Mars Hill Church in Seattle has officially responded to media reports that it paid at least $210,000 in 2011 and 2012 to hire a marketing firm to help get Pastor Mark Driscoll's book, “Real Marriage,” on best-seller lists, admitting that church leaders engaged in what it called an "unwise strategy" -- and pledging never to do so again.
Image source: Thomas Nelson/Mark Driscoll
"In 2011, outside counsel advised our marketing team to use Result Source to market the Real Marriage book and attain placement on the New York Times Bestseller list," read a statement issued by Mars Hill Church Board of Advisors and Accountability. "While not uncommon or illegal, this unwise strategy is not one we had used before or since, and not one we will use again."
While admitting to purchasing books through an agreement with Result Source, a book marketing company, the release claimed that the sum paid out was much less than reported in the original World Magazine article detailing the controversy.
Additionally, the release said that all of the books that were purchased by Mars Hill were given away or sold "through normal channels" and that Driscoll didn't profit from the sale of "Real Marriage" books at the church or through the marketing agreement.
Mars Hill also sought to correct some misconceptions, while highlighting that steps are being taken to avoid ethical pitfalls in the future.
"To correct a statement in a recent article, Pastor Sutton Turner was the General Manager, not the Executive Pastor or Executive Elder as reported, at the time he signed with the referenced agreement with Result Source," the statement continued. "In the time since this campaign we have established a new Executive Elder team, new Board of Advisors and Accountability, as well as a new marketing team."
This response follows initial reports about the agreement that was struck by Mars Hill and Result Source. Last week, World’s Warren Cole Smith called the details of that contract “complicated,” noting that the marketing company received $25,000 to mobilize “book buyers” who then purchased “Real Marriage” at various locations in an effort to “generate reportable sales for various best-seller lists.”
The report claims that Mars Hill paid for 11,000 books at the tune of between $18.62 and $20.70 each, adding up to a total of $123,600 for books bought by individuals and $93,100 for books bought in bulk. Despite the church saying that the "true cost" was "much less," the actual amount was not revealed in Mars Hill's response.
“The purpose of this instruction appears to be a way to outsmart systems put in place by The New York Times and other list compilers to prevent authors from buying their way onto best-seller lists,” World initially reported. “Result Source apparently uses other techniques to work around the safeguards of the best-seller lists.”
“Real Marriage” did end up spending a week on the New York Times best-seller list, though it is unclear how much this purported arrangement impacted sales. While there is nothing illegal about the practice of implementing best-seller campaigns, Smith told TheBlaze that some view it as unethical, especially for a Christian pastor.
Pastor Mark Driscoll (AP)
"This is a very unusual practice … I think many people find the practice distasteful if not immoral," he said.
Smith said he was given the contract by past staff members and elders at Mars Hill Church, though he declined to name them on the record.
Mars Hill also addressed other changes at the church in its statement, including additional oversight following a two-year period ending in fall 2013 during which there was a "significant turnover of key staff members."
In addition to noting that Driscoll and other elders at the church bear responsibility for their part in turmoil and staff turnover, the church said that it commissioned a review of all of the former staffers who left to learn how Mars Hill can better operate in the future.
Read the entire release here.