Last week I was in Seattle hanging out with PraiseCharts.com’s Ryan Dhal. We had the chance to visit the famous Mars Hill Church pastored by Mark Driscoll.
This church is a prime example of a ministry reaching their culture if I’ve ever seen it.
Seattle’s reputation as being an emo and moody place seemed quite accurate to me. It was the birthplace of the early 90’s alternative music scene made famous by the supergroup Nirvana. Out in public I saw quite a few emo, pale and hoodied teenagers running around (one guy in particular was so unbelievably ghostly white I did a double take – must be the lack of sunlight.) Also in abundance were what my parents would call “hippies.”
So how do you reach the northwest culture? If Pastor Bubba from Pickens, SC moved to Seattle to plant a church I doubt he’d be very successful, and a Seattle church planter would be baffled by the Pickens religious culture. You have to adapt. And Mars Hill has certainly adapted.
A few years ago I was hyped up on Dan Kimball’s book The Emerging Church and Mars Hill is a textbook case study in these ways:
Atmosphere: The room had dimmed lights, no windows and dark walls. The stage was minimalistic and distressed (torn edges, rough textures.) See the stage in their video.
Sermon: Mark simply proclaimed Biblical truth in his sermon “Jesus Gives Sight to the Blind.” This was no watered-down message. From the look of the other titles on the website, I’d guess his other sermons follow the same structure – teaching about Jesus and unpacking doctrines (I don’t think he’s one to speak on balancing your checkbook or how to get along with your co-workers.)
This is probably what an unchurched Seattlian needs to hear – the solid truth of the Scriptures and Jesus dynamically explained to a culture who doesn’t believe in absolute truth.
Worship: Worship pastor Joel Brown leads the most crazy-good, alternative and tight 4 piece worship band you’d ever want to hear. I haven’t heard this much passion in a band’s playing in a long time. This is my third visit to Mars Hill over the past few years, and from what I can tell, one of their signatures is to take an old, old praise song and completely redo it in a minor key.
Last time I visited I heard a dark, minor key version of the old chestnut There Is a Redeemer. This time it was Twila’s Lamb of God. You absolutely would not recognize the song except for the melody and lyrics – it wouldn’t fly in Pickens but it was really creative and I thoroughly enjoyed it. They also did rocking, clever and (of course) minor key versions of a few hymns. I doubt you’d ever hear Tomlin at this church, at least until the year 2024 when Our God will officially be labeled an “old chestnut.”
Every time I’ve visited Mars Hill they’ve had communion so I assume it’s a weekly occurrence. Everyone walks to a station and dips a piece of bread into either a wine cup or a juice cup while the band leads.
I’m excited to see a church like Mars Hill making a dent in their culture. They’ve even planted several satellite campuses in the surrounding area.
Bottom Line: Struggling with church attendance? Biblical truth must be proclaimed, but maybe your church personality runs counter to your surrounding culture.
Photos from Mars Hill: