(Photo: AP Images / Scott Cohen, File)
A Seattle-based megachurch is dropping the use of campus and its leaders are now referring to each of the other 11 locations (eight existing and three future) where Sunday sermons are delivered by video broadcast as a church.
Mars Hill Church made the announcement via blog post on its website with the headline, “No More Mars Hill ‘Campuses.’” Pastor Mark Driscoll leads the church, which is expanding to Portland, Orange County, Calif., and Everett, Wash.
"Mars Hill campuses now become Mars Hill churches," Executive Pastor Jamie Munson wrote in the blog.
“The word campus is not in the Bible. Not that it has to be. You won’t find podcast or MacBook in your concordance either (or Trinity, for that matter); that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop using these critical tools for ministry,” Munson wrote. “But the Bible does give us a word to describe a body of believers gathered together on mission for Jesus: church.”
“In addition to being more biblical, it’s also more natural to describe our locations as churches (the term campus usually refers to academic institutions or offices) and more accurate, because every location is a church,” he added.
Munson then went on to say that every Mars Hill church fulfills the biblical criteria for a church and listed eight principles that define a church. Included in the list were the facts that churches are made up of “regenerated believers in Jesus, organized under qualified and competent leadership,” and “regularly gathers to hear God’s Word rightly preached and to respond in worshipful ways.”
Mars Hill publishing and content manager Jake Johnson told The Christian Post that the name change was not simply a matter of semantics.
“Words are always important to us because they help develop mindsets and articulate theology,” Johnson said. “We're simply trying to be as accurate as possible when describing Mars Hill locations. They operate as local churches, are led by qualified local elders, and do important ministry work in the communities in which they reside.”
Johnson said the best reason for the name change was stated in the blog post:
“Referring to our locations as churches rather than campuses helps articulate our theology (what we believe about God and his Word), our ecclesiology (what we believe about church), our ministry, and our mission.”
The change comes as church leaders debate whether the “one church, multiple locations,” or multisite, strategy is even biblical. According to A Multi-Site Church Road Trip, an increasing number of megachurches are adopting the multisite model. As of 2008, 37 percent of megachurches reported being multisite. But some pastors have criticized the method as placing the focus on one person – the pastor whose sermons are broadcast to the other locations (though not all multisites utilize video technology).
Driscoll has defended the strategy, saying it doesn’t make it all about him or one preacher as some believe.
"We find that giving, small group participation, church membership and service is higher at a video campus than where I preach live," he said in a conversation last year with Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church. "Consumers come to see us (live); missionaries go elsewhere. They don't care if we're there or not."
Geoff Surrat, church planter and author of The Multisite Church Revolution and 10 Stupid Things That Keep Churches from Growing, said he understands the Mars Hill leadership's rationale for the term change.
“For some churches it is important to emphasize the unity of the whole – ‘one church, many campuses.’ For others, such as Mars Hill, the individuality of the sites takes priority. This is a question every multi-site church needs to decide for themselves.”
When asked about whether an inter-office memo would have sufficed in announcing the decision, Johnson answered, “We posted the change on our church blog, whose primary audience is the people who call Mars Hill Church their home. So, in a sense, yes, it's an internal dialogue but one that we're happy to have others listen in on as well.”
“We're not prescribing anything for other churches, but if others can benefit from the things we are talking about and come to conviction on them, we want to help,” he added.
On Sundays, all of the satellite churches have live worship music and a lead pastor that typically welcomes attenders, reads announcements, and ministers to the community during the week.
The majority of the time, the sermon is a video of Driscoll preaching, Johnson said. The locations, except for Mars Hill Ballard, show sermons from the previous week. About 10 to 12 times a year, the lead pastors at each location give the sermons live at the churches.
“Every lead pastor of a Mars Hill Church feels called to do ministry in their city. They are working hard to make much of Jesus, providing both for felt needs and preaching the gospel in a way that is meaningful for their city,” Johnson said.