(RNS) Can a megachurch survive the departure of its megastar pastor?
For Seattle’s Mars Hill Church, it’s an open question.
Mars Hill announced last week that it would dissolve the multisite network of 13 churches across the Northwest that took root under pastor Mark Driscoll, who stepped down in October after supporters lost confidence in a high-wattage leadership style that was criticized as bullying, hypermacho and intolerant.
For many megachurches, a pastor can become larger than the church itself — particularly for multisite churches where the pastor’s sermon is the only thing binding disparate congregations connected by little more than a satellite feed. Before his resignation, the name “Mark Driscoll” was more widely known than “Mars Hill.” The dueling brands sometimes clashed along the way; some say Driscoll once told staff “I am the brand.”
Driscoll’s edgy personality built up a congregation of an estimated 14,000 people at 15 locations across five states. Weekly attendance is now reportedly about 7,600. In August, the church saw a budget gap of nearly $650,000 as expenses exceeded revenues.