Friday, April 15, 2005
Mars Hill Bible Church

This past weekend Julie and I had the chance to visit Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I wasn't sure what to expect, since I had heard it listed as an "emerging church" but also knew that it was a megachurch, which, at least according to some, could be considered mutually exclusive categories. Anyhow after attending one service my impressions were:

1) The preaching (by Rob Bell) is phenomenal and definitely reflects the emergent focus on embracing complexity rather than easy answers. This past Sunday they were dealing with the death of a Mars Hill member in a terrorist bombing in Cairo a week ago and Rob spoke deeply and movingly about grief and not trusting those who offer too simplistic answers to the problem of suffering. You can download his sermon here.

2) The church service as a whole is not much different than any other contemporary evangelical seeker church. That's not to say there's anything wrong with it, it's just not anything particularly different, or weird, or experimental, or hip, or any of the other stereotypes that some people associate with the emerging church (e.g. coffee, candles, liturgy, art, etc.) I appreciated this, since it showed that an emergent mindset doesn't need to conform to any one particular form of worship.

3) While a converted mall is a great setting for a church that size, they could really do with some more signage along the road. Driving up, there was no clue that we were actually at Mars Hill except for all the cars in the parking lot of what looked like an abandoned mall. I'm not sure what they're thinking by not marking the entrances or putting any signs on the building.

4) The accusations about emerging churches just being for hip young twenty-somethings are false in the case of Mars Hill. There was a wide mix of ages at the church. And it wasn't all just hip people with cool hair (despite what Andy Crouch says). The congregation really just seemed like a normal cross section of ordinary people to me.

Anyhow, it was a good place and if anyone is ever in the GR area on a Sunday I'd definitely recommend dropping by.

posted by Mike Clawson at 12:02 PM | Permalink |


At 4/24/2005 09:08:00 AM, Anonymous Tatiana

I wish I had known you and Julie were going to Mars! I could have connected you with some people - I met a whole bunch of them several weeks ago when I was there with Shane and other people from the communities.

I think it's interesting that people call Mars Hill an "emerging" church. Because I don't really get that feeling from it at all. I mean, Rob certainly has a lot of postmodern thought going on, but the church itself seems pretty standard, especially far as the people go.


At 4/24/2005 05:16:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Hey Tatiana!

A lot of people wouldn't classify MH as emergent (I know Rob himself wouldn't), but I think that's because most people think that being "emerging" or "postmodern" has mainly to do with worship styles and marketing the church to GenXers. Of course, as you know, that is patently NOT what I mean by the term "emerging". For me an emerging church is one that embraces the complexity and mystery of life and the gospel, that is generously orthodox (in the sense of not dividing over non-essential points of doctrine), and above all is missional - recognizing that the church exists for the good of the world, to expand God's Kingdom by serving the poor, the oppressed and the hopeless. In my opinion, Mars Hill seems to embody these characteristics very well, even if it is just a standard, contemporary mega-church.

BTW, did you hear that Julie and I may be planting a church in the Chicago area? If we do, I really want to talk with you about the possibility of using that plant as an opportunity to also launch some intentional urban communities here in Chicago, along the lines of the simply way and Camden House.




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