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.

Whatever Happened to the Mars Hill Church Jesus Festival? And the $3 Million?

Wenatchee the Hatchet asked the question on August 1, but I don’t see an official answer anywhere. Asking around, a former member who was in training to become a Community Group leader told me the Jesus Festival (slated for August 22) was canceled in the Spring after the news broke about Mark Driscoll’s New York Times scandal.  I can find no official announcement but there has been no publicity about the event since Spring. The Jesus Festival was one of the reasons why Mars Hill needed to raise $2 million “over and above” tithes at the end of 2013. According to Mars Hill website:

During these 40 days of prayer and 5 days of fasting, we are praying for $2 million over and above our donors’ tithes to fund these endeavors in 2014. We believe Jesus has given the vision, so we trust that he will graciously provide the means to do it through his people. If the Holy Spirit leads you to give during these focused days of prayer, please visit

What were the endeavors?


Pastor Mark first met church planter Pastor Arjuna Chiguluri in 1998, and Mars Hill Church has been working with and supporting Pastor Arjuna and Vision Nationals in India since 1999. In the last couple of years, we have expanded our Global efforts and are privileged to support church planters and evangelists in Ethiopia who have shared the gospel with over 11,000 people, of which 890 people have been saved. Over the next decades, we want to see Mars Hill Church grow into a worldwide movement and see 1,000 churches planted throughout India and Ethiopia. This is an ambitious goal, but as Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). For more information, go to

The page linked here is the Mars Hill Global page. In this description of Mars Hill Global, there is no mention of church plants in the United States, just India and Ethiopia. In fact, mention of Mars Hill expansion comes later in the appeal. If the money was always supposed to go to Mars Hill expansion in the U.S., then why not mention it here?


In the summer of 2014, Mars Hill will be hosting an evangelistic, outdoor outreach, aptly titled The Jesus Festival, at Marymoor Park in Seattle. This will be a family friendly event with activities for the kids, music, and amazing gospel preachers. This will be a great opportunity for outreach in the community and to build unity among the Bible-teaching churches in the Seattle area.

Apparently, the money came in (closer to $3 million), but the festival is off, called off months ago. Shouldn’t the people have been consulted? They gave toward a festival but didn’t get one. As late as February, Mark Driscoll was still promoting the festival as a free event. In a February 5 email to the church, Driscoll wrote:

From Pastor Mark Driscoll: Heaven is going to be a party and we need to practice for that party. Over the next few months, you’ll be hearing a lot more about our first-ever Jesus Festival, August 22 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. We’ve never done anything quite like this event, but picture a huge outdoor celebration with live bands, food trucks, fun stuff for the kids, open-air gospel preaching, baptisms, and a summer night filled with the worship of thousands of brothers and sisters praising Jesus together. Pastor Dustin Kensrue will be leading us in worship, and as the date gets closer we’ll announce some special guests who will be joining us as well. Thanks to your generosity as a church, the whole thing will be free, which will make it very easy to invite non-Christian family and friends.

Keep on picturing.

3) LEADERSHIP TRAINING The two key missional distinctives of Mars Hill Church are planting churches and making disciples. In order to reach the world with the good news of Jesus, we need biblically literate, gifted leaders. In order to train these leaders, we need a school. In the fall of 2014, we are hoping to offer a 1-year Bible certificate program. Eventually, it will be a fully accredited Bible seminary to help train future leaders and to grow existing leaders in knowledge of the Bible and sound theology

This apparently is going to get underway this Fall. Nonetheless, this is a puzzle. Why does the church need money for this since the schools are supplying the professors and Mars Hill has the space. Presumably they are getting rent. If anything, this should be a money maker for Mars Hill Church.


In the new year, our Mars Hill family will be replanting churches in Olympia, Tacoma, Everett, and Huntington Beach to move them into bigger and better buildings, and we are planting a brand new location in Phoenix. Our hope is that thousands will come to meet Jesus at these churches and become disciples.

According to the Mars Hill website, Mars Hill Global Fund helped pay for these campus expansions. Everett and Tacoma have sent “thank you notes” to the Global Fund, and the Fund FAQs also mention funding for Phoenix, Bellevue, and Spokane. So the $2 million went to these churches too?


As the Western World becomes more secularized, the Church is becoming more ostracized. Simply put, Christianity is a threat to many of the sacred cows in American culture. Pastor Mark is currently working on a sermon series and book that will tackle many of these issues, including gay marriage, the exclusivity of Jesus, the authority of scripture, etc. This series springboards from an extensive sociological study on thousands of Americans’ opinions on Christianity that was conducted by a top research firm, and will focus on the objections that real people really have.

This must be a reference to the now-postponed book, The Problem with Christianity. The book was slated to be released in the Spring, then it was pushed back to the Fall and now there is no date for release while Tyndale is waiting for “the best season.” The research for this book was done in Spring 2013 and already paid for by the time of this appeal so it is unclear to me how this campaign would require additional donor funding. If anything, according to the messaging about Mark Driscoll and his books, the sales of the books should provide additional income to the church. Unless they don’t.  In any case, this isn’t happening this year either. All in all, I suspect the main beneficiary of these donations (as with the Global Fund) was U.S. expansion of video franchises.