we know that most of the money donated to the Global Fund went to the general fund to pay for budget items like the wellness program.
UPDATE: There is disagreement over the cost of the program. Justin Dean wrote to me this afternoon and asked me to include an additional aspect to our email conversation about the wellness program. When we first talked, I had informed Dean that sources told me the wellness program cost $100k during the first six months of operation. Dean’s initial response to that point was stated above: “The costs associated with the program were not over $100k for the first 6 months.” However, later in the email conversation, Dean wrote again about the costs of the wellness program and said, “I checked into the figures on this and you have overstated the cost of this program by 85%.” I initially misunderstood this statement and asked about the actual figures which he did not provide. Then today, Dean asked me to include his statement about the costs of the program being overstated by 85% so that readers would not think that the $100/six months figure came from him. While Dean declined to give the actual dollar amount, he restated that “You asked if the cost was $100k in the first 6 months and I replied that number is overstated by 85%.” If I understand him correctly, the cost was closer to $54k for the first six months. Dean declined to confirm my estimate. 
In response, my sources stood by the $100k/first six months figure, although added that the information came in a manner that cannot now be verified. One source also wanted to make it clear that there was no choice of provider until John Catanzaro’s license was suspended. My sources informed me that Catanzaro was the only approved naturopath until Catanzaro’s license was suspended.
All concerned acknowledge that the program existed with naturopath John Catanzaro as the developer. While the exact costs cannot be verified, estimates range from around $100k to $200k on an annualized basis.

James Rose No Longer Pastor at Mars Hill Ballard

In late August, a letter written by nine then-current Mars Hill Church pastors to their peers called on Mark Driscoll to step down as pastor and enter an elder directed restoration program. Currently, Mark Driscoll is nearing the end of his break and the nine pastors are now nine former pastors. Eight of the nine either resigned or were laid off early in September.
This Sunday at Ballard campus it was announced that the ninth, James Rose, is no longer a volunteer elder over community groups. He will be replaced by Matthias Haeusel, who was formerly lead pastor at the Downtown campus.
Earlier today, Rose confirmed that he was no longer in the Ballard position but declined to make a comment.
UPDATE: I have learned that Cliff Ellis, one of the nine, is no longer employed by Mars Hill, but continues to be a lay elder at Mars Hill West Seattle. Thus, I have changed the title to reflect the fact that Rose was replaced. All nine have lost or experienced changes in their positions since they took a stand.