Why Did Mars Hill Tacoma and Everett Wait Until 2014 to Thank Mars Hill Global?

In light of the memo I posted on October 1 and yesterday’s post, I now have a workable theory about why Mars Hill location pastors waited until after May 2014 to acknowledge publicly the money they received from Mars Hill Global.
Here is what the memo said about how Global Fund donations would be spent:

Global Focus
The vision and activities connected to the Global Fund must focus on reaching the worldwide church. As a person sits in front of his computer in Qatar, London, Cape Town, or Sydney, he does not care about Mars Hill planting in Everett. As an international citizen, however, he cares greatly about global evangelism, global missions, global causes for Jesus, global church-planting, etc. though the sentiment is rare among Americans, people abroad feel a sense belonging and kinship with the global community.
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 draw 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.

In 2011, Mars Hill Church needed money for U.S. expansion. As the memo said, Mars Hill’s global audience would be more likely to donate to global missions than to Mars Hill’s U.S. expansion. So the church branded Global as Mars Hill’s ministry for international missions and funded a few international projects to bring in more money from people outside the Mars Hill membership (at the same time, Global was marketed to members too as another way for them to give “over and above” their tithes). Alerting donors that most of the donations funded U.S. expansion might erode support so, as the memo says, the disbursements would not be disclosed to the public.
After the Global Fund went away in May 2014, two Mars Hill campus pastors came out of the closet about the source of some their start up funding. Mars Hill Tacoma said thank you on August 4, 2014 and Mars Hill Everett on June 5, 2014. In July, an article by Thomas Hurst, lead pastor at Mars Hill Bellevue also referenced Global help but that situation is different from the other two because Bellevue’s funding came in 2011 before the Global Fund rebranding into an international mission brand. Furthermore, Bellevue’s assistance from the Global Fund was disclosed to the church and was consistent with how the fund was marketed to the church at the time. The rebranding of Mars Hill Global was suggested in November 2011 and carried out in 2012.
The articles about Tacoma and Everett were posted after my initial reporting on Mars Hill Global and the Global Fund in May 2014, and long after the money had been taken by Mars Hill leaders from the Global Fund and used for expansion at those two locations. Let’s look at each one.
Mars Hill Tacoma
On August 4, 2014, Tacoma pastor Bubba Jennings wrote on the Mars Hill website that Mars Hill Global helped with the purchase of the Tacoma building:

We would not have been able to buy our new home and relocate without the help of Mars Hill Global—thank you all very, very much for helping us! You made our dream of having a permanent home come true.

The purchase of the Tacoma building was announced on December 3, 2012. Although the church did not move in permanently until December 2013, Jennings thanked Mars Hill Global for help with the building purchase which was accomplished in late 2012 (during the fiscal year ending in June 2013). In the December 2012 announcement of the building purchase, there is no credit given to the Global Fund or Mars Hill Global. According to that announcement, funding for the building and retrofit came from a “magical night” of fundraising in September 2012 as well as additional fundraising solicited in big bold letters:

HOW TO GET INVOLVED, PLEASE VISIT THE MARS HILL TACOMA PAGE FOR MORE INFO. DURING HE MADE US FAMILY, OUR GOD’S WORK, OUR WITNESS 2012 CHRISTMAS SERMON SERIES, PLEASE CONSIDER A GIFT ABOVE AND BEYOND YOUR NORMAL GIVING. THOSE FUNDS HELP SUPPORT PROJECTS SUCH AS TACOMA, THE PURCHASE OF A NEW BUILDING IN EVERETT, THE REBUILDING OF OUR NEW DOWNTOWN SEATTLE LOCATION, AND MORE. YOU CAN GIVE TOWARDS THESE PROJECT BY CHOOSING THE “GENERAL CHURCH FUND” AT MARSHILL.COM/GIVE.

Please note that donors to Tacoma were not directed to the Global Fund, but to the “General Church Fund.” Why did Sutton Turner not thank Mars Hill Global in 2012? Why did Bubba Jennings wait until after the Global Fund was discontinued to thank Mars Hill Global for the help?
In the FY 2013 Mars Hill Church annual report, there is a page dedicated to Mars Hill Global expenses. Mars Hill Tacoma is not listed there. In fact, only expenses in India and Ethiopia are listed. Tacoma is referred to in the FY 2013 report but not in connection to Mars Hill Global.
In this gushing, thankful 2013 article on fund raising for the Tacoma location, there is no mention of the Global Fund, or a group of global givers:

A THANKS TO EVERYONE INVOLVED, ESPECIALLY JESUS

I want to sincerely thank everyone who has generously given to the Mars Hill Tacoma building fund. I want to thank everyone who has sacrificed their time and energy to be present at the building, helping with various work projects. I want to thank the Executive Elder team, Pastor Mark, Pastor Dave, and Pastor Sutton, for their tremendous support and leadership throughout this project. I want to thank the Mars Hill Central staff for all of their support—their leadership and help has been vital. I want to thank the leaders and members of Mars Hill Federal Way for their faithfulness and perseverance, leading the way in love and sacrifice. I want to thank the entire body of Mars Hill Church for praying for us. Lastly, and most importantly, I want to thank Jesus—without him, none of this would be possible.

Jennings here said he wanted to “sincerely thank everyone” who gave to the Tacoma building fund. Why did it take another nine months to thank Mars Hill Global? Theory one: Mars Hill Global didn’t really give any money to Tacoma. No one thought to say thanks to podcasters since they weren’t publicly asked for money for that purpose. However, in May 2014, Mars Hill leaders needed to create a narrative that involved Global Fund money going to church planting in the U.S. Theory two: Mars Hill leaders didn’t want anyone to know that money solicited for missions was really going to buy buildings and launch Mars Hill locations, so they didn’t bring it up at the time.
Mars Hill Everett
On June 5, 2014, Everett pastor Ryan Williams wrote on the Mars Hill website that Mars Hill Global helped with the down payment on the Everett building:

Our people work super hard and are amazingly generous to the church, but we just did not have the income to fully fund our own down payment and renovation expenses.
Mars Hill Global, that is exactly what you did for Mars Hill Everett and we thank you! Your generosity has allowed us to have a visible presence in our city and county. It has given us a building in which to love and care for hurting people and a place to hold services where the gospel will be proclaimed for, God willing, the next few hundred years.

On January 31, 2013, Mars Hill Church closed the purchase of a vacant national guard armory in Everett for $1.25 million. Williams credited Mars Hill Global for help with the down payment. Everett’s story is similar to Tacoma’s: more Global money spent in FY 2013 but no mention of it until June 2014. Why no mention of this until nearly two years after the fact?
As with Tacoma, there was a massive fundraising effort to renovate the new building with no mention that Mars Hill’s global audience or the Global Fund was kicking anything in.
The question remains: Why did Mars Hill Tacoma and Everett wait until 2014 to thank Mars Hill Global?
My theory is that the church operated in accord with the recently disclosed November 2011 Global Fund memo. Consistent with that memo, the destination of the Global Fund donations was not disclosed to the public while the fund was a giving option for members and non-members. It was only after the fund went away that Mars Hill offered any information about the way the funds were spent. If the church was operating transparently, these expenses would have been disclosed during the FY 2013 annual report, but since Global audiences might not knowingly donate to U.S. expansion, the church did not disclose the actual use of the funds.
 
 

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:
[youtube]http://youtu.be/a4EFX3-RXyg[/youtube]
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.
 
MarshillFAQGlobal
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.

Rob Smith: Where is the credibility of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability?

At Musings from Under the Bus this morning, Rob Smith asks, “Where is the credibility of ECFA?” Also, Smith wonders:

One has to wonder what type of financial scandal has to become public before ECFA decides that it will no longer give its once esteemed stamp of approval to Mars Hill Church.

I wonder the same thing and have written about the benefit of ECFA to donors. I don’t see how there is much benefit when organizations can shield their activities from member and public scrutiny and still be accredited.
Smith refers to the Real Marriage scandal, plagiarism and the Global Fund as indicators of deception which have drawn little action from the ECFA. The organization has commented helpfully on the use of Result Source to buy one’s way onto various bestseller lists.  However, the organization has been mostly silent on the Global Fund. What we have learned about the ECFA is that they remain silent in the face of violations. Instead of alerting donors that an organization has been in violation or was once in violation (as they used to do), ECFA now works behind the scenes out of sight of donors. Mars Hill Church has made significant changes to their Mars Hill Global brand (most recently rebranding it to Mars Hill Go) since I started reporting on Mars Hill Global and the Global Fund, but the church’s explanations still do not represent what actually happened in the past. Due to the ongoing stealth at Mars Hill and silence from the ECFA, there is no certainty that Mars Hill is in compliance with the ECFA standards.
If Mars Hill Church has truly conformed to ECFA guidelines, then that would be a good step toward repairing the damage to Mars Hill’s credibility. However, how can anyone know if the ECFA and the church keep it all secret?
For the sake of potential donors and other organizations looking for guidance, the ECFA should be transparent about their investigations into potential violations of their standards. Who would benefit from such transparency? Donors, of course. Who would not benefit? The answer to that question should tell us something about the value of ECFA accreditation.

Mars Hill Global Becomes Mars Hill Go

Mars Hill Global is now Mars Hill Go.
From the Mars Hill Church website:

Today we are making some changes to Mars Hill Global, and introducing Mars Hill GO.

MARS HILL GO

A ministry of Mars Hill that supports churches and church planters around the world.
“And [Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” – Mark 16:15
The mission of Mars Hill Church is to make disciples and plant churches. The mission Jesus called us to not only requires that we share the gospel with family, friends, and neighbors in the communities in which we live, but also with those around the world. Jesus called us to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel.”
GO is a ministry of Mars Hill Church that supports churches and church planters around the world. We work with in-country partners to train pastors and plant churches in Ethiopia, where we support 40 church planters, and in India, where we support 33 church planters. In addition, we distribute Bibles and translate resources so that people from more cultures can have access to solid Bible teaching.

We are excited to launch a new page at marshill.com/go that features the stories of God’s people who’ve answered the call to GO. All content related to our international church-planting efforts will now be featured on this page, and no longer at marshill.com/global.

Why?

We understand that communications around Mars Hill Global have been confusing in the past, so we have updated the content featured on marshill.com/global, and moved other content to the new marshill.com/go page. In addition to online services, and on demand content, Mars Hill Global will now feature stories from and about our Global Family.

By confusing, could the church be referring to this memo?

So Mars Hill Go is the mission activities and Mars Hill Global is the group of people who listen in but aren’t members (“our Global Family”).

The Mars Hill Global/Go FAQs has also been modified:

What is Mars Hill GO?

The mission of Mars Hill Church is to make disciples and plant churches. The mission Jesus called us to not only requires that we share the gospel with family, friends, and neighbors in the communities in which we live, but also with those around the world. Jesus called us to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel. (Mark 16:15)”

GO is a ministry of Mars Hill Church that supports churches and church planters around the world. We work with in-country partners to train pastors and plant churches in Ethiopia, where we support 40 church planters, and in India, where we support 33 church planters. In addition, we distribute Bibles and translate resources so that people from more cultures can have access to solid Bible teaching.

Marshill.com/go features the stories of God’s people who’ve answered the call to GO and information about our international church-planting efforts.

In the past this content was featured on our Global page, but is now on the GO page to reduce confusion.

Can you now give to missions directly? Sorry no.

Can I designate my current gifts towards international mission efforts?

To better support Jesus’ mission and to allow us to effectively and efficiently steward the resources that God has provided us, we encourage all donors to send in their gifts unrestricted so that we can apply them where they are needed most. We believe scripture clearly calls us to be on Jesus’ mission, whether here in the U.S. or in other countries.

As such, every donation is a contribution towards our efforts to carry out His mission, here in the US as well as India, Ethiopia, and around the world. Your support means more people are saved by Jesus Christ, more people are growing as disciples of Jesus, and more churches are being planted, no matter the location. If you’d still like information on sponsoring specific needs and projects, please contact giving@marshill.com.

Updated 10/2/14

Please note that prior to May 2014, Mars Hill provided a link to the Global Fund on their giving page. People thought they were giving to support global missions via that fund with no explanation about where the money was going.

Nothing much has changed except the name. Mars Hill will still support a few “highly visible” mission projects but money given with mission projects in mind might still end up paying for current expenses or some other general fund expense.

To better understand this post, please see yesterday’s post on Mars Hill Global. I am not sure that this rebranding is going to adequately address the outrage generated by the memo posted yesterday.

No more MH Global on Twitter:

MarsHillGlobalFinalTweet

Mars Hill Global Fund: Help the Helpless or Use the Helpless?

In all my coverage of the Mars Hill Church Global Fund, two questions have not been fully answered: What was the purpose of the Global Fund? and How much was spent on missions from the money donated to the Global Fund? I have recently obtained a Mars Hill memo that addresses those questions. Although complete answers are not provided, an examination of this memo allows some insight into how the Global Fund functioned at Mars Hill. Apparently, at least during some of the time when the Global Fund was an option for member giving, church leaders used the Fund to offset accusations that Mars Hill Church did not sponsor international missions. Even though very little was planned for missions, the branding of Mars Hill Global was used to burnish the church’s reputation.
The purpose statement in the November 2011 memo below is almost identical to another November 2011 memo I posted in early May of this year which signaled a change of focus for Mars Hill Global. Previously, Mars Hill Global supported Acts 29, The Resurgence and Mars Hill church planting. However, in November 2011, Mars Hill Global was transitioned into a platform for international outreach. In this way, Mars Hill Church could wake the giving potential of a “sleeping giant” of donors around the world (e.g., visitors to the website and people who listened to Mark Driscoll’s sermons via podcast). The memo below discusses the Global Fund and how donations to it would be used. In that sense, this memo is a companion to the one I obtained in May.
From mid-2012 to May 2014, Mars Hill Global emerged as Mars Hill Church’s international mission outreach with concentrated efforts in Ethiopia and India. I have contended that the marketing created the perception that donations would be spent in those countries. Earlier this year, Mars Hill Church admitted that confusion existed and agreed to spend donations on international missions if Global donors contacted the church with that specific request. The memo below suggests that there was a plan to brand Global as an international outreach but spend most of the money elsewhere.
GlobalFundMemo2011
 
There are several portions of the memo I want to highlight.

Global Focus
The vision and activities connected to the Global Fund must focus on reaching the worldwide church. As a person sits in front of his computer in Qatar, London, Cape Town, or Sydney, he does not care about Mars Hill planting in Everett. As an international citizen, however, he cares greatly about global evangelism, global missions, global causes for Jesus, global church-planting, etc. Though the sentiment is rare among Americans, people abroad feel a sense belonging and kinship with the global community.

This statement appears to vindicate the perception that the church was aware that global donors wanted to support global projects. However, “the preponderance” of the funds (to quote the Mars Hill Global FAQs) went to Mars Hill Church locations in the U.S. In fact, some of those donations went to Everett.

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 draw 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.

It appears that Mars Hill leaders planned to market Mars Hill Global as a mission outreach as a means of raising money for other projects. However, the plan did not include public disclosure of how much money would actually be spent on “highly visible, marketable projects.” We get a little insight into this later in the memo. Two examples of those “highly visible” projects include the Amharic Bibles donated to church planters in Ethiopia and the Ethiopian pastors’ conference in August 2013.

Podcast Commercials
Every podcast would begin with a 10-second spot from Pastor Mark, inviting people to come on mission with Mars Hill Global to spread the gospel and help the helpless. This message would promote the Mars Hill Global giving website.

Eventually, these commercials featured Sutton Turner in Ethiopia at the beginning of the sermons and a narrated commercial at the end of the sermon video (e.g., this sermon: watch the first 1:49 and then the last 22 seconds of the sermon). Mars Hill Church has much content on their Global site and You Tube where Indian and Ethiopian people are shown as recipients of Global funds. However, we now know that very little of the money donated was sent to “help the helpless.”
Under the heading of “Benefits,” the memo outlined how “the helpless” could help Mars Hill Church:

The Global Fund could be beneficial in a number of ways, besides the obvious gain of increased funding:
• For a relatively low cost (e.g. $10K/month), supporting a few missionaries and benevolence projects would serve to deflect criticism, increase goodwill, and create opportunities to influence and learn from other ministries.
• Many small churches who may consider joining Mars Hill hesitate because they do not believe we support “missions.” While we need to continue to challenge the assumptions underlying a claim, the Global Fund would serve as a simple, easy way to deflate such criticism and help lead change in these congregations.
• The ability to communicate and interact with supporters of Mars Hill Global provides an avenue for promoting events, recruiting leaders, and developing Mars Hill core groups in strategic cities.

This cost-benefit analysis strikes me as an illustration of exploiting the helpless rather than helping them. Look at the benefits to the church; for a low cost (about $12o,000/year), the church can look like they strongly (“highly visible”) support international missions. The leaders hoped to deflect criticism that Mars Hill did not support missions, even though the amount actually envisioned for international projects was trivial compared to the amount raised (over $2 million in FY 2013).
As we now know, most Global Fund money went to support Mars Hill expansion — which was the plan all along — without any plans to tell donors how their funds were being spent.
I contend that Mars Hill Church owes the public an explanation and Ethiopian and Indian church planters a lot of money.
 

Former Mars Hill Church Members Speak Out About Church Finances

I recently talked with a couple who were members and leaders at Mars Hill Church from 2003 to 2012.* The couple was involved in leading Community Groups and the wife served as a Deacon in the counseling ministry. While there, they donated to the both the Global Fund and the General Fund and assumed that much of the money given to the Global Fund was going to support international mission efforts. The wife told me:

We definitely had an expectation that our gifts were going to global missions. My husband and I have always had a heart for missions. We have adopted from Uganda and for years tried to encourage the church to start an adoption or orphan care ministry. I started my career in international development and now work in social enterprise. We were always trying to encourage the church to do more in the area of mercy and justice. So when they announced the global fund we were hopeful it was the beginning of something.

When Sutton Turner introduced the Ethiopian ministry to the church in 2012, many assumed the Global Fund was going to be the international mission outreach of the church (just as the church said on its website). And as I have demonstrated with Mars Hill’s own video promotions, the leaders told the members that Mars Hill Global was the church’s ministry for international missions. It is no surprise that the members took that at face value. One former staffer in the finance department went on the record to say that the fund was a restricted fund. However, the church has not made an accounting of those funds available to donors or the media.
The couple had other concerns as well. The wife said they had questions about transparency around the church’s finances:

When we joined Mars Hill, there was an open book policy regarding church finances. We felt comfortable giving both because we trusted the Elders at the time and because we knew we could see how money was being spent if we had questions. This all changed. By the time we left the church in 2012, we felt upset about the secrecy surrounding Executive Elder salaries and spending on music videos, world travel, music and video production equipment, not to mention the promotion of Mark Driscoll’s books. We were frustrated that the church was cutting support for programs that were meeting real needs in our community, such as coat drives for the homeless.
At Mars Hill, we were taught that everything we have belongs to God and we are called to be stewards. This is how we try to live our lives, and we assumed our church would be doing the same. We feel both sad and discouraged as we discover more about how church has spent money from both the General Fund and the Global Fund.

The couple referred to a story I continue to explore. Multiple sources have told me that one Seattle campus was discouraged from holding a drive to donate coats to homeless individuals because other core functions were insufficiently met in the eyes of the executive pastors. Of course, Mars Hill won’t comment and those who have first hand knowledge prefer not to go on the record. However, the story is one I frequently hear.
Currently, members are being asked to give more to help make up for a financial short fall. The church is blaming the decline on “negative media attention.” However, in addition to problems which are now documented, I suspect giving is suffering because some members wonder where their donations are being used. In addition, I recently spoke to three current members who simply asked their pastors for a copy of the church by-laws. According to these members who remain anonymous because they fear retaliation, their request was refused. This is difficult to understand, and probably does not inspire confidence or enthusiastic support financial or otherwise.

*Due to concerns about a conflict of interest involving a current employer, the couple prefers to remain unnamed.

Current Mars Hill Pastors Express Concerns About Issues Covered By ECFA Guidelines

In the letter released today by nine current Mars Hill pastors (actually one former pastor, and 8 current; one was let go today – more on that later today), the pastors referenced concerns about the handling of the Mars Hill Global Fund, among several other issues of transparency.

…there is no dearth of examples in the last two years of very questionable transparency and truth-telling, including the Mars Hill Global Fund, Result-Source, Strange Fire, ghost-writing/plagiarism, explanations for staff transition, the resignations of BOAA members, etc.

Knowing that current pastors question the church’s handling of the fund and the transparency surrounding several issues raises anew questions about the value of accreditation by the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability. The ECFA’s Guideline 5 states:

Every organization shall provide a copy of its current financial statements upon written request and shall provide other disclosures as the law may require. The financial statements required to comply with Standard 3 must be disclosed under this standard.

An organization must provide a report, upon written request, including financial information on any specific project for which it sought or is seeking gifts.

There is also Guideline 7.1, Truthfulness in Communications:

Current. An appeal for charitable gifts should only contain information that is specifically relevant to the purpose of the appeal. Using pictures, videos, descriptions, narratives, or other information from prior projects or events—which suggests a misleading relationship with the current appeal—is a violation of this standard. The prospective giver will assume that all of the information presented relates to the specific appeal. It is inappropriate to use “old” information in a current appeal simply because it might bring a “better” response from a giver.

And then:

Summary.  Questions about truthfulness in communication can best be answered by asking these questions:

  • “Will all of the text, photographs, videos, or other information included in this appeal lead the prospective donor to a current, complete, and accurate understanding of the facts surrounding the appeal?”

  • “Does this appeal communicate all of the information I would want to know if I were a prospective donor deciding whether or not to respond to the appeal?”

  • “Does this communication bear witness that we are trusting God to move in the hearts of our supporters, and we are not trying to manipulate their feelings by the way we portray our work or report its outcomes?”

The current pastors are not specific but include the Global Fund in their list of not very transparent, not very candid items. Clearly, people watching the Global videos in late 2012 through 2014 would have thought the money was going to Ethiopia and India since 22 of 25 pertained to mission work.
At least one former staffer has gone on record with questions about adherence to the guidelines, now we have current pastors expressing their lack of confidence in the public presentation of a variety of issues which are relevant to the ECFA guidelines. Perhaps the call for transparency should extend beyond Mars Hill Church.

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 marshill.com/give.

What were the endeavors?

1) MARS HILL GLOBAL

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 Marshill.com/global.

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?

2) JESUS FESTIVAL

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.

4) 5 MARS HILL CHURCH PLANTS/REPLANTS

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?

5) OUR MOST EVANGELISTIC CAMPAIGN

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.

Former Staffer Says That Mars Hill Church's Global Fund Was Restricted

A week ago, I posted an anonymous statement from a former staff member in the central office at Mars Hill Church. Today, I can offer you another statement from the same staffer. I received this quote from Rachel Macor, a former staffer in Mars Hill finance department.  Here is her quote.

I believe that Mars Hill leadership knew from the start that donations to the Global Fund were restricted and could not be used for unrestricted purposes. In fact, there was a separate account for Global in the books to note this distinction. During my time in the Finance Department, there was a pointed emphasis to be sure that restricted funds were not co-mingled with general funds. I believe that among the Financial Leadership Team (which includes multiple CPA-level staff, who would know all the ins and outs of restricted and unrestricted donations), there was a clear awareness that any restricted funds could not be directed to the general fund.  Without a doubt in my mind, Mars Hill leadership knew what they were doing.

This statement pulls back the curtain a bit on the situation and indicates some conflict between at least some members of the finance team and the executive elders. The concern expressed here by Rachel is understandable given the solicitations for Ethiopia and India in the Mars Hill Church services. Those solicitations should have triggered a more vigorous reaction from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. According to a ECFA publication written by president Dan Busby, video promotions like the following signal to donors that their donations to a specific fund will be used in keeping with the solicitation.
Watch: [youtube]http://youtu.be/XFiD7XkYtPk[/youtube]
Busby’s guidance on how to determine donor intent is important and reproduced below: ECFARestrictedFundBusby makes it clear that donors signal donor intent, not the organization who received the donation. Mars Hill Church has it backward. In a recent World article, church spokesman Justin Dean said, “Since donations given by the Mars Hill Global family were never intended to be designated solely for international efforts, we don’t provide an itemized accounting of those funds.” First, Dean implies that donations to the Global Fund were given by the “global family” (podcasters, non-members). However, much evidence presented here and in other posts demonstrates that members were asked to give to the Global Fund. Second, Dean assumes Mars Hill’s leaders know the intent of the donors. Busby’s article places donor intent with the donor, not the organization.  To discern donor intent, according to Busby, the organization can look to explicit and implicit expression of donor intent.
As the videos demonstrate (see also the image at the end of the post), Mars Hill Global, during 2012-2014, was promoted as the arm of Mars Hill Church dedicated to international missions. However, as Mars Hill now admits, very little of that money actually went to international missions. I have provided a wealth of information in prior posts to demonstrate that the Global Fund and Mars Hill Global became the missionary outreach fund of Mars Hill Church from 2012 to 2014.
Donors to Mars Hill Global Fund explicitly signaled their intent by checking Global Fund on the website when they gave. The implicit intent can be gleaned by donor response to the videos of Sutton Turner in Ethiopia asking the church members (not just podcasters) to give “above and beyond” their tithes in order to support Ethiopian evangelists. Before May 2o14, the church website clearly gave donors the option to choose Global Fund explicitly over the General Fund. If the donations were always intended to go to the General Fund as Mars Hill Church now claims, then why have two funds?
[youtube]http://youtu.be/a4EFX3-RXyg[/youtube]
Busby’s guidance is clear but not being followed by Mars Hill Church:

Once the donor had indicated the intent for which the donation was given, and the charity has accepted the gift, it is the responsibility of the charity to fulfill that intent. The charity could have chosen not to accept the gift if the fulfillment of the donor restriction was in question.
In most cases the donor is responding to a specific appeal. The appeal itself generally identifies the purpose for which donations are sought. If the donor simply responds to the appeal, it should be assumed that the donor’s intent is that the funds be used as described in the appeal.

Another important point is that once the gift is given and the church accepts it, the church must honor donor intent. Donors can change their mind but donors should not have to jump through an additional hoop to inform the church how the money should be spent.
In my opinion, based on the assumption that the Global Fund was restricted, Mars Hill Church’s current policy is backward. Currently, they are requiring Global donors to contact the church to designate (again) that donations go to missions. However, as I understand ECFA guidance, the church should be requiring donors who want to redesignate their donation for the General Fund to contact the church to authorize those funds for general purposes.
Those Ethiopian and Indian evangelists should have gotten millions in support. Instead they only got a tiny fraction.  The “preponderance” of the money went to church plants in the United States and who knows what else. In my opinion, for Mars Hill to remain accredited, the ECFA should require the church to honor donor intent, expressed explicitly by the selection of “Global Fund” and implicitly by the responses to the constant promotion of Ethiopia and India via videos, the annual report, and the church website.
MarshillFAQGlobal       More articles on Mars Hill Global

You Tube Restores Mars Hill Global Videos; Mars Hill Church Backs Away From Copyright Claim

Apparently Mars Hill Church is not going to sue me to keep sections of their deleted Mars Hill Global videos from public view. After the 10-14 day waiting period for Mars Hill to file suit, the church did not do so and You Tube restored the video of Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner promoting Mars Hill Global as an international mission outreach.
Watch: [youtube]http://youtu.be/XFiD7XkYtPk[/youtube]
Those excerpts came from three videos Mars Hill Church deleted from their You Tube account. The videos are important because they conflict with what Mars Hill Church is claiming about Mars Hill Global between 2012-2014. In a recent World article, church spokesman Justin Dean said, “Since donations given by the Mars Hill Global family were never intended to be designated solely for international efforts, we don’t provide an itemized accounting of those funds.” The problem with this statement is that churches cannot designate or restrict funds after they are donated. If the church pitches a fund as going toward a specific purpose then the church must honor that purpose. The videos make it clear that Mars Hill members were informed that the Global Fund was the way Mars Hill church does missions and that such gifts were to be given above and beyond their regular giving to the church. Thus, the donors were not only “Mars Hill Global family” and the donations were given to a fund that church leaders said was used for international missions. 
(Note: An earlier version of this post had more information about the Global Fund as a designated fund. I decided to present that information in a separate article)