After meltdown, Mars Hill Everett will make its own way

EVERETT — With a new name, Mars Hill Church will stay at its downtown location as an independent, self-governed congregation.

“We’ll move forward to continue the good work in Everett,” Ryan Williams, lead pastor of the Everett church, said Monday. “We felt that was the direction God was taking us.”

Williams, Mars Hill Everett’s lead pastor for two years, said a new name for the church will be announced at a vision meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Nov. 10. The church at 2730 Oakes Ave. is in the old Everett Armory building, which underwent major renovations after Mars Hill purchased it in late 2012.

On Friday, Seattle-based megachurch Mars Hill announced it will disband as a centralized organization by Jan. 1. The move came more than two weeks after the resignation of Mark Driscoll, who founded Mars Hill in the 1990s and led it to become an empire of more than a dozen churches in several states. His sermons were relayed by video to all Mars Hill churches.

Driscoll, who had been under investigation by Mars Hill elders, acknowledged in his Oct. 14 resignation letter that aspects of his personality and leadership style had been divisive.

Driscoll was a lightning rod, luring big crowds but stirring controversy. With conservative and Bible-based views, he was sometimes brash and offensive in remarks about women and homosexuality.

His critics pointed to what some called a culture of fear. The church investigating body found Driscoll to have been “guilty of arrogance” but said he was never charged with immorality, illegality or heresy.

In Everett, Williams said, 525 people attended services Sunday. The church holds three Sunday services a week. Rather than video sermons from a central location, the Everett flock will now hear Williams deliver sermons live.

Church goers will “vote with their feet,” said Williams, 29, who lives in Marysville with his wife, Natasha, and infant son. He moved from Adelaide, Australia, nearly four years ago and met his wife here. She is a Cascade High School graduate with family and deep roots in Snohomish County.

In Friday’s announcement, Mars Hill said that the branch churches had three choices: become independent and self-governed; merge with an existing church; or disband and help members find other churches.

Williams, one of three pastors at Mars Hill Everett, said the decision to continue as an independent church was made by the Everett pastors and elders. The church is not “congregationally governed,” he said.

Mars Hill bought the armory, which was state surplus military property, for $1.275 million. Williams said the church’s down payment was about $400,000. He plans to meet with lenders later this month “with the hope of continuing to pay that mortgage.”

Williams doesn’t expect to have to ask church members to dig deeper, but he hopes they will “continue to give generously.”

As Mars Hill dissolves, the plan is for the organization to give the new, independent churches “the best launch they possibly can,” he said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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