By Julie Muhlstein Herald Writer
EVERETT — At Mars Hill Church, the congregation is noticeably young. During services last weekend, singles in their 20s and young parents filled the sanctuary. Some lifted hands in the air while singing hymns accompanied by a booming rock band.
Yet the church building is old. It’s a downtown landmark. On Sunday, Mars Hill Everett will celebrate the grand opening of its new home, the old Everett Armory building on Oakes Avenue. Services are held at 9 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. every Sunday.
“We’re praying that God will bring a ton of people here,” Pastor Ryan Williams told his flock at a service last Sunday. “Consider inviting someone who has never been to church before,” said Williams, lead pastor at Mars Hill Everett.
Founded in Seattle almost 18 years ago by Mark Driscoll, fast-growing Mars Hill now has 15 churches in Washington, Oregon, California, New Mexico and Arizona. According to church literature, Mars Hill plans to “plant” more churches in western states in the coming months.
From 2011 until two months ago, Mars Hill Everett met for Sunday worship at Everett Community College’s new Fitness Center. In November, Sunday services began in the Everett Armory, which Mars Hill bought in late 2012. With donations and volunteer help from hundreds of church members, renovations are ongoing in the armory, which was built in 1921.
Williams said Wednesday that the purchase price for the armory was $1.28 million. It had been listed as surplus property with the state’s Military Department.
“Members have stepped up like crazy,” Williams said, adding that about 90 percent of Mars Hill Everett members have made significant donations to create the new church. He said the church needs to raise about $750,000 for renovations, which are being completed in three phases.
The first phase is nearly finished. It included building a sanctuary in the large space once used for National Guard drills, a new meeting and coffee area, and children’s classrooms on the main floor. Work continues on upstairs offices. A final phase of longer-term projects will include seismic upgrades and work in the basement.
Visitors to Mars Hill Everett will see in an entry hall a nod to the building’s history. “Headquarters 2nd Battalion 161st Infantry Washington National Guard” says a blue sign hanging on a white brick wall.
Designed by Seattle architect Louis Svartz, the armory was once home to an Army National Guard tank battalion. The move of two Washington National Guard units to the Armed Forces Reserve Center at Smokey Point in 2011 cleared the way for the church. Before it was Mars Hill, the armory for decades did double duty as a dance hall, wrestling arena and dog-show venue.
In Everett as at other Mars Hill churches, the high-profile founder delivers his sermons via giant video screens. Driscoll, whose title is preaching and vision pastor, preaches from the main Mars Hill Church in Bellevue. His sermons are seen at all Mars Hill churches.
Williams, an Australian who moved here two years ago from Adelaide, said he preaches five to 12 times per year.
With big screens and a top-notch sound system, the church has a high-tech delivery method for its conservative Christian message. “If it doesn’t look good, people are not going to be interested,” Williams said.
Last Sunday, Driscoll preached about fatherhood, but also about hell as reality, and the need for repentance. “The fires of hell never go out. We live in a day when I’m not supposed to say that,” Driscoll told the Everett congregation in his video sermon. “God always gets the last word.”
For this Sunday, the topic is The Book of James.
Williams said about 800 people attend Mars Hill Everett every Sunday.
“We believe the Bible is true and is the highest authority,” Williams said. “We have great optimism that Jesus will use our people in Everett for change for the good.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mars Hill Church will hold grand opening services at its new location in the old Everett Armory building at 9 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. Sunday. Mars Hill Everett is at 2730 Oakes Ave. For more information, go to http://marshill.com/everett.