Seattle’s Mars Hill Church announced Friday that it will disband its network of churches. According to its website, each location will now become independent or close all together.
The dissolution of Mars Hill followed the resignation of its charismatic founding pastor Mark Driscoll in October. He had been accused of plagiarism, spiritual bullying and misuse of church funds. James Wellman chairs the Comparative Religion Program at the University of Washington. He says Mars Hill Church failed because it was always about Mark Driscoll.
Wellman: “It goes to the whole idea of these charismatic pastors. Despite what they say, the loyalty is to this person. And people kind of underestimate the talent of him as a speaker, as a charismatic figure.”
Wellman says people will take many paths now that the church’s magnetic leader is out of the picture. A visit to the Mars Hill Ballard location Friday night showed a building in neglect and disarray. Outdated posters and banners from back in August advertise a “new” sermon by Driscoll.
I ran into Pastor Scott Harris as he left the church property. Harris said it’s been a tumultuous time and he didn’t want to be interviewed on tape. He said the posters reflected the hope that Driscoll wouldn’t leave the church. James Wellman says the loss for many church members is shocking.
Wellman: “When these kind of train wrecks happen in these big churches, you always have some who stay loyal, and I think that loyalty will come through in some form. But also that people get very disengaged and go away and are disenchanted and then some find other churches.”
The Mars Hill statement says church property will either be sold, or the loans on the property will be turned over to the new independent churches. The goal is to have the process completed by January 1, 2015.
For KUOW News, I’m John O’Brien.