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Rob Bell has decided to leave Mars Hill Bible Church, the Grandville, Michigan, megachurch he and his wife founded 12 years ago, to focus on a broader audience, the church announced today.

Flickering Pixels author Shane Hipps will take over for Bell during spring 2012 after Bell finishes his series on Acts in December.

Update 9/25/2011:

Rob Bell told Mars Hill today that he will leave for Los Angeles to follow a “calling to share God's love” in new ways, WZZM reports from Grand Rapids. He will move with his family to California to continue writing books and speaking on national and international tours, but he will not start a new church, he said.

Bell will launch his "Fit to Smash Ice Tour" in Canada in November and continue the tour in the U.S. "We serve a big God and none of this is shocking to him,” WZZM reports Bell said during his sermon. “All we can do is embrace a future that is going to be brilliant."

Bell continues to promote his bestselling book Love Wins, and David Vanderveen announced the completion of the Love Wins companion study guide due from HarperOne in November.

CT has covered Rob Bell in many articles, including the initial coverage of his book and then follow-up analysis, a book review, a response book excerpt, and an interview with Francis Chan.

(The following was posted on 9/22/2011.)

The church released the following statement on its site:

Feeling the call from God to pursue a growing number of strategic opportunities, our founding pastor Rob Bell, has decided to leave Mars Hill in order to devote his full energy to sharing the message of God's love with a broader audience.
It is with deeply mixed emotions that we announce this transition to you. We have always understood, encouraged, and appreciated the variety of avenues in which Rob's voice and the message of God's tremendous love has traveled over the past 12 years. And we are happy and hopeful that as Rob and Kristen venture ahead, they will find increasing opportunity to extend the heartbeat of that message to our world in new and creative ways.

Bell ignited a discussion about heaven, hell, and the nature of salvation this March with the publication of Love Wins (HarperOne) and after Justin Taylor penned a blog post titled "Rob Bell: Universalist?" Bethlehem Baptist Church pastor John Piper tweeted, "Farewell Rob Bell. http://dsr.gd/fZqmd8" linking to Taylor's post.

Piper tweeted "Seriously, as before, may you fare well, Rob Bell. http://dsr.gd/otctwX" after the announcement. Many on Twitter, including Ed Stetzer, said "farewell," with a humorous take. Rick Warren tweeted, "Always less.No base 4credibility @LarsRood Do u think well-known pastors who leave their churches have more or less impact?" and "Speaking tours feed the ego=All applause&no responsibility.It's an unreal world. A church gives accountability& validity" after tweeting "Bell resigns."

Bell founded Mars Hill Bible Church in 1999, spending 18 months gathering in a school gymnasium before expanding to a former mall in Grandville, Michigan. The church seats about 3,500 and holds two Sunday morning services. Bell was formerly an assistant pastor at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Other prominent pastors and leaders, including Francis Chan, N. T. Wright, and Jim Belcher, have left their church positions in the past few years to pursue broader activities. Update: Belcher is now chairman of the practical theology department at Knox Theological Seminary.

Editor's note: This article will be updated as we receive further information. The full text of Mars Hill Bible Church's statement is the following:

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Update: Rob Bell to Move to L.A. and Launch a Tour