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5 Early Leadership Lessons from the Dissolution of Mars Hill Church

The events that have transpired at Mars Hill Church over the last few months have been dramatic and to some extent, unprecedented.

For me personally, they’re still heartbreaking as I’m a huge believer in the mission and potential of the local church.

After the resignation of Pastor Mark Driscoll October 14th, it wasrecently announced that Mars Hill is dissolving from one centralized multi-site, video teaching church into local, independent churches.

At this point, it’s not clear if all local campuses will survive. The properties will be sold, the centralized support staff released, and each church will have the autonomy to decide its future. As this post acknowledges, the economics of Mars Hill moving forward are tenuous. (You can read the announcement from Mars Hill itself here and a summary of events here from Christianity Today.)

I am in no place to stand in judgment over anything that transpired at Mars Hill and as I said in this piece written after Mark Driscoll stepped down, I don’t know Mark Driscoll or the leadership personally.

Even as I pray for Mars Hill and the Driscoll family (as I hope you do too), I realize I don’t pray with clean hands. You don’t. I don’t. No one does. Everyone comes to this conversation with sins of their own.

Yet it’s also important to learn. And while it will take months to sort out the details of what happened and years to figure out what it means, there are a few lessons that leaders can glean even now that can help you and I lead more effectively in our churches

Some of them might challenge you deeply. At least they challenge me.

Many commentators will focus on the negatives of Mars Hill, but don’t miss the positives. There are more than a few.

So in the spirit of learning from the good and the not-quite-as-good, here are 5 early lessons from the events and the legacy of Mars Hill:

1. Your Context Is No Longer An Excuse

If you can plant a church that’s effective at reaching unchurched people in Seattle, you can plant one anywhere.

I talk to church leaders all the time who use their context as an excuse for their lack of effectiveness in ministry. The conversation goes like this:

Well, you just don’t understand my city/region/culture…it’s almost impossible to reach people here. 


In 1996 Seattle was viewed as the most unchurched city in America, according to my friend Rob Cizek, executive pastor at Northshore Christian Church in nearby Everett Washington. If you’re ever been to Seattle (I’ve been there twice), you realize you are about as far away from the Bible Belt as you can get.

Mars Hill grew to as many as 13,000 in attendance and launched over a dozen campuses. It reached people that no one else was reaching. Frankly, it reached people no one thought were reachable.

Let that sink in. Your context might give you a reason it’s hard to grow a church in your area. It does not give you an excuse.

You can make excuses, or you can make progress, but you can’t make both.

Mars Hill dumped the excuses and made progress.

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Speaker and podcaster Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in Canada. With over 6 million downloads, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast features today's top leaders and cultural influencers. His most recent book is “Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.” Carey and his wife, Toni, reside near Barrie, Ontario and have two children.