In the mid-1950s, Rev. Robert Schuller began preaching in a drive-in movie theater in Southern California. He melded traditions like vestments with a theology of post-war optimism and self-esteem. As his ministry grew, guest preaching in his pulpit became a mark of celebrity achievement. Three decades after his drive-in movie days, Schuller would welcome a young Mark Driscoll to the microphone to speak.

To understand the Mars Hill phenomenon, you have to understand how big churches developed in the boomer and Gen X years, how the franchising of churches led to homogenized congregational culture, and how pastors became spokesmen and CEOs. When Mark Driscoll arrived to preach at the Crystal Cathedral, he had already walked a ministry path paved by the likes of Schuller, Bill Hybels, and Rick Warren—leaders who dedicated significant time to demographic research as well as expository study.

In this episode of The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, host Mike Cosper flips the tapestry of the Mars Hill story to expose the weaving of threads beneath. He explores how the identity of a church can become wrapped around one man and why a host of leaders might fall in step to protect him in order to save the institution.

Here, you can read an interview with David Di Sabatino, director of Frisbee: The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher.

The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill is a production of Christianity Today

Executiver Producer: Erik Petrik

Producer, Writer, Editor and Host: Mike Cosper

Associate Producer: Joy Beth Smith

Music, sound design, and mixing: Kate Siefker

Graphic Design: Bryan Todd

Social Media: Nicole Shanks

Editorial consulting: Andrea Palpant Dilley, online managing editor

Christianity Today Editor in Chief: Timothy Dalrymple

Theme song: “Sticks and Stones” by King’s Kaleidescope

Closing song: “Crush” by The Violet Burning