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Mars Hill Church is coming to town.

Pastor Mark Driscoll's megachurch recently announced plans to expand into Portland, Oregon, and Orange County, California, using multi-site campuses that feature live bands and a sermon piped in from the main campus in Seattle.

The move is part of a trend among megachurches to extend their brand of church to new communities, in hopes of reaching unchurched people with the gospel. But critics fear the out-of-state campuses turn churches into franchises like McDonald's or Starbucks.

The reason for the new campuses is simple, according to the Mars Hill website.

"Oregon needs Jesus Christ," claims the introduction of the new location. "The city of Portland is known for many things, but the gospel of Jesus is nowhere on the list."

Bob Hyatt, pastor of the Evergreen Community in Portland, agrees that people in his city need to hear about Jesus.

But he has some doubts about Mars Hill's method, which seems to him more like corporate expansion than church planting. "If you are a church planter in Portland, it's a bit like reading the notice that Wal-Mart is coming and you are the mom-and-pop store," he said.

Hyatt is also concerned about the long-term health of the out-of-state campus model. Rather than building up a local body of believers, he said, these campuses are dependent on having a celebrity pastor for their survival.

"It's not just an extreme example of the church-celebrity model," he said. "It's complete capitulation. It's enshrining that into the DNA of the church."

Mars Hill isn't the only megachurch to cross state lines. 

Lifechurch.tv, based in Edmond, Oklahoma, has 14 campuses—10 in Oklahoma, along with sites in New York, Florida, Texas, and Tennessee. Seacoast Church, a megachurch ...

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In the Magazine

July 2011

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