Mars Hill Global Helped Pay For Mars Hill Everett's Building

Now we know one thing that the donations to Mars Hill Global purchased.
In a post on the Mars Hill Church website, Mars Hill Everett franchise lead pastor Ryan Williams thanked Mars Hill Global for financial help with the down payment and restoration costs for the old Washington National Guard Armory building now occupied by the Everett church. Williams said:

Our people work super hard and are amazingly generous to the church, but we just did not have the income to fully fund our own down payment and renovation expenses.

According to this note, Mars Hill Global helped fund church planting efforts in Everett, WA.
Did anyone who gave to the Global Fund* during 2012-2013 know they were doing that? I doubt it.
However, according to the Mars Hill 2013 Annual Report, Mars Hill Global was a fund designed to help spread the Gospel internationally:

I wonder why Rev. Williams waited until now to thank Mars Hill Global. He could have thanked the Global Fund in the 2013 Annual Report. On the page devoted to reporting the accomplishments of Mars Hill Global in the report, nothing is said about Mars Hill Global providing funds to help Mars Hill Everett with a down payment and renovations. Instead, accomplishments in Ethiopia and India are featured.
However, the introduction to the thank you note from Everett lead pastor Ryan Williams says Mars Hill Global is not a destination for funds but a source of them:

Mars Hill Global is made up of 250,000 people around the world who tune in to the Mars Hill Church podcast on a weekly basis. You, our global audience, are praying and giving to Mars Hill Church to see more people meet Jesus, grow in him, and join his mission. One example of what your participation has done over the last year is the planting of Mars Hill Everett in their new home. This letter, from Everett’s lead pastor, Ryan Williams, outlines the specifics of the direct impact you are having on the church.

So what was/is Mars Hill Global? Is it how Mars Hill Church participates in international outreach? Or is it a large group of non-Seattle people who consume the media and donate on the website? Given the various descriptions of Mars Hill Global and Mars Hill Extended Family, I think it is easy to get confused.
Specific to the act of donating money, prior to May of this year, donors (wherever they were) were able to give to a specific Global Fund described above as an international effort. Now, donors can’t give to this fund since the option as been removed.
Prior to this message from Ryan Williams, I can’t find anything that linked Global to Everett. In the promotional video for Mars Hill Everett in October 2012, Mark Driscoll lays out the financial need to the people of the church in Everett and asks them to give toward the goals. There is no mention in the video of help from Mars Hill Global.

 
On the page describing the need for Everett’s move into the Armory, members were invited to give to the effort in a fund designated for that purpose:

According to the Herald Business article, the building’s purchase price was $1.275 million.

The property was ultimately purchased for $1.275 million not long after Mars Hill Church purchased the 104-year-old First Congregational Church building in Tacoma for about $1.9 million. The organization is not shy about handling restorations of historic properties.

When the church first bought the building, the story was that the people attending were going to fund the purchase and renovations.  According to an October 27, 2012 Everett Herald article, the leaders wanted the people to “own” the move to the new building:

Church members will be asked to help pay for the extensive remodel. “We really want our people to own what Jesus is doing here in Everett,” Mitchell said. “About $300,000 moves us in. We could do services there. We’re hoping and praying to be in there by Easter.”

In July 2013, executive pastor Sutton Turner told the church in an email that Everett was raising funds for their building with a report on the progress.

Tacoma & Everett Fundraising
Tacoma and Everett continue to make progress raising money for their buildings. Tacoma has $132,000 left to raise, and Everett needs another $360,000. Both churches are praying to finish fundraising and full occupy their new buildings by January 1.

On September 11, 2013, Pastor Ryan Williams asked the congregation to give more:

  • A big fundraising push: I am asking that everyone who calls Mars Hill Everett home to go back and see if there is anywhere in your budget you could trim in this next season and increase your Armory giving until we’re holding services in the building.

In October 2013, Mark Driscoll told the congregation that the people of Everett had been generous but that more gifts were needed. Nothing was mentioned about people giving to the Global Fund were helping pay for Mars Hill Everett. Driscoll wrote:

The people of Mars Hill Everett have been very faithful. Over 90% of the members have given to the fund. Since September 2012, we have collected 50% above and beyond our annual budget. (Mars Hill Everett brings in about $900,000 a year, and we are close to bringing in an additional $450,000 in the past 13 months.)
We don’t have deep pockets, or big givers. What we have are a lot of faithful givers doing what they can every month.What we need now, Mars Hill, is some help from the rest of you in order to finish making this home for the Everett church ready. We’re almost there, but we’ve still got a little ways to go. Everett is trying to raise $750,000 to get the building ready, and we’ve got $316,000 left to complete this project. As the people of Mars Hill Everett have demonstrated, all it takes is enough people giving a little bit together to make things happen.
We have amazingly generous people in Everett. They are all in. Will you help them move into their new home?

So at the end of the day, who paid the costs for Mars Hill Everett’s relaunch in the Armory? Most likely both the Mars Hill Global Fund and donations from Everett members actually paid those big bills. Global Fund givers might or might not mind that the donations they thought were going to Ethiopia and India (according to the 2013 Annual Report) went at least in part to buy and renovate a building in Everett. This arrangement certainly seems to run afoul of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability’s guidelines; but maybe they don’t care now. It’s all water under the bridge now, right?
Even though the money is spent, it might be interesting to find out what else Mars Hill Global purchased. Perhaps more thank you notes are coming.
*Mars Hill’s use of the term Mars Hill Global is inconsistent. Sometimes they seem to refer to it as the source of funds, as in our “global audience” or “Mars Hill Extended Family.” Other times such as in the 2013 Annual Report, Mars Hill Global refers to the destination of the funds, as in funding international mission work to Ethiopia and India. Sometimes, it appears that they mean both at the same time as in the international audience is helping to fund mission efforts with local Mars Hill church planting and international efforts. The real issue according to the ECFA is donor intent. A key question is are the funds going where the receiver implied they are going and the donor intended. In this case, giving to a Global Fund would naturally create the impression that the funds were going to international use. These are the funds that I am interested in knowing more about. Were the funds given to the global funds used for international purposes? The source of the funds doesn’t matter that much. It is the intent of the donor that matters.
For all posts on Mars Hill Global, click the link.
 

Who at Mars Hill Church Authorized Church Funds to Buy a Place for Mark Driscoll's Real Marriage on the NYT Best Seller List?

Before Warren Smith’s World Magazine article in March, the story about Mars Hill Church paying a consulting firm to boost Mark and Grace Driscoll’s book Real Marriage to the top of the New York Times best seller list was a carefully guarded secret at the Seattle megachurch. Almost three months later, members of the church are still asking their pastors about the deal. Last week, in a meeting of Mars Hill group leaders, members asked pastors Thomas Hurst and Jason Skelton to name who was responsible for the decision to spend church money on the promotion of the Driscolls’ book. According to sources in the meeting, Hurst and Skelton told those present that Driscoll said he was not involved because he had removed himself from the decision. Hurst added that Sutton Turner, who signed the contract (read it here), was new on the job and simply signed papers put in front of him. However, according to the sources, no person was singled out as being responsible for the RSI agreement.
This narrative raises questions about who at the church authorized the RSI contract. Turner’s name is on the contract, and the invoices (see below) were addressed to Driscoll. However, if Driscoll and Turner aren’t responsible, that leaves Jamie Munson and/or Dave Bruskas, who were the other two executive elders at the time.
Relevant to the Mars Hill members’ questions, I have obtained invoices dated five days after the RSI contract was signed. The invoices were sent to Mark Driscoll from RSI requesting payment of RSI’s $25,000 fee. While it is not clear who actually saw or paid these two invoices, they raise questions about the narrative presented in the recent group leader’s meeting and Driscoll’s involvement in the arrangement.

 

When the RSI-MHC story broke, Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll floated three different statements about the use of RSI to get Driscoll’s book on the New York Times list. As noted in a previous post, the initial position of Mars Hill Church was that the partnership between RSI and Mars Hill was an “opportunity” and an “investment.” Two days later, the Board of Advisors and Accountability of MHC said the arrangement was “common” but “unwise.” Then, several days later, Mark Driscoll said he first saw the arrangement as a way to market books but had come to see it as “manipulating a book sales reporting system” and thus “wrong.” In that statement, Driscoll seemed to indicate that he was aware of the situation.
I asked Mars Hill Church who was responsible for the Result Source agreement and church spokesman Justin Dean replied:

We have received your requests, and will not be responding with any comments now or in the future.

Adding another wrinkle is a note from executive pastor Sutton Turner in response to a member who recently left the church. In response to member concern over the Result Source arrangement, Turner wrote:

As I thought and prayed about your letter this morning, please know that we realize the Results Source decision was a wrong decision and poor stewardship. I am sorry as your Pastor that I failed you. Please accept my apology, I am very sorry.
I pray that I have learned from this and the godly authority that I am under has helped me and will help me in the future.
Please forgive me for my poor stewardship, I take that very seriously as a King.
God Bless you and I wish you all the very best.
Grace and Peace to you,
Sutton Turner
Executive Elder & Executive Pastor

So who is responsible for this expenditure of church funds? The invoices raise the possibility that Driscoll paid RSI’s fee while the church put up the money for the rest of the operation. Sutton Turner claims responsibility but others provide an out for him by saying he just signed the papers. An earlier church statement says Result Source was suggested by outside counsel. As of now, the situation is not clear and the church refuses to provide an official response.
In any case, this topic continues to be of interest to Mars Hill members and I suspect they will keep raising the matter. However, doing so may lead to negative consequences. Recently, one volunteer leader was removed from his position as a coach because he questioned leaders about this issue and executive salaries. More on that story to come.
Read the contract between Mars Hill Church and Result Source, Inc to promote Real Marriage.

Mars Hill Church to Hold Vision Breakfast on June 10

I have obtained a memo inviting Mars Hill Church members to attend a “vision breakfast.” In a report on the last vision breakfast, it was reported by Sutton Turner that at least one member had questions about the 2012 legal situation for the church in Orange County CA. Turner said he wouldn’t answer because he wanted to talk to Kyle Firstenberg first.

Vision Breakfast | 6.10.14
From Pastor Sutton Turner:
Mars Hill Bellevue, My deepest prayer for our church family these past several weeks has come from Hebrews 12:1–2: that we would lay aside every weight and sin, and that we would run with endurance the race that is set before us. I’ve been praying that we would look to Jesus! I ask you to pray as well for our continued health and maturity as individuals and as the body of Christ at Mars Hill.
HEAR THE VISION
I can’t wait to gather together for our upcoming Vision Breakfast on June 10. Vision Breakfasts are our regular opportunity throughout the year for the leadership to share a united vision with all of our local churches. Vision Breakfasts allow us to communicate on a more intimate level. Think of them as family meetings: they allow us the chance to personally engage with you, Mars Hill, regarding what we believe Jesus has next for us as a body of believers.
JOIN US
Pastor Mark, Pastor Dave, and I will address all Mars Hill churches via live video. Then, Pastor Thomas will address your church family with a personal word about your local mission. So, please mark your calendars for June 10 and plan to join us for future Tuesday-morning Vision Breakfasts, held from 7:00 to 8:30 a.m. (PST), on the following days:
• June 10 (RSVP here)
• September 9
• November 11
Breakfast is served at 7:00 a.m. and is generously funded, organized, and served by members of Mars Hill Bellevue. They continue to treat us so well—and yes, the food is always great! We are thankful to the Lord for their gift of hospitality and the good they do for the household of faith (Gal. 6:10). RSVP If you are interested in attending the Vision Breakfast on June 10, please RSVP in order to help us plan accordingly.
Gratefully, Pastor Sutton Turner Executive Pastor and Executive Elder

There is something surreal an intimate conversation with a video feed. In any case, perhaps there will be some mechanism for questions to get to the executive elders. There is much that could come up. Perhaps the elders will tell the congregation what is happening with the 10700 Northtup Way property; and where the Mars Hill Global money is being spent. Maybe there will be an update about the mediation efforts with the 20 former pastors, or an explanation for the editing of a recent sermon or why so many popular leaders are leaving.

Mars Hill Church Leases Bellevue College Building; Does the Congregation Know?

On May 9, I posted a memo from Mars Hill executive pastor Sutton Turner about a plan to buy a former Bellevue College building at 10700 Northrup Way in Bellevue, WA.  Mars Hill central offices will need to move by 2015 to make way for development in Seattle and so they need a new home. Originally, the leadership of Mars Hill told their congregation that God wanted them to have a property which had been purchased by Sound Transit. The church even mounted a campaign to convince the owner that the church should be there. However, something went wrong somewhere because now the church has focused on the Bellevue Community College building in Bellevue.
Recently, I learned that the planned collaboration between Mars Hill Church and two Christian colleges is slated to begin this fall in the 10700 Northrup Way property. Sources tell me that the church did not raise the $40 million requested but instead has signed a lease to use the space needed for the educational partnership. In the Spring, 2014 issue of the Corban University alumni magazine the plan to partner with Mars Hill is presented.  On page 11, the picture below shows the Northrup Way property with a caption saying that Mars Hill purchased the building.

The statement that Mars Hill purchased the building is at odds with the information I am getting from inside the church. According to an analysis of rents in the Seattle area, my sources are correct. A Colliers International source says that Mars Hill leased the space.

A Mars Hill member recently told me that leadership is telling members that the church purchased the building. However, the information provided by other church sources is more consistent with the Colliers International analysis. One way or another, it appears that Mars Hill’s leadership was determined to get into the Northrup Way property. The bylaws allow the executive elders to make these moves without congregational approval. However, it is hard to understand the wisdom of making such significant move with tithes and offerings without at least informing the congregation. To be fair to MHC, perhaps the leadership has informed the people but my sources have not heard about it. I am certainly open to correction here.
 

Megachurch Methods: Apparently Mars Hill Global Money Can Be Spent Anywhere

Those in charge of Mars Hill Global seem to agree with me that Mars Hill Global is really Mars Hill Church.
Last week, I posted a 2011 document about the rebranding of Mars Hill Global (among other things, “cultivate an international audience and giving base”) and a slide showing the dramatic rise in giving on behalf of the MH Global brand. After those posts appeared, a sentence was added to the website description of MH Global:

Mars Hill Global has the same mission as Mars Hill Church – evangelizing, making disciples, equipping leaders, and planting churches all over the world, including but not exclusive to Ethiopia, India and the US.

The May 15 Google snapshot of the page looks like this:

The current page adds a sentence at the beginning:

My guess is that the sentence is designed to slightly better inform potential donors (remember the purpose of MH Global – “cultivate an international audience and giving base”) that the money they give to Mars Hill Global may not go to Ethiopia or India but to the general fund of Mars Hill Church.
Given the pictures of Ethiopian churches and children, some donors might think that their money was going to Ethiopia. However, according to current and former Mars Hill sources, that is not necessarily the case. This new disclosure hints that my sources are on target.
In the Mars Hill 2013 Public Disclosure package, there is no mention of Mars Hill Global, Ethiopia, India, etc., and only one mention of a mission fund:

In October 2012 alone, nearly $150,000 came in to the Mars Hill Global brand. From July, 2012 to June, 2013, nearly $2.3 million was given to Mars Hill Global. However, in available reports (the 2013 Annual Report and Public Disclosure package), where the Mars Hill Global money was disbursed is not reported.
What would be nice is Mars Hill leadership would simply indicate on the website how much money is given on behalf of Mars Hill Global and then where that money goes.  In fact it would be more than nice, it would satisfy the guidelines of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.  The guidance is clear that reporting should make it clear where money is spent. According to the ECFA:

Historical practices of faith missions and other charities has conditioned donors to give for specific purposes and to expect their funds to be used for those stated purposes and not for the organization’s general use. Such practices include raising funds to support specific projects or programs as well as the ministry of specific workers. Fundraisers acknowledge that specific use appeals are more effective than general appeals.

Currently, I cannot find such an accounting. Last Thursday, I wrote giving@marshill.com and asked if donations to Mars Hill Global go to missions or the Mars Hill general fund. Perhaps some accounting exists and the folks at giving@marshill.com will let me know this week, although it is possible that the sentence added above indirectly addresses the matter.

Megachurch Methods: And By Mars Hill Global We Mean Mars Hill Local

Yesterday, I posted a Mars Hill Church document about the rebranding of Mars Hill Global as a revenue source. The document was sent out by MH Pastor Sutton Turner in 2011 to the Media and Communications Teams and began:

When it comes to giving potential, Mars Hill Church’s global audience is a sleeping giant.

Since 2011, the giant has indeed ceased from slumber. At a recent Mars Hill vision breakfast meeting, this slide was presented to the congregation:

These numbers are increasing rapidly while overall giving has been flat, and according to sources in Mars Hill, declining in recent months.  In fact, the situation is troubling enough that sources tell me that the church will be approaching an entity known internally as “The Lucas Group” to help raise money. In addition, I have heard from several former staff members that the amount of Mars Hill Global money disbursed on behalf of missions outside of the United States is very low, less than 5%.
According to these sources, the rest of the funds are pooled in the general fund which is used to support administration of the  Mars Hill franchises. Consistent with that claim is the fact that MHG website lists the United States as a target of Mars Hill Global. All the franchises are listed, including the churches surrounding Seattle. Reviewing the April Mars Hill Global newsletter, it looks like global is local with most of the material being about the U.S. churches.
In 2011, Sutton Turner asked if there was a better name than Mars Hill Global for the cultivation of the international giving base. I think the better name would be Mars Hill Church.
 
 

Megachurch Methods: Mars Hill Global Wakes the Sleeping Giant

Subtitle: “Mars Hill Global Cultivates the Giving Base.”
Like businesses and other organizations, megachurches like to brand things. They brand pastors (Mark Driscoll: “I am the brand!”), and brand ministries. Probably nothing really wrong with that if the brand accurately represents what is being done and offered. For Mars Hill Church, Mars Hill Global is a phrase that describes the Christian market outside of Seattle. According to the MHG web presence, Mars Hill has things going on in Ethiopia, India, and online which is everywhere else.
In addition to whatever else it is, MHG appears to be a source of funding for Mars Hill Church. In November 2011, Mars Hill Executive Pastor Sutton Turner sent a document to the Media and Communications Team touting Mars Hill Global as a way to cultivate the international “giving base.” The document is here:

Note the prime purpose for MHG is to cultivate donations to Mars Hill. The strategy involves what appears to be a lot of good things, but it is hard to escape the impression that the end game is an increase in revenue.
Mars Hill Global existed prior to this memo. However, this memo promoted a new strategy. As a part of that strategy, the Media and Communications team is urged to “Craft the Origin Story.” Everybody likes a good origin story. Perhaps Mark Driscoll really did receive letters requesting resources. But maybe he didn’t. It is hard to tell. I can’t tell from the current website what story was originally crafted.
Currently, MHG takes in about $300,000 monthly. This is a dramatic increase from when this memo was sent. Apparently, the sleeping giant is awake.
 

Mars Hill Church Wants $40 Million to Buy Bellevue College Building and Build New Church

According to a February 2014 communication from Mars Hill Church Executive Pastor Sutton Turner to MHC staff and elders that I obtained this week, Mars Hill Church is seeking to raise $40 Million to buy a Bellevue Community College building and build a new church. The building is in Bellevue, WA at 10700 Northup Way. Here is the pitch to buy the facility:

Why?

  • Jesus has called us to be a Jesus-loving, Bible-preaching, multi-generational church.
  • We want to see more people saved by Jesus, more people grow in Jesus, and more people be on Mission with Jesus for generations and generations.
  • It’s all about Jesus.

How?

  • We have a vision to plant 50 church across 50,000 people. It is a specific prayer of ours to see Jesus lead 4,000 people to get baptized in a single year.
  • We must serve and love all of our churches more effectively. We also must train up the next generation of leaders. Finally, we must continue to stay rooted in and faithful to the Bible and to Jesus.
  • It’s all about Jesus.

What?

  • To do all of these things, it requires a Ministry Center that will house Mars Hill Schools (College and Seminary), Ministry Development, Leadership Development, and all Mars Hill support staff. It will be critically important that we are all connected and rooted in a local church.
  • We need to raise $40M. This allows us to purchase the land, purchase the Ministry Center building, and build an 1,800 seat church building debt-free.
  • It’s all about Jesus.

Who?

  • Every staff member
  • Every leader
  • The entire Mars Hill family
  • It’s all about Jesus.

Please earnestly seek the Lord’s guidance about how he is leading you to join in this generation-changing opportunity. Pray, and then here to sign in to your global account and make your pledge. As of today, all staff and elders have the ability to post your pledge. You should see this pledge box appear when you sign in.

 

Mars Hill has been looking for a large property in Bellevue since at least last year. The current location is slated to be the site of a massive project managed by the Rockerfeller Group. Since they need to move, MHC made an offer on a building owned by International Paper in 2013 only to find that Seattle Sound Transit had first refusal on the building. According to an October 2013 Seattle Times article, Mars Hill spokesman Justin Dean said the International Paper building was the property God intended for MHC to have.  The church still has a page on the website where members can contact the Sound Transit Board to advocate for Mars Hill to purchase the International Paper building. The last tweet in the campaign #goodforbellevue was in November, 2013. I cannot find anything on the Mars Hill website which indicates that the congregation has been informed of the Bellevue College initiative.
I have asked MHC Executive Pastor Sutton Turner for comment and will add new information as it become available. A source with knowledge of the situation tells me that the real estate project could be jeopardized due to declining donations.
Note: Mars Hill removed most of the original links I used to research this post. I have saved many of the pages and have some archived pages substituted for the original links. It appears Mars Hill leaders would like to scrub the history of this incident.

Mars Hill Church Members Want to Know Why The Orange County Campus Violated Zoning Ordinances in 2012

On Monday, I established that Mars Hill Church in Orange County violated the city of Santa Ana’s zoning law for the better part of a year (2011-2012). In defiance of the city and at the direction of Mars Hill’s executive elders, Mars Hill Orange County continued to meet in a building which was not zoned for a church, even paying fines instead of moving to another location, or simply waiting until a suitable location could be found. Then when the church was facing enforcement, Mars Hill’s pastor Mark Driscoll claimed to lack understanding about the city’s actions.
Apparently, Mars Hill members care about this issue because they asked about it during a recent “Vision Breakfast” where members could ask the executive elders questions.  A May 18 email from Mars Hill leaders to members referenced the matter:

Turner’s reply to members is very close to the one he issued to me when I asked him when he became aware that the church in Orange County was in violation of zoning ordinance. Honestly, I don’t understand how the answer to that question would be influenced by a reconciliation with Kyle Firstenberg (the “person who is raising these issues publicly“). According to Firstenberg, he made Turner aware of his concerns on more than one occasion with no reply.
Furthermore, based on documentation supplied by the city of Santa Ana, it seems clear that the Mars Hill executive board knew that the church in Orange County was operating in violation of city ordinance. This is a matter of public record. I can understand why church members would ask about this and want their leaders to be accountable and transparent. As of now, that does not appear to be the stance of Mars Hill’s leaders.
 

Mars Hill Orange County and the City of Santa Ana: The Church That Didn't Want to Move

UPDATE (8/15/14) – A reader let me know that the video update from Mark Driscoll to the church was made private by Mars Hill Church. The transcript is below but the church removed the video. I have edited the video to provide the relevant segment.
…………(original post begins here)
In May 2012, there was a stand off between the City of Santa Ana and the Orange County campus of Mars Hill Church. At the time, Mars Hill was meeting in a concert venue known as The Galaxy (now called The Observatory). According to the city, the venue was located in a zone where churches were not allowed to meet. The city had informed the church and the building owner that a church could not meet in that place but Mars Hill continued to hold services there. Thus, in May 2012 the city threatened enforcement actions. Then on May 27, 2012, the city fined the church and building owner $100 each.
On May 26, 2012, Mars Hill Church posted an update on the situation with Mark Driscoll and Nick Bogardus informing the church about actions taken on behalf of the Orange County (CA) campus. The video of Driscoll has now been made private (not viewable) and Bogardus’ update has been scrubbed from the site. However, you can read it via the Internet Archive. Although the video is missing, several news sources watched it and reported on the story. The Christian Post’s Alex Murashko wrote that Mars Hill pastors were “struggling to understand why conducting worship services by way of rotating into the weekly schedule of an active rock concert venue in Orange County on Sundays is a problem with city officials.” The now missing video was the basis for that assessment. According to CP, Driscoll said:

“I honestly don’t understand this because it’s a concert venue and so it’s a huge room where people come in, a band plays on the stage, and the place packs out with people. On Sunday, a band takes the stage and it fills up with people,” said Mars Hill lead pastor Mark Driscoll during a video posted on the church’s website.
“They say we can no longer use the space. [However,] we don’t have our children in there. They are actually in a separate building next door. It’s not a parking problem. There’s plenty of parking. It’s not a traffic problem. It’s Sunday, lots of accessibility, no issues whatsoever. So, we’re not exactly sure what the problem is. The truth is we’ve been asking a lot of questions and we are not getting a lot of answers,” Driscoll explained.

According to CP, Driscoll then wondered if the church was the victim of religious discrimination:

However, Driscoll said Mars Hill has retained legal counsel, saying it’s needed “if we find that we are just getting bullied by a political discriminatory agenda against Christianity and the church.”
“If we find out as well that it’s just somebody on a council somewhere that has an axe to grind against Christianity we will hold our ground,” Driscoll said. “If we do, in fact, find that somehow we are violating laws and rules that don’t make a lot of sense to us we will obey the governing authorities like the Scriptures say.”

In CP’s reporting of this video (also OC Weekly, and The Blaze), Mark Driscoll appears unaware that the church had known for months that Orange County campus had violated Santa Ana zoning ordinances by meeting in The Galaxy. However, recently former Orange County campus executive pastor Kyle Firstenberg alleged that Mars Hill executive pastors were aware of the violation early on and prohibited the Orange County campus from making a move. In order to explore the various claims involved, I requested relevant documents from the City of Santa Ana and attempted to interview people involved.  On balance, the information I have supports Firstenberg’s account. The rest of this post presents this information.
The original yearly lease between Mars Hill and The Galaxy (owned by Jon Reiser) was signed on October 24, 2011. MHC pledged to pay $8,000/month for the first six months and then $10,000/month for the remaining months.  According to Firstenberg, the city contacted Reiser very soon after the lease was signed with the news that a church could not meet there. Initially, Firstenberg believed that the zoning law might not apply to them since the church was not doing anything at the venue through the week. However, soon Firstenberg understood that the church could not meet in the venue and alerted Sutton Turner, executive pastor at Mars Hill for direction. Firstenberg said that Turner instructed him not to move because the city would not want to risk a public relations problem by acting against the church. I contacted Sutton Turner for his perspective and he declined to comment saying that the issue was a “private matter.”
The documentation supplied by the City of Santa Ana begins in May 2012. However, the May 7 email from Alvaro Nunez to building owner Jon Reiser refers to prior conversations regarding the zoning violations.

Consistent with Firstenberg’s claims, Alvaro Nunez said in his email that he had previously made Reiser aware that the church could not meet in The Galaxy. I asked the Community Preservation Division representative Paula Courtade when the initial contact was made but she did not know. She told me that she asked Nunez but he could not remember when he first contacted Reiser. Firstenberg believes it was in 2011, with additional contacts in early 2012. In any case, the city had contacted all concerned before the flurry of activity in May 2012.
According to the CP, OC lead pastor Nick Bogardus said Mars Hill knew the church could not continue meeting in The Galaxy:

The city made it clear from the outset that the church could not stay long term, Bogardus said.

The outset was as early as October 30, 2011 when the lease agreement was signed. Bogardus said the city “made it clear” that church was not permitted in that location.
In reviewing notes Firstenberg kept during that time period, it appears that he investigated dozens of locations from late 2011 until he left the church in July 2012. On at least two occasions, the church seemed poised to move to a new venue. In April 2012, Mars Hill executive elder Dave Bruskas signed a letter of intent to occupy the Garden Grove Seventh Day Adventist Church. This document is significant in that Dave Bruskas is one of three executive elders at Mars Hill, the other two being Mark Driscoll and Sutton Turner. Furthermore, on the Mars Hill website, prayer was requested in April 2012 for the location of a new building for Orange County:

Pastor Mark asks for prayer for our five churches that are looking for new buildings: Orange County, Everett, Federal Way, Downtown Seattle, and Olympia. He asks everybody to pray, both individually and as a church family.

In the update video on the site (how long will it be there?), Driscoll told his listeners at 2:20:

Mars Hill Orange County is meeting in a club, the children’s ministry is in another zip code, and we just are losing our lease, and we’re going to be kicked out, and we got a problem, and so we’re going to be homeless like Jesus here very shortly at Mars Hill Orange County. They started on January 15th, they started with 800 people. Only 2% of churches in America are 800 so we rejoice in all that God is doing, but they need a home.

The original uncut video was made private by Mars Hill Church. An edited version with the pertinent segment is below.
[youtube]http://youtu.be/zbJNb11ddkw?t=2m20s[/youtube]
[youtube]http://youtu.be/0k5tBs8IDZA [/youtube]
 
It is obvious that Driscoll was aware that the church could not remain in the location but nothing is said about religious discrimination. As is clear from the documentation (see the documents from the City of Santa Ana here), the religious discrimination narrative emerged in late May when the city got serious about enforcement of the zoning issues which had been in play for months.
As noted above, Alvaro Nunez contacted the building owner, Jon Reiser, on May 7.  On May 8, Kyle Firstenberg wrote both Nunez and Reiser about a possible move to a new location. In April, a letter of intent was executed by executive elder Dave Bruskas and on that basis Firstenberg informed Nunez and Reiser that a move was imminent. According to Firstenberg, Mars Hill executive pastor Turner eventually nixed the deal, leaving them to scramble around for additional options.
According to a May 15 email from Firstenberg to Nunez, the lease was being considered by the Garden Grove church. Then on May 23, Nunez wrote Firstenberg to inform him that church services must cease at The Galaxy/Obsevatory location. The email threatened enforcement action if the church did not comply.

Then on May 24, a law firm, Anthony and Middlebrook, representing Mars Hill sent a letter to Nunez expressing disappointment over the city’s stance. However, the letter acknowledged that the church planned to move to the Garden Grove location and expressed hope that the city would allow the church a little more time to complete the move. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act was not invoked to challenge the zoning ordinance but to ask for more to time in order to prevent disruption of services.
This brings us back to May 26 when Mark Driscoll told Mars Hill Church that he didn’t understand what the problem was and that perhaps someone at the City of Santa Ana had an “axe to grind against Christianity.” Given the events leading up to that point, it is hard to imagine how he didn’t understand the situation.
On Sunday May 27, in defiance of Nunez’s warning, Mars Hill met again at The Galaxy. As a result, the church and building owner were fined $100 each.

By this time, the Garden Grove property had been nixed and the church considered Woodbridge Community Church. However, according to an email from Mars Hill property management department, Sutton Turner did not want to move ahead with that property either.

From:
Date: Friday, June 1, 2012 9:25 AM
To: ”kyle@marshill.com” <kyle@marshill.com>
Subject: Woodbridge
Kyle
Sutton would rather us keep looking, and meet in a park if need be, than have only an afternoon time slot.  It sounds like this is the opinion of all 3 EE, no just Pastor Sutton.  I pulled the plug on the LOI.  We’ll keep focusing our efforts on other options.

(LOI stands for “letter of intent.”)
From there it is not clear from the evidence I have what happened. In June, the Firstenbergs were laid off from Mars Hill effective July 6, suffering personal and financial hardships. According to emails between Mars Hill’s attorney’s and Santa Ana, the church continued to express willingness to move but did not do so. The church and building owner were fined again on August 26th, this time for $200. Eventually, the church moved to Huntington Beach, CA.
While these materials do not prove all of Kyle Firstenberg’s claims, they do provide support for them.  It appears that the executive elders of Mars Hill Church were aware that the church was in violation of the zoning laws and advised staying in the building, even paying fines instead of leaving. The religious discrimination angle did not seem to be a part of the narrative until the city raised the possibility of enforcement. If anything, it appears that the city of Santa Ana demonstrated some restraint given the length of time the church was out of compliance with zoning laws.
As noted, I contacted Sutton Turner for his view and he declined to comment saying this was a “private matter.” If there is additional evidence that anyone involved would like to provide, please feel free to contact me.