Mars Hill buys a best-seller

Mars Hill Church reportedly paid about $200,000 to get a book by its pastor, Mark Driscoll, onto best-seller lists

Mars Hill Church reportedly paid about $200,000 to get a book by its pastor, Mark Driscoll, onto best-seller lists

Sophomore Adrian Monroe attends Mars Hill Church’s Ballard campus and is no stranger to the controversy surrounding the church and its pastor, Mark Driscoll.

“A lot of people skirt around the big issues of today,” Monroe said. “I like the fact that he’s not afraid to take a stance, say it how it is and roll with the punches.”

But when it comes to recent allegations that Mars Hill bought Driscoll’s way onto the New York Times Best Sellers list for his book Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship and Life Together, Monroe isn’t so sure.

“It’s all about what the intention was,” Monroe said. “Was it to get his book noticed so more people could read it and have their lives changed, or was it to make a whole lot of money?”

Here’s how it worked.

On Oct. 13, 2011, Mars Hill Executive Pastor John Sutton Turner signed a deal with a California marketing company called ResultSource Inc., according to World Magazine, which broke the story.

The deal stated that ResultSource would use marketing strategies to get Real Marriage on the New York Times, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble best-seller lists.

ResultSource received a fee of $25,000 for the marketing campaign.

The controversial part is that Mars Hill allegedly paid for 11,000 copies of Real Marriage in bulk and individual sales ranging from $18.62 to $20.70 per book, totaling more than $210,000, according to World.

ResultSource would then coordinate the purchase of the books in a way that would register with best-seller lists. Mars Hill supplied ResultSource with 6,000 names of individuals and 90 names and addresses for the bulk order.

The 6,000 individual orders were required to have 1,000 different addresses with no more than 350 in any one state.

All of this is to allegedly circumvent safeguards put in place by the New York Times Best Seller list to detect such practices, according to World.

Real Marriage ranked No. 1 in the hardcover advice New York Times list for the week of Jan. 22, 2012 but then dropped off the list the next week.

While these practices aren’t illegal, leading best-seller lists discourage them. In a written statement posted on their website Friday, Mars Hill Church said these practices aren’t uncommon but called them “unwise.”

The Falcon contacted Mars Hill, but the church’s Communications Director Justin Dean referred to their written statement by the Board of Advisors and Accountability. The statement said Mars Hill had been falsely accused but didn’t identify any specific untrue allegations. It went on to clarify the church’s position on accusations it admitted as true.

The statement explains that in 2011, outside counsel advised Mars Hill’s marketing team to use ResultSource Inc. to market Driscoll’s book and gain placement on best-seller lists.

“While not uncommon or illegal, this unwise strategy is not one we had used before or since, and not one we will use again,” the statement said. “Pastor Mark did not profit from the Real Marriage books sold either at the church or through the ResultSource marketing campaign.”

The statement also addressed the amount of money that was reportedly spent.

“The true cost of this endeavor was much less than what has been reported. And to be clear all of the books purchased through this campaign have been given away or sold through normal channels,” the statement said.

The statement also clarified that Turner was the general manager of Mars Hill, but not the executive pastor, when he signed the deal with ResultSource.

In a phone interview, former Mars Hill elder and pastor Dave Kraft said assuming the accusations against Driscoll and his book-marketing campaign are true, it doesn’t reflect well on anyone involved in the Mars Hill community.

“If the allegations prove to be true, it would be a pathetic and sinful example to be avoided at all costs, student or no student, Christian or no Christian,” Kraft said.

Kraft, on staff from 2005 to 2013, said that while he worked at Mars Hill, he experienced a culture of fear rather than joy and openness, a top-down command and control philosophy of ministry, and a lack of respect and dignity when leading church staff.

Kraft said most students attending Mars Hill wouldn’t be aware of this situation unless they read about it in the media or asked a specific question to a leading staff member.

“[Mars Hill] isn’t as proactive and intentional as I would like to see on numerous issues, the book included,” Kraft said. “I can make evaluations, draw conclusions, but we won’t know why he did it unless he actually says it.”

ResultSource Inc. couldn’t be reached for comment. On their website, the company advertises similar best-seller campaigns.

Sophomore Matt Guchee, who attends Mars Hill’s Ballard campus, said he doesn’t have any problems with Driscoll or how he marketed Real Marriage.

He said because of Driscoll’s reputation as a controversial pastor, he believes media sources and those who disagree with Mars Hill will take advantage of any controversial activity surrounding the church.

“People will take what’s already been there and build it into something it’s not,” Guchee said. “Driscoll has a lot of good things to say. Something like this won’t be a deciding factor on whether or not I go to [Mars Hill].”

Guchee also said that while he believes it’s important for the Mars Hill Board of Advisors to know what’s going on within the church, they shouldn’t have to report the details of Driscoll’s book sales to the public.

“[The marketing campaign] might not have been the best method,” Guchee said. “But if a church as big as Mars Hill reported to the public about everything, it would take a lot of unnecessary time and money.”

Mars Hill currently has over 19,000 members at 15 locations in five states.

Freshman Tobijah Rogers, who also attends Mars Hill’s Ballard campus, believes Driscoll’s book-marketing campaign could be used as an effective ministry tool, but feels it was dishonest and uncharacteristic of an effective church leader.

“He was definitely able to reach a lot of people,” Rogers said. “But I feel like his intentions might have been a little bit more self-serving than that.”

Rogers said that he appreciates the perspective Driscoll brings to issues relevant to college students but doesn’t always agree with everything he says or does.

“There’s a lot of people out there who want to discredit Driscoll as much as possible,” Rogers said. “I respect him and his story. But a little more clarity on this issue would be nice.”

This article was posted in the section News and tagged .
Alex Cnossen

Editor-in-Chief Alex Cnossen is a junior journalism major.

2 thoughts on “Mars Hill buys a best-seller

  1. I was a MH member from about 2008 until last June, so perhaps I should make some comments.

    From early on, I had my doubts about Mars Hill. Mark Driscoll has always struck me as a bit too ambitious, too eager to make a name for himself. That has nothing to do with his Christianity. He was that way in high school, becoming class president even though he was from a poor family. Even then he struck me as the kind of person who’s drawn into politics for all the wrong reasons. He didn’t become a Christian until college, so don’t equate his problems with a church upbringing. He was a nominal Catholic as a kid.

    If anything, his top-down leadership style, rare until recently in evangelical churches, has more to do with the construction union his dad belonged to. Unions don’t permit dissent and criticism from below, much like Mars Hill. I remember one Sunday when I saw someone looking at a picture in some (probably neo-Calvinist) evangelical magazine that had an article about Driscoll. It showed a pastor standing in the midst of some quite stupid-looking sheep. The magazine perhaps intended that as a picture of how churches ought to be. I felt like telling the person that it illustrated what was wrong with churches like MH. I’m not surprised that Driscoll, from being a bit of a loner, has been attracted to the most self-promoting of the mega-church pastors. Birds of feather fly together.

    For my first few years there, Driscoll seemed to have a great deal of unhealthy anger directed at evangelical churches in general. Those who go through the archives can discover some extremely ill-tempered sermons. I recall one particularly nasty one coming on my birthday, March 21, although I forget the year.

    In comparison, his criticisms of Seattle culture were quite muted, most centered on the city having more dogs than children. He pretends now that MH supports our military because so many military does (or at least did) listen to his podcasts. That’s not true. Listen to his sermons on every patriotic date (i.e. Memorial Day and the Fourth of July) during the Iraqi War and after era. Even liberal churches will have a few moments for those in the military. MH did absolutely nothing. Supporting the military wasn’t popular in Seattle then, so it didn’t happened. Driscoll’s supposed convictions are more a posture than real. At his core, he’s more ambition than conviction. You see that in the rapidly switching attitude toward this bestseller controversy.

    Also, keep in mind that the bulk of MH members, if they weren’t coming to MH, would have been attending a different evangelical church. MH has so few converts of its own, I was surprised on the rare occasion when I met one. Most grew up in churches. One Sunday, they asked those who’d become members through MH to stand. I looked around, It was at most 2-5% of those attending.

    The claim that MH had found a way to reach unchurched big city young adults simply isn’t true. It’s been great at stealing sheep by being, for a time, The Church to join, coupled with much better than average music (old hymn set to modern music). Even that may have been declining for some time. The Ballard campus used to fill up, need several services, and even overflow into adjacent rooms. Over the past two years, the number of services has been reduced and perhaps a third of the chairs removed from the auditorium. Some may be going to branches. Others are leaving. Given the enforced silence about the church’s troubles, it’s hard to know which.

    I stayed with Mars Hill simply because I liked the people I’d met there and enjoyed working with little one-year-olds. I carved out a niche where I was happy and kept away from anything larger. That was particularly true when I discovered that one of the first elders I’d met there had left over its authoritarianism. Since I respected him, I began to have even more doubts.

    At this point, it’s important to point out why these troubles could go on for so long. First, all the efforts to squelch dissent and criticism did work for several years. Second, all those branch churches that popped up meant that it was harder to realize people were leaving. They might have moved to another branch. And in similar fashion, the fact that pastors at branches were quitting was not that widely known. Most members only heard what the MH leadership wanted them to hear, which wasn’t much. Even the Seattle news media seemed to give MH more of a pass than it should.

    Over time, I became increasingly unhappy with the Ballard branch’s children’s ministry. I considered it one of the most important parts of the church. The church leadership didn’t. Rather than have it run by a talented older mother, it was a dumping ground for interns, typically single or just married guys who knew little about children. (That illustrates Dricoll’s dismissive ‘the little woman’ attitude toward women. Even a clueless guy was thought to be better than an experienced mother) The kids training program illustrated that. Rather than use tested materials from an evangelical publisher, MH developed his own material, typical of how it dissed on mainstream evangelicalism. Even worse, the material used was based on Mark Driscoll’s own doctrine book.

    That inbreed teaching left me feeling uncomfortable, even though, working with one-year-olds, I didn’t have to deal with that. I did, however, have to deal with interns who wanted us to be dogmatizing kids that young. I had to tell them, “Hey, these kids are still trying to get down the difference between doggie and kitty. They’re not ready for that.”

    My final break came last June (2013). The current, just-married intern and I clashed over something I understand far better about one-year-olds than he. The next Sunday, sensing I’d be leaving soon, I handed out an ‘open letter’ to some of the parents I knew best, detailing my frustrations with the children’s program. That then triggered the usual attempt to silence, which I short-circuited by simply quitting. Shortly after that, circumstances dictated that I move cross country. I’m not far away.

    I can’t see this resulting in anything other than quite a few people leaving MH. They’ve been kept in the dark about so much for so long, that all this trouble over the last few years in hitting many of them in the space of a few weeks. I just hope they find and join another church, particularly not a megachurch, where the risk of scandal seems sky-high. MH has been sheep-stealing for far too long. It’s time those sheep found healthier pastures.

    –Michael W. Perry, author of My Nights with Leukemia: Caring for Children with Cancer.

  2. Perhaps people should read Mark Driscoll’s recent apology or hear the other side of the argument?

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