Mars Hill Church arrives in Sammamish

Mars Hill Sammamish Pastor, Alex Ghioni, left, with community group leader Jason Cowan.  - Linda Ball, Issaquah & Sammamish Reporter
Mars Hill Sammamish Pastor, Alex Ghioni, left, with community group leader Jason Cowan.
— image credit: Linda Ball, Issaquah & Sammamish Reporter

The former Evergreen Christian Fellowship, at 120 228th Ave. N.E. in Sammamish, is now part of the growing Mars Hill Church.

The facility is only about two years old, with a gym/multipurpose room serving as the sanctuary. Evergreen was founded in the early 1990s, moving to the 228th site when the land was donated by Overlake Christian Church. Evergreen built half of what they projected to build before running into financial problems, said Mars Hill Sammamish pastor, Alex Ghioni.

"Their heart was in it; they wanted to see a voice for the gospel continue on the Plateau," Ghioni said. "Mars Hill was approached (by Evergreen) to see how they could realize that dream."

Ghioni said Evergreen's leaders voted unanimously to turn over the church to Mars Hill, which will be purchasing the real estate. Ghioni said Mars Hill has wanted to come to Sammamish because so many of its parishioners who attend the Bellevue church live on the Plateau.

"It's a chance for us to be living a gospel life in our neighborhood," said Jason Cowan, a community group leader for Mars Hill.

Mars Hill is already holding services at the site, but will officially launch the Sammamish church Jan. 15, 2012, along with new churches in Portland, the Rainier Valley and Orange County, Calif.

"We're growing fast," Ghioni said.

Mars Hill Church was established 15 years ago by Pastor Mark Driscoll, in Seattle, starting out with about a dozen people meeting for Bible study at Driscoll's Wallingford home. In 2000, Driscoll founded Acts 29, a church-building network, which is a separate business.

Presently, Acts 29 has established 400 churches, with 400 more in the queue, said Justin Dean, PR and marketing director for Acts 29.

"Acts 29 is our church planting network," Dean said. "We educate and train new pastors, and establish new locations."

He said Mars Hill pours money and resources into Acts 29, tithing 10 percent of Mars Hill money to that operation. Acts 29 churches can be any denomination as long as they agree with certain doctrinal beliefs, Dean said.

"We believe it's all about Jesus," Ghioni added. "It's all about planning churches and making disciples."

Mars Hill Church has not been without controversy. Driscoll has called yoga demonic, and Mars Hill will not let women serve as pastors. Ghioni said he could not expand on those comments, other than to say that members are not against anything; rather, they're for Jesus.

"I can't speak for Mark. It's not about judging someone, it's about Jesus," Ghioni said.

He said homosexuals are welcome at Mars Hill, adding that one of the things Jesus does is to change people's lives. He would not comment if that meant attempting to convert homosexuals.

He said women serve at the church in meaningful ways, and that men and women have complementary relationships, and are seen as equals. However, no women are allowed at the pulpit.

"We invite older women to speak to the lives of younger women," Ghioni said, adding that included advice on how to manage their household.

Mars Hill Sammamish is already close to having 600 people attend the church. It has two services: 9 and 11:15 a.m. Evening services will be launched when 80 percent capacity is reached at each of the morning services.

Ghioni said they try to keep things contemporary and exciting. Most of the services feature Driscoll preaching via a video feed from the church in Ballard. Ghioni is still the lead pastor in Sammamish, who will manage all of the church's programs.

He said they build on Sunday by having community or smaller groups during the weekdays.

"We really believe we're living a life like Jesus during the week, caring for people who need care," Ghioni said.

With the official launch of the four new Mars Hill churches on Jan. 15, they will begin a new program called "Real Marriage," based on a book by Driscoll and his wife, Grace. That will be the focus of the first 11 weeks. There will be a announcement in January when the four churches officially open. With these four, there are 14 Mars Hill-branded churches.

"The enthusiasm for what's been going on at Mars Hill Sammamish — we're excited that it's healthy and growing," Ghioni said. "It's a very family and student-rich area. Rather than focus on anyone or anything, we want people to know who Jesus is."


Linda Ball can be reached at 206-232-1215 ext. 5052.






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