Mars Hill Tacoma members sad, excited about changes

Members of Mars Hill Church in Tacoma said Sunday that they are sad the megachurch is dissolving but excited their church plans to continue as an independent congregation.

“I was hurt, but I’m also excited about the future,” said Stacy Kilcup, 35, of Tacoma. “It’s more exciting than hurt.”

Seattle-based Mars Hill Church announced Friday that it’s dissolving at the end of the year, leaving its 12 congregations — including Tacoma and Olympia — to decide whether to become independent or face closure.

The decision came about two weeks after Mars Hill founding Pastor Mark Driscoll resigned following a church investigation that concluded he led the church “in a domineering manner” but was not “disqualified from pastoral ministry.”

The Rev. Bubba Jennings, lead pastor of Mars Hill Tacoma, said the Tacoma congregation will become independent and plans to hang on to its building.

Mars Hill expanded to Tacoma in late 2012 when it purchased the historic First Congregational Church building near Wright Park for $1.9 million. Mars Hill Tacoma completed a $1 million renovation of the church.

On Sunday morning, Jennings addressed uncertainty head-on in the 106-year-old sanctuary packed with nearly 500 people.

“You guys, wonder what’s going on, anybody?” Jennings asked. Hands shot up.

“Our plan is to plant an independent church,” Jennings told the crowd. “Will you join us on this?”

The crowd cheered and applauded with approval.

Jennings acknowledged mixed emotions and challenges.

“We see that the book of Mars Hill (is) coming to a close,” said Jennings, 38. “It’s OK to be grieving and to be sad and to also be hopeful and excited.”

Jennings said he will meet with representatives of the church’s bank on Nov. 18 to obtain a new loan for the building, which he’s hopeful will be approved.

The current loan is between the parent organization Mars Hill and the same lender, a Christian bank.

Attendance at Mars Hill Tacoma has declined from about 1,350 when the Tacoma congregation launched in January. It’s held steady at about 800 since July, Jennings said.

“Keep coming to service … and keep giving,” Jennings said. “The bank is going to look at our attendance and our giving and they’re going to determine whether or not we can get approved for the loan.”

On Dec. 31, the Tacoma congregation will cease being Mars Hill. On Jan. 1, it will be a new church.

“You’ll be handing the baton off to yourself,” Jennings said to laughter. “I know, it’s kind of confusing.”

Joe Pascua, 53, of Bonney Lake said he was “a little melancholy” about Mars Hill’s decision to disband and sad that Driscoll resigned. Pascua said he’s excited about the Tacoma congregation’s future.

“Our service is to Jesus Christ, so that’s our focus,” Pascua said.

Amanda Shuck of Auburn also said she’s hopeful and excited about the church’s future.

The news of Mars Hill disbanding was disappointing, and she was sad when Driscoll resigned.

“It felt kind of overwhelming — the whole process,” said Shuck, 33, who attends with her husband and three children.

“We did have questions about whether or not we should stay,” Shuck said, “But we don’t feel like God’s called us anywhere else.”

Mars Hill’s leadership decided to dissolve — and eliminate its headquarters overhead — to preserve its churches, Jennings said.

“We knew that to try to stay one church in multiple locations and continue would likely result in some church closures,” Jennings said. “Instead of going that route, we decided we wanted to let every local body have the opportunity to continue.”

Mars Hill Olympia also plans to continue as an independent congregation.

As for the future of the Tacoma congregation, Jennings said, “We are going to continue, absolutely.”

He said in an interview that the congregation has a “really good chance” of keeping the building. If it can’t, Jennings said, the congregation would relocate in the Tacoma area.

Jennings said he didn’t know the amount of money the new loan would cover.

The pastor also said he will announce a new name for the Tacoma congregation at next Sunday’s services. Mars Hill Tacoma has four Sunday services.

Joe Bach of Puyallup, 36, sees a bright future for the Tacoma congregation.

“Our attendance is strong, our giving is strong,” Bach said. “I believe we’ll rally together for the furthering of the gospel in this area.”