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Mars Hill already attracting local members

Mars Hill Spokane won’t officially launch until early next year, but about 60 people from Spokane and North Idaho have already committed to becoming members of the Seattle-based megachurch.

They’ll be taking over the First Covenant Church building, at 212 S. Division, and the congregation currently meeting there will move to the Garland District.

Mars Hill made an offer to buy the First Covenant building in November. The Seattle-based church is known for its rapid expansion, high-tech outreach and its sometimes-controversial pastor, Mark Driscoll.

Miles Rohde, pastor of Mars Hill Spokane, said the church mostly plans to keep the historic building as is, with the addition of a children’s area inside.

“I know a lot of our members were excited that corner was still going to remain the old, classic building from 1929, and not be torn down and turned into a gas station,” said Pastor Rob Bryceson of First Covenant. “It’s still going to remain what it’s been, it’s going to remain a church.”

Bryceson’s congregation will be moving to an old grocery store at 733 W. Garland, where it plans to open up a coffee shop church. First Covenant will continue its homeless ministry by using the coffee shop during the week as job training for those in the impoverished community, and using the shop for worship on Sundays.

Bryceson hopes to be open by September. For now the 80-member congregation, which will change its name, continues to gather at the First Covenant building on Sunday mornings.

Rohde said the Spokane satellite will be the 16th Mars Hill location.

Some churches have expressed concern over Mars Hill moving to Spokane, which already has hundreds of churches in the area. Rohde said the church isn’t looking to poach members from other congregations and said anyone feeling called to attend Mars Hill should talk to their current church leadership before making that decision.

“We’re all part of the Gospel ministry in Spokane,” he said.

When Mars Hill Spokane begins services next year, it will stream sermons from lead pastor Driscoll. A best-selling author, Driscoll has been criticized in the past for his stance against homosexuality and female preachers.

Rohde and Executive Deacon Paul Featherstone will focus on discipleship classes and counseling. Rohde said he hopes to have a community group in every Spokane neighborhood, as well as parts of North Idaho.

Membership classes for the Spokane satellite began this week, and another class will begin in July.

Mars Hill Spokane is online at http://mars

Tracy Simmons, of, is a regular contributor to The Spokesman-Review’s Today section.