Mars Hill Church, based in Seattle, Washington, has been under intense scrutiny for the past few months, following the eruption of a variety of scandals around lead pastor Mark Driscoll. The evangelical church, founded in 1996, has claimed to have as many as 14,000 members.
A much-touted "Jesus Festival" event scheduled for August 22, 2014, has reportedly disappeared from the calendar of Mars Hill, despite the fact that it was held up as one of the reasons why the church needed to raise $2,000,000 "above and beyond our normal tithes and offerings" by the end of 2013. A link to the celebration now simply returns a 404 error page.
Throckmorton reported that a former member told him that the festival was canceled in the spring, following the news of how Driscoll manipulated sales to make his book, Real Marriage, a New York Times best-seller. However, no official announcement about the cancellation appears to have been made.
Mars Hill conducted a large fundraising drive at the end of 2013 which was part of a time of communal prayer. According to an announcement on the website, "During these 40 days of prayer and 5 days of fasting, we are praying for $2 million over and above our donors’ tithes to fund these endeavors in 2014. We believe Jesus has given the vision, so we trust that he will graciously provide the means to do it through his people."
The five endeavors previously mentioned by the church are clearly stated on the same page. The first one listed is the growth of Mars Hill Global, which will be accomplished through "church-planting" efforts in India and Ethiopia. The second is the Jesus Festival, described as "an evangelistic, outdoor outreach, aptly titled The Jesus Festival, at Marymoor Park in Seattle." It will be "a family friendly event with activities for the kids, music, and amazing gospel preachers."
The last three endeavors are a leadership training school, domestic church "re-plants," and a sermon series and book focusing on issues "including gay marriage, the exclusivity of Jesus, the authority of scripture, etc."
On January 13, 2014, Mars Hill posted a message that hailed the success of the fundraising drive, reading in part, "We received $2,991,852 above our budget by December 31st! In addition, during December and January, $300,000 was given to the Endowment Fund for Church Planting, which will help us plant more churches in 2014 and, Lord willing, for generations to come." The post again mentioned plans for an August Jesus Festival.
Throckmorton pointed out on August 18, "Apparently, the money came in (closer to $3 million), but the festival is off, called off months ago. Shouldn’t the people have been consulted? They gave toward a festival but didn’t get one. As late as February, Mark Driscoll was still promoting the festival as a free event."
The Huffington Post reached out to Mars Hill Church to inquire whether an official announcement had been released about the future of the festival and the donations that were raised in part to fund it.
Justin Dean, Communications & Editorial Manager, replied in an email with their official statement:
During our annual end of year fundraising campaign we often share some of the exciting things that we have planned for the coming year. Last year one thing we shared was the Jesus festival, originally planned to occur this week. In line with the mission of our church, the festival would have been a great evangelistic opportunity to share the gospel and great music with the community. We regret that the festival and other summer events have had to be canceled, and we would love to still be able to host a festival like this in the future.
Contrary to what has been reported, we did not raise money specifically for the Jesus festival. Gifts given during the end of the year campaign, as well as any gifts given to Mars Hill Church, go towards ministry operations, evangelism, and church planting all over the world.
He added, "This was not sent to our church."