Is the End of Mark Driscoll’s Church a Sign for Satellite Churches?

Mars Hill Church is dissolving its network of video-powered churches. What does this mean for the growing satellite church movement?

The craziness around Halloween is hard to ignore and as with anything “sacred,” be it a day, a story, an object — it has multiple meanings. These days, as with so much in our polarized public culture, each meaning has its own advocates who ardently believe they have the whole truth.

There are our religious fundamentalists who oppose Halloween because of its pagan origins and occult and satanic symbols and believe the holiday undermines Christian values with its embrace of devils, demons, and goblins. Just as seriously, there are Wiccans who oppose Halloween for its offense to real witches by promoting stereotypes of wicked witches. (Opposition to fun often makes strange bed fellows.)

There are traditionalist Jews and members of other faiths who oppose Halloween because it is a Christian holiday — All Saints Day. There are our simplicity folks who oppose Halloween because they see it as another construction of Madison Avenue that has turned one more holiday into a commercialized ($5 billion) consumption experience. There are our concerned parents who oppose Halloween because of its increasing tolerance of violent images and vandalism.

There are serious Christians who reject the ghost, ghouls, witches, and vampires of Halloween and instead emphasize the Christian tradition of honoring all saints known and unknown. And then there is the majority of parents and children who simply enjoy the candy and costumes, the pranks and trick and treating, and the carved pumpkins and haunted houses of Halloween.

So, not surprisingly, depending on who one is and to what community one belongs and one’s psychological predisposition, Halloween is indeed many things. It is harmless fun or anti-Christian, anti-Jewish or anti-Wiccan, amusingly scary, chillingly violent or crassly consumerist. It is all of these as well as a Saint Fest, a day to honor the dead, a harvest festival, and a psychological release as, around us, nature “dies” for the winter and the day darkens earlier and earlier.

It seems to me that the cultural and spiritual energy surrounding Halloween is directly related to this multiplicity of meanings. (My wisdom tradition teaches that, contrary to conventional understanding, something is sacred not because it has only one specific meaning but because it has indeterminate and inexhaustible meaning.)

In other words, there is a partial truth to each of these meanings and rather than simply dismiss the meaning or meanings we feel are silly or wrong or even dangerous we might try to incorporate some insight or aspect of that meaning, however small, into our take on Halloween.

Personally, I grew up attending a Jewish parochial school that strongly discouraged any participation in Halloween festivities. But my parents, with a bit of reluctance, and quite a bit of pleading from me and my five brothers, treated Halloween as a secular day and permitted us to dress up and go trick or treating with emphasis on the treating rather than the tricking.

But we were reminded that Halloween was not a Jewish holiday and as age appropriate actually learned a little about the origins of the holiday and where we as Jews differed. And there were also some interesting additions to our celebration. Costumes were home-made, not purchased, and there were no hatchet in the head costumes. For every one piece of candy we got to keep we had to give away one piece. (We started with the non-kosher candy!)

And of course there was UNICEF — our celebrating and candy gathering were connected to giving to the less fortunate. One might say that we had fun without the fear and the frenzy — a kind of fun that transcended different faiths and backgrounds — in which our present joy superseded a pagan past, candy trumped creed, and treats trumped theology.

Be Safe and Happy Halloween!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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  • Adam Shields

    I think the sacramental issues are important. My (satellite using) church does not do communion/eucharist at all during Sunday worship. And never during video. The only time they do eucharist is during a weeknight service, roughly quarterly. This was in place before satellite and internet streaming, which allowed (from what I understand, but was not present for) some of those that were uncomfortable with multi-site and/or internet to allow it because it wasn’t the full blown worship without eucharist. But that really meant that the ‘full blown worship'(my words) only happen occasionally. And I think this is one of the significant issue with the ecclesiology of my church. But I think the root cause is not the multi-site issues, but the original non-denominationalism that has given rise to many (if not most) of the multi-site churches that I am aware of.

    That being said, I think Mars Hill is a pretty bad example. Just because it is the first real church to go down in flames does not mean that it is a model of how other multi-sites will go down in flames. If anything it is a model of how bad leadership can lead a church down in flames, but we didn’t really need another example of that, we have known that poorly lead churches will eventually die for a long time.

  • Mikal Kildal


    Thoughtfully presented. We too struggle with balancing the priorities of teaching and the table. What seems to be missing in the sacrament discussion is baptism. I would love to hear the input of others who read this.

    Another Guy on the Path…

  • drew

    I’ll be blunt, video churches are the worst thing ever in the history of the church. It creates the cult of personality. It denies the rightful place of the Holy Spirit to work through all the members of the body and ultimately it destroys the “cult ” leader. there is oonly one rock star in the body of Christ- Jesus our Lord!

    • John Dyer

      Thanks for commenting. In the article I directly addressed the personality issue. What did you think about that part?

  • Jennifer Prestash

    A couple of points:

    1. Mega-Churches are focused on the preacher, not on Jesus. This is true even with the best intentions of a good preacher. Think about all the churches you know. What are they known for? The quality of worship? The ministry in the community? Or the preaching? If it’s only the preaching….

    2. Mega-Churches are too large. If you are a regular worshiper at a church and you miss a Sunday will anyone notice? If not, the church is too large. [And, sure, a church can be too small, too. Ideal size is probably between 400-800 people.]

    • John Dyer

      Thanks for commenting. In the article, I gave examples of churches that have a rotating team of preachers. What did you think about that?

      • Jennifer Prestash

        I think it would depend upon how many rotating preachers there were. People crave and need stability in worship. An occasional change of preachers can be useful, and I think a small rotating team of 2-3 could be healthy for a church. But if it’s the point where you don’t see and hear the same worship leader/preacher for weeks on end it would be like visiting a different church every week.

        As I re-read the article, I find myself very much at odds with a video-satellite concept of church. The thought flooding my mind is “All prayer is local”. I don’t see what advantages in worship a mega church with video satellites can have over a small, local gathering of the Church. Sure, mega churches have money for professional stuff, like musicians. But professional bands just stir up emotions to prepare for the preaching. I know good preaching is necessary, but Sunday is not only about preaching. Sunday is about worship.

  • Jason Seville

    Great work here, brother. I love the way you think and write on these issues; so helpful. Point #1 still depresses me a bit, though, as I think of my good friends who are in such church contexts because I think these guys would be even more effective shepherds if they were preaching more.

    The fact that the disconnected-pastor problem predates satellite campuses doesn’t do anything to get satellite campuses off the hook (not that this was your argument). As a pastor myself, I see knowing my congregation AND preaching the Word from the pulpit as vital and interconnected parts of my ministry. Guys who preach but don’t disciple and shepherd folks in the flock probably aren’t preaching as effectively as they could. Likewise, guys who shepherd while not preaching from the pulpit are missing out on a key avenue for shepherding/teaching/leading the congregation IMHO.

    The “because the campus pastor doesn’t need to spend time preparing a sermon each week” line was one that jumped out at me. Sermon prep for me isn’t a “need to” or “have to” in my ministry but a “want to” that is essential in my shepherding and leading my congregation. Since some of your observations were anecdotal, I’ll offer this: I know not a few (at least 5 that I can think of as I sit here at my laptop) campus pastors who would LOVE the opportunity to preach every Sunday or at least 3 out of every 4, but the culture of beaming the “main guy” in from the main campus prohibits that. I rejoice each time one of these places decides to make the church its own plant with its own elder team and own preachers who personally know and minister to and preach the Word to their congregation.

    In my church, a plurality of elders helps as we shepherd our church because we each help shoulder the shepherding load as we each naturally have some stronger relationships with various members of our church. And it also helps because I’ll preach 3 or 5 weeks in a row and then take a week or two off as those other men step in to the pulpit. It’s a great break during which I DO get to ramp up my discipleship, one-on-one meetings, reflecting on vision/mission/direction of the church, etc.

    Thanks again John – this post impacted me (softened my stance a bit) and definitely helped me see things from another viewpoint (I’m typically hardcore, anti-satellite campus). I still don’t think satellite is the way to go in most instances (I think the rural context in an updated Circuit Rider context makes more sense than urban or suburban areas), but you’ve given great examples of how satellite pastors are intentionally thinking through these issues to shepherd their congregations. I’d love to lock you and Svigel in a room and make you talk about this with cameras rolling. :) Hope you’re doing well. Cheers! Jason