In late November 2011, just five weeks before the release of the Real Marriage book, Mark Driscoll met with the church’s Community Group leaders to brief them on how they could help promote what was described as a “Real Marriage campaign.” (It’s unclear exactly how many people are in the meeting, though questions had to be submitted to Driscoll by texting or email, so the crowd was too large to take questions from the floor.) The video of the meeting gives some insight into just how tightly the book was integrated into the entire church’s operations, which had been restructured to prepare for the book up to two years earlier.
[In the New Year] by the grace of God, I hope and I pray we’ll do the biggest thing we’ve ever done. Some years ago as we were looking at the future I got a strange idea, and that is that usually what happens is that a pastor will preach a series and then write a book about it. And I thought, what would it be like if we wrote the book first, small group curriculum first, DVDs for small group curriculum first, research for all the community leaders first? What if we put together the whole thing, and then when the book launched, we did the media tour, and we did the huge campaign, and we push, push, push all together at one time? Well, that took a whole lot of work to really reorganize life and Mars Hill, and the Gospel of Luke [sermon series] gave us a couple of years to do that, so this is all very intentional. So with Luke it was like, this will buy us some time to get this all sorted out. And it has bought us some time. [Laughter. The series was about to conclude with its 100th sermon.] And so Grace and I wrote a book called Real Marriage. We finally got an agent and took it to market and Thomas Nelson is publishing that for us. [Video starts at 6:18]
Actually, writing a book before the sermon series isn’t novel at all, as we see other celebrity pastors doing it regularly.
And so January 15 we’re going to start the Real Marriage campaign. That same day, we’re going to open four churches in three states. [Talks about building and expansion plans.] January 15 is kind of a big day for us. The book will be out on the third. Grace and I are doing a media trip to New York for a few days. You can pray; we’re trying to get on Colbert and the Today Show. I don’t know if it will happen, but if it does at least Colbert would be super duper fun. And then the 15th we’re going to start this series. [7:22]
The church was intended to be an integral part of the marketing campaign, which would certainly run afoul of the IRS prohibition on inurement, where the resources of a nonprofit organization are directed to the benefit of an insider. We see in this video that the church’s involvement was not at all trivial; the church was directing all of its energies to the Driscolls’ financial benefit in a massive and coordinated campaign.
As for the planned media trips, we know that the Driscolls did visit New York in March 2012, though I have not found any evidence that the January trip was successful. As I speculated here, perhaps New York’s media weren’t interested in yet another marriage advice book until it hit #1 on the bestseller list.
We also see the results of the church’s effort to fulfill its commitment to Result Source to provide 90 bulk customers to which it could sell a total of 5,000 books. It appears that they thought other churches were most likely customers for bulk orders, so they created a campaign to help other pastors preach through Driscoll’s book.
We have what we’re calling a campaign which is about 300 pages of research and statistics that we’ve put together — as well as preaching tips, small group tips, Sunday tips — for other churches and we thought, let’s invite them to go through this content and curriculum together. So far, over 2,000 churches have signed up to do so, and we praise God for that. I remember still the first day the campaign director, he said, “Well, I’m praying for 50.” And the first day, I said, “Where are we at?” And he said, “1,500.” Well, prayer got answered. [9:54]
The first record of the campaign portal going online is October 10, 2011. The RSI contract was signed three days later, though had obviously been negotiated before the signing date. Given the thousands of names Mars Hill had to produce in just three months, it’s a reasonable assumption that the campaign director was appointed and given instructions about RSI’s requirements before the contract was finalized.
Driscoll also addresses some of the financial implications of the campaign, though without mentioning the hundreds of thousands of dollars they had already committed to spend with RSI.
The goal going forward every January is a really big campaign where we do this; we just sort of set you up and get you prepared well in advance. For those who buy the books at Mars Hill, all the proceeds go to Mars Hill. We’ve got a pre-sale thing online through Mars Hill, Acts 29, Resurgence. Grace and I are tithing 100 percent of any proceeds we receive from that pre-sale campaign back to Mars Hill Church. Mars Hill Church was also paid for doing the DVD curriculum; we were paid marketing dollars. I mean, it’s something that really is a nice little bonus gift for Mars Hill and hopefully should help us raise some nice revenue here at the end of the year. And we’re very, very excited to be able to do that. [11:47]
Driscoll had mentioned earlier that some in his audience had developed “giving fatigue” from being asked to donate to a recent building campaign, and he chided others for not being fatigued because they weren’t doing enough giving. I suppose he thought it wise not to mention the church’s investment in his book to people who were being asked to give the money that would ultimately be directed to help pay for Driscoll’s NYT bestseller campaign. Instead, he emphasizes what appear to be extraordinarily generous and profitable aspects of the deal. He tells them that money from the book sales will go to Mars Hill without telling them that the church had already paid for those books.
Remember the first quote I showed you? After concluding an impressive 100-sermon series on the book of Luke, Driscoll says that his forthcoming 11-sermon series on the book of Mark (Driscoll) would be even bigger.
“We’ll do the biggest thing we’ve ever done.”
When you think your pastor’s book is a bigger deal than Luke’s book, it shouldn’t be a surprise if “unwise” decisions follow.