We’re not the only church called Mars Hill, and occasionally there arises confusion between us and other churches that share the “Mars Hill” name, particularly as we now have our churches in four states. This was the case recently when one of our members called us to find out if we had planted Mars Hill churches in the Sacramento, California area. We had not, but when we went to these churches’ websites, it was obvious to us how people could be confused. Each of these three connected churches in the Sacramento region—planted in 2006, 2007, and 2010—bore the “Mars Hill” name and their logo was substantially similar to the logo we’ve used since 1996.
When cases like this arise in the business world, it’s customary for a law office to send a notice asking the other organization to adjust their branding to differentiate it. This is commonly referred to as a cease and desist letter. On September 27, 2011, our legal counsel sent such a letter to these three Mars Hill churches requesting that they change their logo and name. In hindsight, we realize now that the way we went about raising our concerns, while acceptable in the business world, is not the way we should deal with fellow Christians. On Friday we spoke with the pastor of Mars Hill in Sacramento to apologize for the way we went about this. We had a very productive conversation and look forward to continuing that conversation in the days and weeks ahead.
Good for them for apologizing and taking a different tack. But what dos it tell us about the state of contemporary megachurch Christianity that a church would (a) be so obsessed with owning its brand and (b) would think, even for a moment, that the first step one should take in dealing with apparent “brand infringement” is to call in the legal team to write a cease-and-desist letter?
Again: good for them for apologizing. It was the right thing to do. But the next step should be to ask themselves, “How did our church culture get so thoroughly captured by the standard practices of the American business world that we thought a cease-and-desist letter was a good idea?” — and then to spend a good deal of time and energy trying to come up with an answer.