Grand Rapids, MI: Mars Hill Church

Why are we in Grand Rapids, MI? One reason: Mars Hill Church. We have long been fascinated by the teachings of Rob Bell and have listened to sermons on podcast off and on for a couple of years. His sermon series called “God is Green” is a “must listen” for anyone interested in the connection between spirituality and environmentalism. We read his first book, Velvet Elvis…and it really loved the fresh perspective on Christianity. His second book, Sex God teaches about the “…endless connections between sexuality and spirituality”. He always seems to be offering something new and fresh in terms of Christianity and spirituality in general. He also teaches in short film format…check the films out at NOOMA.

We arrived in Grand Rapids around supper time on Saturday night and parked our big blue RV in the parking lot of Mars Hill (don’t worry, we got it “approved”) :) On Sunday, we woke up and excitedly got ready for church (which was conveniently located in our front yard…I love driving my house around!). We took Bella to her Sunday School class and the check-in process was very streamlined, quick, and easy. Matt and I strolled into the sanctuary, which is actually an old mall. Mars Hill renovated the mall to house their ever-growing congregation (10,000+). And yet, it didn’t feel like a big church. All around us, people were greeting each other, hugging, talking to friends, etc. In a church of this size, it’s critical to get involved in small groups, which they do a great job of promoting. They have MANY different ways for people to engage themselves…from house churches to outreach ministries, there is something for everyone.

We took a seat in the 3rd row and had fun people watching before the service started. Pretty soon, a woman and her friend came and sat down next to me. They were at least 70 years old…which startled me. I guess for some reason I always envisioned Mars Hill to be full of 20-something trendy people. It was a nice surprise to see that they are attracting people at all stages of life, with varied religious backgrounds. As we were sitting there, the people behind us said…”hey! don’t you have that big blue RV outside?”. We laughed and said yes, it was us! Matt had his Live Lightly T-shirt on…and I just thought it was really funny that they made the connection (out of that many people!).

The sanctuary is set up “in the round”, with the stage in the center. As the service began, the musicians faced inward to sing/play instead of out. It was interesting. They started out with some somber and slow hymns about God’s mercy and forgiveness….working into louder, more rambunctious songs including an amazing version of David Crowder’s Glory of It All. Wow. That song rocked my world. Holy electric guitar batman. And if you have ever sang in a circle…or facing other people…you know how full and rich the sound is. Seriously…we were rockin for Jesus.

We were unsure if Rob was even teaching that day…so when I saw him walk onto the stage and sit down on his chair that spins 360 degrees, I nudged Matt and whispered…”it’s HIM!”. Ok, yes….I was star struck! :) He taught about gnats and camels. You MUST go listen. It was a powerful message about how we, as Christians, get so inwardly focused on our own personal “walk with God”, that we neglect the “more important” things like mercy, justice, and faithfulness. It was very much focused on how the church needs to be more involved in social activism…even referencing a passage directly related to fair trade! He masterfully walked us through scripture…exploring Jesus’ teaching with such passion that you just couldn’t help but get excited. He brought the words of Jesus to life…and really brought the point home about how Jesus’ teachings are clearly relevant in today’s age.

As the service was ending…Rob reminded everyone about the Joy Boxes in the back and the online Joy Box…where they could give their offering. How cool is it that you can give your tithe online? You can even set up recurring gifts. Great for geeks like me. The sanctuary cleared out…and I turned around and snapped a photo with my camera phone. I wanted to remember that moment…and I had left my big camera in the RV (I didn’t want a replay of the Ani concert) :)

We walked out to find Bella…and passed their welcome center. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a “God is Green” sticker. Weeeeee! I knew I had to have one. I was about to run back out and grab some money from the RV, but they were free. I was a happy girl. So I took my sticker, found Bella, and left Mars Hill Church. It’s a place we would love to come back to someday. But until then, we’ll just be happy with our podcasts!

As church let out, we had the opportunity to talk with many people about the veggie oil system and were pleasantly surprised at the number of people who had been already thinking of converting! It took a good 30 minutes for the traffic jam to die down…and we were right at one of the main exits of the parking lot, so people were able to get a good look at our “billboard” as they were leaving. One gal who came to say hello said that her husband almost caused a car accident when she read the side of the RV to him. He slammed on the brakes when he heard her say “veggie oil” because he had been researching it for awhile. :) We had a great Sunday morning. Rock on Mars Hill.


  1. Hi Sara & Matt,
    It looks like lots of fun that you’re having on the road with the Sustainable RV Living tour that you’re on. Of course, you’re omitting the “drudgery” photos, the ones which show you pulling into a restaurant to fill ‘er up, getting permission to “tap the tank” into a grease barrel, and pumping the oil through your system.
    Still, when I look at the great photos and read your lively written accounts of daily life it makes me want to quit my job and hit the road, too!

    Comment by Ron Wright — October 2, 2007 @ 11:31 am

  2. That church sounds so cool. It’s about time I said thank you for introducing me to Rob Bell’s books and teachings through your blog a long time ago. I have learned so much from him and I never would have known about him if it wasn’t for you (I learn a lot from you to ;)

    Comment by Dawn — October 2, 2007 @ 1:45 pm

  3. Sounds like a lovely Sunday morning! I think it will be really cool someday to look back at this time and discover that it not only changed you but also scattered fresh ideas across the nation. Blessings, as you continue the journey.

    Comment by L.L. Barkat — October 2, 2007 @ 4:26 pm

  4. Sara…I am envious. I want to go to Mars Hill and visit too. I have been reading your blog for a while and finally decided to comment. I loved the “God is Green” sermon. Did you hear the one with Matthew Sleeth. I just ordered his book, “Serve God, Save the Planet.” I am always happy when Christians recognize the need to take care of our earth. It seems like we as christians don’t readily make the connection. I see you are coming to Lancaster, PA. Please feel free to email me if you want some contacts from our area. Looking forward to living vicariously through you on your journey!

    Comment by Deanna — October 2, 2007 @ 6:13 pm

  5. Hi Ron…thanks for commenting! You’re right, I don’t include many “fill ‘er up” photos :) But that is mostly because we really haven’t had to fill up a lot since we started the tour….just twice in 2 weeks. We can go about 800 miles on one tank, so we aren’t filling up much. I have written a few times about our fueling experiences before the tour started.

    Comment by livelightly2 — October 2, 2007 @ 9:13 pm

  6. Ok did I say I am completely envious of your fuel situation?! Sometimes we fuel up twice in one day!

    I want a God Is Green sticker. Very cool.

    Comment by Rene — October 4, 2007 @ 12:25 pm

  7. I’ve enjoyed following the tour, but it was especially fun to read these posts, as my husband grew up in GR. We visit twice a year, and several of his family members attend Mars Hill.

    You’re meeting some amazing people on this journey, and it’s fun to read about it!

    Comment by carrie — October 6, 2007 @ 5:28 pm

  8. Hi,
    I just randomly came across your blog today. I live in GR and go to Mars Hill. I just wanted to say how happy I am that you had such a great experience here. Sometimes it’s good to see fresh perspectives on things from an “outsider’s” point of view.
    Good luck in your travels!

    Comment by Anna — November 28, 2007 @ 3:17 pm

  9. hello friends!

    i’m from grand rapids and am a part of mars hill. that was such a neat entry to read. i know i was at church that day, as i remember the sermon, but some how must have missed your bus. thats awesome that you came through here and seemed to enjoy it.

    i’m friends with emilee and christian in maine and so have heard of your family through them. happy travels!

    Comment by tiffytuffington — June 3, 2008 @ 12:00 pm

  10. To Whom

    I am presently in the middle east but before that I was with Rob at Calvary In GR

    I would like to get a copy of the series he did when the church was first new on Leviticus.

    Can You email me back and let me know how to obtan them if the are available?

    Thanks and Blessings.

    Give my Greetings to Rob.

    Comment by Wendell Voetberg — March 4, 2011 @ 10:02 am

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