Mars Hill Church eyes Spokane campus
Mars Hill Church – the Seattle-based megachurch made famous by its rapid expansion, high-tech outreach and its sometimes-controversial pastor Mark A. Driscoll – has plans to open its 16th satellite campus in downtown Spokane.
“We just want people to meet Jesus,” said Miles Rohde, who will be the lead pastor of the Spokane church. “Spokane is getting younger, with lots of college kids coming and raising their families there. We have a message of the Gospel we want to communicate and we have an amazing lead pastor in Mark Driscoll and the message he’s able to convey biblically, and we want to share that in Spokane.”
Mars Hill recently made an offer to buy the First Covenant Church building at 212 S. Division St.
“They’ve approached us, we’ve discussed it as a congregation and we’re doing dialogue now,” said Rob Bryceson, pastor of First Covenant. “The talks are proceeding very well.” He declined to provide details of the offer.
Bryceson said nearly half of his 90-member congregation is homeless or low-income, and maintaining the building has become a financial struggle.
“I think we’d all rather see a church here than a car lot,” he said.
The satellite campus will likely begin services in Spokane in early 2015. It will be the church’s first location in Eastern Washington.
Justin Dean, a deacon who oversees communication for Mars Hill, said the church is committed to finding a downtown location so people from surrounding areas can attend.
Mars Hill has a history of opening satellite locations in church buildings that have been abandoned or can no longer be maintained by a congregation. In Tacoma, for example, Mars Hill moved into a church building that was about to be made into a parking garage.
On its website, Mars Hill says expansion, which it calls “planting churches,” is “a natural extension of God’s mission for us to make disciples – and a priority for us.”
Rohde said that when the local satellite opens, Driscoll’s sermons will be live-streamed each Sunday. The founding pastor also has an active Twitter feed, and Mars Hill offers mobile apps, podcasts and a blog.
Driscoll is a best-selling author who has been criticized by some for his stance against homosexuality and against female preachers.
Rohde said having Driscoll’s sermons live-streamed will allow him to focus on instructing membership classes, provide biblical counseling and be involved in other on-the-ground ministries.
Rohde worked as a youth minister in Spokane Valley several years ago, and his wife, Pamela, is from Spokane. He said his family has a heart for the city and has been eager to come back.
First Covenant is known for its work with the homeless community. As a downtown church, Rohde said, he would like to partner with ministries already serving that demographic.
He added that he’s also eager to partner with other Spokane churches. There are approximately 500 churches in this region, but Rohde said there’s still room for Mars Hill.
“Church saturation does not equate to Gospel saturation,” he said. “There are disciples to be made, people who have not yet heard and responded to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We look forward to being a part of what God is already doing in Spokane.”
Rohde recently moved back to Washington after serving a church in Minnesota for 12 years. He is currently in the Lead Pastor Residency Program at Mars Hill, which trains men to serve as lead pastors in Mars Hill Church.
Tracy Simmons, of SpokaneFaithAnd Values.com, is a regular contributor to The Spokesman-Review’s Today section.