The Mars Hill church is a significant part of the Seattle scene, and beyond. Wikipedia notes that “In 2007 Mars Hill Church was rated as the second most church planting church, the 9th most innovative church, and it was the 23rd fastest growing church in in the United States in 2007 with a growth in attendance of 38% in one year. A recent report that rate by relevance and influence concluded that Mars Hill Church is the eighth most influential church in the United States.”
Regardless the specific rankings, this is obviously an influential institution. It is a megachurch, drawing thousands and delivering 25 services each Sunday, at nine locations, all but one (a location in Albuquerque) in the Puget Sound area, all but one (at Olympia) of those in or near Seattle. Three expansions are being planned – to Everett, to California’s Orange County, and to Portland.
Portland, for all its reputation as a liberal and unchurched city, actually has lots of churches – drive around, you’ll see them – and several megachurches, and a number of conservative and fundamentalist churches. The news that Mars Hill is moving into an old, castle-like church building in liberal southeast Portland doesn’t really register as a conflictual red flag by itself. Portland is a fairly neighborly city. Though conservatives are heavily outnumbered, they have not often in recent years gotten especially in-your-face with their neighbors. It’s a live and let live place.
The question, and the issue, will be: Will Mars Hill adapt to that environment, or confront it – in Portland’s face?
Here is what the new Portland Mars Hill blog says about its mindset:
Oregon needs Jesus Christ. It’s that simple. The city of Portland is known for many things, but the gospel of Jesus is nowhere on the list. Portland is home to world-class restaurants and street food, musicians and artists. It is a city of tremendous natural beauty and considered by many to be one of the “greenest,” most environmentally conscious city in the world. Portland is also a city that looks to sexuality for fulfillment with a thriving sex industry that goes back over a century and a higher rate of strip clubs per capita than Las Vegas or San Francisco. However, the people of Portland see all these things as an end in themselves, worshipping and serving creation rather than Creator (Rom. 1:25). Portland is an intensely independent city whose people need to understand that only through submission to Jesus Christ and his body, the church, can you actually find freedom.
At Mars Hill Portland, we want to see the lost move from death to life and from darkness to light. This will not be a church known for its endless programatic offerings and services to Christians. We believe that Christians and unbelievers alike are best served by living out the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We believe that disciples are made as we lay ourselves down for those who are lost in sin and idolatry. This means that Mars Hill Portland will likely always be a little rough: God willing, we will always be stretched a little beyond the comforts our facilities have to offer, we will never be completely organized. Our music may be a relatively loud and the songs may not always be similar to what’s played on the Christian radio station. All of this serves to challenge us to the greater mission to make Jesus known to a city that desperately needs him.
“Will always be a little rough” – this gives the impression of conflict ahead (along with an indirect diss of the churches already serving the area), quite distinctive from the Portland style. And that fits: Mars Hill, under the leadership of founder Mark Driscoll, didn’t get where it is (launched in 1996 in a living room) by being either cautious or humble. Nor is its message especially subtle: biblical inerrancy, a very conservative interpretation, strictly gender roles and, of course, widely described as “anti-gay” (though they would phrase it a little differently). It is of the view that “man is totally depraved and of himself utterly unable to remedy his lost condition.”
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