Mars Hill Church Quickly Changes Message on Strategy to Place Mark Driscoll's Real Marriage on Best Seller Lists

On Wednesday, when Warren Cole Smith disclosed the arrangement between Mars Hill Church and ResultSource to place Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage on the New York Times list of best selling books, Mars Hill defended the scheme. Then, Justin Dean, MHC communication director said:

Mars Hill has made marketing investments for book releases and sermon series, along with album releases, events, and church plants, much like many other churches, authors, and publishers who want to reach a large audience. We will explore any opportunity that helps us to get that message out, while striving to remain above reproach in the process. Whether we’re talking about technology, music, marketing, or whatever, we want to tell lots of people about Jesus by every means available. That’s what we’re all about and have been since 1996.

On Wednesday, the ResultSource scheme was a “marketing investment,” and “an opportunity that helps us get that message out.” At that time, it was a means “to tell lots of people about Jesus.” That would make it a good thing, right?
By Friday, however, representatives of the church had a change of message:

In 2011, outside counsel advised our marketing team to use Result Source to market the Real Marriage book and attain placement on the New York Times Bestseller list. While not uncommon or illegal, this unwise strategy is not one we had used before or since, and not one we will use again. The true cost of this endeavor was much less than what has been reported, and to be clear, all of the books purchased through this campaign have been given away or sold through normal channels. All monies from the sale of Pastor Mark’s books at Mars Hill bookstores have always gone to the church and Pastor Mark did not profit from the Real Marriage books sold either at the church or through the Result Source marketing campaign.

By Friday, the use of ResultSource had become an “unwise strategy” instead of an “opportunity.” Instead of something consistent with what Mars Hill has been about “since 1996,” ResultSource was an approach which was not “used before or since” and a strategy suggested by outsiders and never to be used again. Quite a change from March 5 to March 7.
Perhaps Mars Hill’s leadership believes they have been transparent with their statement, but at least on this point, they have increased the confusion and left important questions unanswered. The contract I posted on Thursday gives specific financial parameters which add up to over 200k in costs and yet in this statement the leadership says the true cost was much less. Without a more detailed account, questions will remain about those “true costs.”
Furthermore, I would like to know what happened between Wednesday and late afternoon Friday to change the message. While I doubt they will speak about the matter, I think this is a significant problem for MHC to address going forward. If there really was a change of mind between Wednesday and Friday, how did it come about?
Related Post:
Mars Hill Church Removes Reference to Real Marriage as NYT Best Seller from Mark Driscoll’s Bio
 
For all posts on this topic, click here.
Related post:
 

Mars Hill Church Removes Reference to Real Marriage as NYT Best Seller from Mark Driscoll's Bio

As pointed out by Ted Beam on Twitter, Mars Hill has already edited Mark Driscoll’s bio to remove description of Driscoll as a New York Times best selling author.
Here is the bio in 2013 via Internet archive (see also Google cache):

Pastor Mark Driscoll is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church—based in Seattle, Washington—and one of the most popular preachers in the world today. In 2010, Preaching magazine named him one of the 25 most influential pastors of the past 25 years. His sermon podcast regularly occupies the top spot in iTunes’s Religion & Spirituality category, and his online audience accesses about 15 million of his sermons each year.
Pastor Mark is the author of over 15 books, including the #1 New York Times best-selling Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together, coauthored with his wife, Grace. He has also written for CNN and The Washington Post, and been featured as a columnist for The Seattle Times.
With a skillful mix of bold presentation, accessible teaching, and compassion for those who are hurting the most—in particular, women who are victims of sexual and physical abuse and assault—Pastor Mark has taken biblical Christianity into cultural corners rarely explored by evangelicals. He has been grilled by Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Walters on The View, gone head-to-head with Piers Morgan on CNN, debated the existence of evil with Deepak Chopra on ABC’s Nightline, bantered with the gang on Fox and Friends, and explained biblical sexuality on Loveline with Dr. Drew.

Here is the bio now:

Pastor Mark Driscoll is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church—based in Seattle, Washington—and one of the most popular preachers in the world today. In 2010, Preaching magazine named him one of the 25 most influential pastors of the past 25 years. His sermon podcast regularly occupies the top spot in iTunes’s Religion & Spirituality category, and his online audience accesses about 15 million of his sermons each year.
Pastor Mark is the author of over 15 books, and has also written for CNN and The Washington Post, and been featured as a columnist for The Seattle Times.
With a skillful mix of bold presentation, accessible teaching, and compassion for those who are hurting the most—in particular, women who are victims of sexual and physical abuse and assault—Pastor Mark has taken biblical Christianity into cultural corners rarely explored by evangelicals. He has been grilled by Whoopi Goldberg and Barbara Walters on The View, gone head-to-head with Piers Morgan on CNN, debated the existence of evil with Deepak Chopra on ABC’s Nightline, bantered with the gang on Fox and Friends, and explained biblical sexuality on Loveline with Dr. Drew.

This version of his bio (Google cache) with the NYT reference is now missing.
Will publisher Thomas Nelson also do the same?
Now Mars Hill should correct the bio to reflect the fact that Driscoll was not the only founder of MHC. This bio leaves out Lief Moi and Mike Gunn.
UPDATE: Another page has been scrubbed (here is the cache).
 
 

Mars Hill Accountability Board Responds to Recent Controversies

Mars Hill Church’s Board of Advisors and Accountability issued a statement tonight addressing several recent controversies, including the use of Result Source in promoting Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage. Here is the statement in full:

Mars Hill Church and Pastor Mark Driscoll have always been passionate about teaching the Bible and spreading the gospel by making disciples and planting churches. Immense growth in the size and complexity of the church has highlighted areas for, and has resulted in, several improvements.

This statement has been developed by the Board of Advisors and Accountability to update the members and friends of Mars Hill Church on the changes that have been made, and areas where we believe this church has learned and grown:

CHANGES TO GOVERNANCE

For many years Mars Hill Church was led by a board of Elders, most of whom were in a vocational relationship with the church and thus not able to provide optimal objectivity. To eliminate conflicts of interest and set the church’s future on the best possible model of governance, a Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) was established to set compensation, conduct performance reviews, approve the annual budget, and hold the newly formed Executive Elders accountable in all areas of local church leadership. This model is consistent with the best practices for governance established in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability standards. Mars Hill Church joined and has been a member in good standing with the ECFA since September of 2012.

FORMER STAFF

In a 2 year period ending in the fall of 2013, Mars Hill Church endured significant turnover of key staff members that made many wonderful contributions to the development of Mars Hill Church during their tenure. A number of these staff transitions were acrimonious. Pastor Mark and the other executive Elders own their part in any discord that could have been avoided with a better process or a more patient interaction.

During the Spring of 2013 the BOAA mandated that a thorough review be conducted with all former staff from that period, soliciting their feedback so that no needed lessons for a healthier future would be neglected. In the summer of 2013 the BOAA reviewed that report, and needed corrections to policy and detrimental management patterns had been made. A former staff elder, Dave Kraft, whose disagreements with Mars Hill policies have recently been made public, had previously communicated with the BOAA numerous times that he was satisfied with the steps we have taken to address his concerns.

The BOAA supports the policy of requiring staff to commit their signatures to a mutual agreement, such as a separation agreement, that private matters of the church learned during a season of employment not be divulged outside the organization. We have seen this practice as wise for stewarding the resources entrusted to the church while engaging in common human resources practices.

RESULT SOURCE

In 2011, outside counsel advised our marketing team to use Result Source to market the Real Marriage book and attain placement on the New York Times Bestseller list. While not uncommon or illegal, this unwise strategy is not one we had used before or since, and not one we will use again. The true cost of this endeavor was much less than what has been reported, and to be clear, all of the books purchased through this campaign have been given away or sold through normal channels. All monies from the sale of Pastor Mark’s books at Mars Hill bookstores have always gone to the church and Pastor Mark did not profit from the Real Marriage books sold either at the church or through the Result Source marketing campaign.

To correct a statement in a recent article, Pastor Sutton Turner was the General Manager, not the Executive Pastor or Executive Elder as reported, at the time he signed with the referenced agreement with Result Source. In the time since this campaign we have established a new Executive Elder team, new Board of Advisors and Accountability, as well as a new marketing team.

STEWARDSHIP AND ACCOUNTABILITY

We take stewardship at Mars Hill very seriously, and thus we pay very close attention when accusations are made claiming that we are mishandling the money received by our congregations’ tithes and gifts. We voluntarily undergo an annual external audit, and public disclosure of our audited financial statements is part of our commitment to accountability. Much more information is available online:

The BOAA stands unreservedly behind Pastors Mark Driscoll, Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskas as the Executive Elders of Mars Hill Church. We deeply appreciate their endurance through false accusation, their submission to authority, and their humility where regrettable decisions from the past have come to light. We are thankful to God for His grace, which is evident in all that he allows for our good and his glory. We are confident that God is preparing Pastor Mark and the ministry of Mars Hill Church for a great harvest of souls in the days ahead.

– Mars Hill Church Board of Advisors and Accountability

In addition, local Seattle station KOMO came out with a story which included statements from this story.
There is a lot to examine in this statement, some of which doesn’t ring true. I will react more to this over the next several days along with commentary from former Mars Hill staffers.
As far as I can determine the members of this board include Paul Tripp, John Phelps, Michael Van Skaik, James MacDonald, Larry Osborne, Mark Driscoll, Dave Bruskas, and Sutton Turner. It seems like a conflict of interest to have the executive pastors of MHC be on the board that is supposed to hold them accountable.
I wonder who the “outside counsel” is? Thomas Nelson’s Casey Harrell told Christianity Today that they did not advise Mars Hill to use ResultSource.

The Signed Contract That Helped Get Mark Driscoll's Real Marriage on the New York Times Best Seller List

Yesterday, World Magazine published an article by Warren Cole Smith which described a contract between Mars Hill Church (MHC) and ResultSource, Inc. (RSI) for the purpose of elevating Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage to various best seller lists.  The arrangement was successful, leading to a week atop the New York Time’s best seller list for advice books. Mars Hill Church does not deny this but spun the arrangement as a means to spread the gospel.
I have a copy of the contract signed by Mars Hill executive pastor Sutton Turner and Mat Miller at RSI. In 2013, Jeffrey Tractenberg investigated RSI for the Wall Street Journal and interviewed various people who had worked with RSI. In that article,  author Melissa Wilson described the RSI strategy as “the secret sauce.” With World’s reporting, the sauce isn’t so secret anymore.
Initially, the contract spells out the numbers of copies needed for individual and bulk sales.

Note that RSI uses “over a thousand different payment types” to evade detection. Somehow RSI knows that the NYT bestseller list “requires a minimum of 90 geographically disperse (sic) addresses.”
Apparently, the publisher must be on board with this arrangement as well since the contract requires the publisher to supply the proper number of books. I have asked Harper Collins Christian for comment but they have not replied as yet.

The names and addresses are apparently very important in making sure that these purchases escape detection by those who compile the best seller lists.

This method seems consistent with my speculation from yesterday. MHC got donation and addresses from people who wanted a “free” copy of the book. I suspect that some of the people at those addresses then got books from Amazon or some other book seller.  Via the pre-release solicitation or by some other manner, those names and addresses were given to RSI to use with their payment methods to purchase books via online or other sellers.
I spoke to a former Mars Hill pastor last night who told me that some MHC locations had hundreds of books just gathering dust. Some of those bulk orders might still be sitting in MHC storage room.
At least one former ally of Driscoll has denounced the practice of buying one’s way on to a best seller list. Justin Taylor at Crossway Books and the Gospel Coalition tweeted a link to an article by Jared Wilson on the Gospel Coalition website titled:

 
 
With some private information excluded here is the entire contract.
For all posts on this topic, go here.

One Way Mars Hill Church Might Have Helped Put Mark Driscoll on the NYT Best Seller List

World Magazine today dropped a bomb by revealing that Mars Hill Church entered into an agreement with ResultSource to arrange purchases of his book Real Marriage in order to land on various prestigious best seller lists. The methods described in the World article seem designed to game the system, and make it appear that a book is broadly popular when in fact the sales are being arranged to give a false appearance. According to World, Mars Hill Executive pastor Sutton Turner signed the agreement.
Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage was on the New York Time best seller list for exactly one week during the week of Jan. 22, 2012.
Besides paying ResultSource’s fee, one way Mars Hill may have helped Driscoll is to provide the information needed by RSI. One aspect of the scheme described by World is the use of individual purchasers who do not actually pay for the book directly but are used by Result Source to simulate individual purchases. From Warren Cole Smith’s article:

“RSI [ResultSource] will be purchasing at least 11,000 total orders in one-week.” The contract called for the “author” to “provide a minimum of 6,000 names and addresses for the individual orders and at least 90 names and address [sic] for the remaining 5,000 bulk orders. Please note that it is important that the make up of the 6,000 individual orders include at least 1,000 different addresses with no more than 350 per state.”

Where could all those addresses come from? While I can’t prove this, I can speculate that they were collected on Mars Hill website via a Real Marriage donation promotion in December, 2011.  Visitors to the website were asked to give a $25 or more donation to Mars Hill and in exchange the donor would get a copy of Real Marriage.  The purchase was made through realmarriagebook.com (a site no longer in operation). However, via the Internet Archive, we can get a look at it. Presumably, the individual would make a donation and enter an address where the book could be mailed. The $25 would provide enough money to cover the $18-20 needed to purchase the book with some left over for either Mars Hill or to help pay ResultSource. If I am speculating correctly, the addresses would be used by ResultSource’s nationwide network of buyers (RSI bragged that they have such a network with multiple payment sources – credit cards, gift cards, etc.) to purchase the books and deliver them to the donors.
I could be wrong but it appears that Mars Hill had to supply these names within the parameters specified by RSI in order to make the purchases effective for the purposes of securing the right kind of reportable sales. If this is correct, then at least some of those books went to people who wanted them. It is hard to say where all of the bulk orders ended up. They may still be in a Mars Hill store room somewhere. In any case, the whole episode pulls back the curtain on a practice that may make the term “best selling book” a less stellar designation.

World Magazine: Mars Hill Church Bought Mark Driscoll a Spot on NYT Best Seller's List

Now this is a blockbuster.
Warren Cole Smith at World Magazine is reporting today that Mars Hill Church helped their controversial pastor get a spot for his book Real Marriage on the New York Time best sellers list in 2012. According to a document obtained by World, Driscoll and Mars Hill used Result Source to get the job done. Result Source was the subject of a 2013 WSJ story with a focus on getting authors on best seller lists.
The process used to game the system is complex and is the subject of much of the World article.
The book was #1 on the list for one week, Jan. 22, 2012. Around Valentine’s Day it was #12 for two weeks in a row.
The book has received mixed reviews and contains numerous citation errors which I have documented here. The publisher acknowledged the issues and is in process of correcting them. A couple of issues have already been addressed.
Let’s put two and two together. Yesterday, World reported that Mars Hill Church requires employees to sign a non-disclosure agreement, meaning they cannot discuss information gained during their employment at MHC.  Today, we learn that Mars Hill Church entered an agreement to arrange sales in such a way to secure spots on various best seller lists for Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage. I imagine those who thought gaming the system was a good idea would not want such information widely known. Regarding my supposition, I can say that many people I have talked to have expressed a fear to talk, citing their non-disclosure agreement.
See all article relating the Mark Driscoll controversy here.
 
 
 

Mars Hill Church to Former Employees: Don't Talk

According to a brief report at WorldMag.com last night, Mars Hill Church and Elevation Church (NC) require staff to sign non-disclosure agreements. Warren Cole Smith has seen one and indicates that it even covers the employee’s spouse. Former elder Dave Kraft said the agreement was like “a gag order.”
I have heard former MHC people talk about these agreements but they were afraid to talk on the record because they feared being sued by their former church. Mars Hill watchers: Has anyone ever been sued over a perceived violation? It seems hard to believe that a Christian church would actually sue someone over discussing factual matters during employment.

How to Revise History the Mark Driscoll Way.

“Thanks to Lief Moi and Mike Gunn for helping me plant Mars Hill Church.” (Mark Driscoll, 2004. The Radical Reformission, page 9).
Last Friday, I posted an article by Becky Garrison on Driscoll’s exclusion of two of the founders from the history of Mars Hill Church in his recent materials.
However, in 2004, Mark Driscoll gave credit where credit was due. Now, on the Mars Hill website, one would not be able to discern Moi’s or Gunn’s role.  I can find no mention of Moi or Gunn as founders.  Before Moi and Gunn left the church, they had prominent profiles on the church website (Moi, Gunn). In 2001, Moi’s said:

How you became with Mars Hill: Joined with Mark (Driscoll) and Mike (Gunn) to plant a church

Now, a site search turns up a couple of references but nothing about them as founders.
Wenatchee the Hatchet (colorful image, yes?) has chronicled much of Mars Hill Church’s history. For more on the departure of Moi and Gunn and others, see that blog (e.g., this post). As far back as 2008, Wenatchee asked this question:

Here’s the question, given that Driscoll’s 2005 book Confessions of a Reformission Rev (Zondervan) established that Leif Moi was one of the three founding pastors, why has Leif Moi’s name all but vanished from Mars Hill websites?

If you search for Moi and Gunn on WtH’s blog, you can read for a long time about them. What I want to do with this post is to illustrate how far Mars Hill and Driscoll have gone to obscure the co-founders of the church.
First, in Driscoll’s MHC bio*, he is listed as “the founding pastor.” No mention of Moi and Gunn. Then near the end of the bio, MHC claims:

In 1996, at the age of 25, Pastor Mark and Grace started a small Bible study at their home in Seattle, the least churched city in the US at the time. By God’s grace, Mars Hill Church grew beyond all expectations to 13,000 people (and counting), gathered weekly across 15 locations in five states: Washington, Oregon, California, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Again, no mention of Moi and Gunn.
On the Mars Hill documentary, God’s Work, Our Witness (transcript), you won’t find them by name. Moi’s theatre, The Paradox is mentioned as a vital part of MHC’s ministry in the early days but Moi is not mentioned by name as the owner or visionary. He is referred to unceremoniously as “an elder.” This is quite an oversight given that Moi was a co-founder and, according to the documentary, Moi’s theatre was a large part of MHC’s outreach and conversion growth.
A very deliberate effort to purge the website of Moi can be illustrated by the elimination of Moi’s name from transcripts of sermons where Mark Driscoll mentions Moi’s name. For instance, in 2006, Driscoll preached a sermon on Corinthians in which he discussed the history of the church. On the Mars Hill website, the transcript reads:

We had all the meetings in my house. Gospel class was in my house. Premarital class was in my house. Everything was in my house except for Sunday church. And we had it there for two years and it was really hard, and what happened then, we bought the Paradox – a theater in the University District on the Ave. It had rat poop all over it. It was destroyed, homeless kids living in it. We finally cleaned it up, opened it up as a all-ages venue, and started evening service with 40 people. Within a year it went to two services.

Actually, Lief Moi bought The Paradox Theatre but it is true that Mars Hill ran it as an all-ages venue. The audio of the sermon is also on the website and if you listen to this segment at 43:54, you will hear a truer version of the story because he mentions Moi:

We had all the meetings in my house. Gospel class was in my house. Premarital class was in my house. Everything was in my house except for Sunday church. And we had it there for two years and it was really hard, and what happened then, we bought the Paradox – a theater in the University District on the Ave., Pastor Lief did. It had rat poop all over it. It was destroyed, homeless kids living in it. We finally cleaned it up, opened it up as a all-ages venue, and started evening service with 40 people. Within a year it went to two services.

Although Driscoll barely mentions him, he does acknowledge two things. One, Moi bought The Paradox, and two, Moi was addressed as pastor. Driscoll told Christianity Today in January that he was the only pastor until the church had 800 people. However, Moi and Gunn were both considered pastors at that time.
One more example. I wrote about this one in an earlier post on Driscoll’s visions. In 2005, Driscoll preached a sermon on Christ as an example to believers. He spoke about a time when he said God revealed something to him about a radio show caller. The transcript on the Mars Hill website reads:

The first time it happened it freaked me out. I was guest hosting a national radio show. . This guy calls in, I think it was from Cleveland, complaining about his church. His church stinks. Christianity stinks. Everything stinks, dah-dah-dah-dah-dah. And I told him, I said, “Look you’ve got a wife and a girlfriend. You’re committing adultery. The reason you don’t like going to church is because you feel under conviction because you’re unrepentant. It’s your hard heart, not your church, that’s the problem. Confess your sin to your wife, dump your girlfriend, or God’s gonna deal severely with you.”

The radio show was Lief Moi’s Street Talk show but you would have to listen the audio to know that. At 34:37 into the sermon, Driscoll says:

The first time it happened it freaked me out. Pastor Lief had a national radio show. I was hosting it for him because he was out of town. This guy calls in, I think it was from Cleveland, complaining about his church. His church stinks. Christianity stinks. Everything stinks, dah-dah-dah-dah-dah. And I told him, I said, “Look you’ve got a wife and a girlfriend. You’re committing adultery. The reason you don’t like going to church is because you feel under conviction because you’re unrepentant. It’s your hard heart, not your church, that’s the problem. Confess your sin to your wife, dump your girlfriend, or God’s gonna deal severely with you.”

The same story is told in a 2006 sermon where he mentions Moi (at 37:00) and says he took over the show because Moi was on vacation. In the transcript, Moi’s name is omitted and he is called the “usual host.”
This seems like an extensive effort to purge Moi’s existence from the written part of the website. Why do that?
*As an aside, the bio also claims: “his online audience accesses about 15 million of his sermons each year.” He has 15 million sermons? I suspect they mean something else by that statement.