Case study of collapse of Mars Hill, home church of Mark Driscoll. What lessons can you learn?

The people at 15 separate locations that make up Mars Hill are leaving, to stand or fall on their own. Mars Hill is where Mark Driscoll was senior pastor. The corporate ‘parent’ will end its existence in a few weeks, on New Years Day 2015.

The dramatic implosion of the megachurch is the subject of a 3,600 word case study at Leadership Journal: The Painful Lessons of Mars Hill.

The article points us to a very sobering teaching.  In Proverbs 24:32 we read

I applied my heart to what I observed

And learned a lesson from what I saw.

Perhaps we ought to apply ourselves and learn from this rapid collapse. As a far-away observer, this was a fast and unexpected disintegration.

I will only mention a few lessons that jump out at me. I still need to process the article more, so my comments are incomplete and likely confused. Putting my ideas into words pushes me to sort this out.

Please check out the article and ponder it yourself. What can you learn out of this sad event?

What got you here may bring your downfall

That is a scary lesson.

The core of the collapse seems to be the attitude of Pr. Driscoll. The scary thing for me is the attitudes that brought success, attention, and ministry impact seem to be the attitudes that brought collapse.

The combativeness and hard-drive-for-success committment fueled the growth and impact. It also seems to have gone too far. It turned into something destructive.

Perhaps I use the wrong description. The point is those traits that got Mark Driscoll to the heights and made him so helpful for other people seem to have been what brought him down.

Am I on to something or am I off track?

The frightening idea late in the study is that each church has a personality, and after leading to growth, impact, and Godly success, that corporate personality can be the cause of failure.

Read the article and then check your heart to see what may be there that if carried too far could cause trouble.

If that idea doesn’t unsettle you, read Proverbs 24, especially verse 32. Then reread the article.


A question I ask in church audits is: Who can tell the Senior Pastor ‘no’ and make it stick?

Another way to phrase the question:  Who can tell the Pastor he really messed up on a situation and the Pastor will actually listen seriously enough to acknowledge he goofed, then go back to apologize and fix the mess?

This gets to the question of accountability.

It is frightening to look at a situation and realize the answer to that question is: nobody.

Based on only looking at these 3,600 words and a few other articles I’ve read, I fear the answer to that question at Mars Hill if it had been asked would have been nobody.

For example, no one in the organization was able to say, No, spending $200,000 to artificially pump up the rating of your new book is a really bad idea and you are not going to do so.

Unrestrained growth is the doctrine of the cancer cell

At one point, Mars Hill opened four new campuses on one day.

In the best corporate tradition, each campus reportedly had a per-person budget and they were allowed to spend a portion of that at the local campus. The extra went to the central office. The local share didn’t go up if offerings jumped. If attendance dropped, the local campus had to cut staff, even if the total giving at that campus was up. Read the article for one specific dysfunctional impact of that strategy.

The case study suggests that the focus of Mars Hill was more.

More attendance, more giving, more impact, more publicity. Read the article for the adverse impact of the heavy emphasis on growth.

Usually financial pressure, or location, or parking, or space in the sanctuary forces a restrained growth (or stops growth, but that is another story). The article suggests that space wasn’t a constraint in a multi-campus format and getting enough staffing wasn’t a constraint (I learned the pejorative phrase church-in-a-box from the article and instantly knew what it meant), so the only thing holding back more was raising extra dollars.

So add more pizzazz and push the campuses for more attendance and find a few more locations and cut a few more corners and add the odd budgeting discussed above.  Or at least that seems to be the tone of the article to remove finances as a constraint on growth.

Unrestrained growth as a goal is destructive.

Did I miss something?

More pondering needed

I need to read the article a few more times and ponder further.

Maybe my conclusions above are off base.

What do you think?

I trust you realized my point is not to criticize my brothers and sisters who are now hurting. My goal is to learn – see the Proverbs verse.

More importantly, what did you learn about yourself, your leadership team, or your church from the case study?

Comments welcome, if professional.

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