On a warm August day, I met with Mark at the Hillsong office located in East Berlin. On October 3, 2021 Hillsong Berlin celebrated its 12th Anniversary.
Mark is married to Joyce and they have two children, Isaac age 22 and Lina age 20. Mark came to faith in a small Pentecostal church in Northeast England where he met Joyce. After completing studies in electrical engineering Mark started his own business. At the age of 28 Mark and Joyce sensed a desire to grow deeper in faith and realized something had to be done, which led them to decide to attend Hillsong College in Sydney, Australia. According to Mark: “this is where our foundation took place, learning about spiritual gifts and being exposed to the working of the Holy Spirit.”
As a third-year student at Hillsong College Mark was asked to work as an intern overseeing the many international students coming from Europe and work directly with Brian Huston. After their time in Sydney, Mark was asked by Brian Huston to work on staff at Hillsong London. For seven years Mark worked as the connect pastor, which meant integrating new people in the church. In Mark’s own words: “I was the party pastor.”
During his time in London Mark occasionally went to Berlin to encourage the small team who were in the process of starting the Hillsong Church. During these short visits to Berlin, Mark eventually sensed God was calling him to move to Berlin and pastor the new work with a core group of about 10 people when he arrived.
Paul: How did things look when you moved to Berlin?
Mark: I made the decision not to start a public service until there was at least a core group of 70 people. This took about 18 months. The work started out of our home. Our strategy to reach others was through generosity and hospitality.
Paul: You could explain this strategy in detail?
Mark: Thursday night after everyone came home from work we led a team building evening, communicating our values and vision. Friday evening was a social night, just hanging out and chilling with people. God did not give me a lot of details other than to build with generosity and hospitality. Hospitality disarms people and reassures people. Generosity is love with no strings attached.
Hospitality is the way you see people and the way you treat people. Service is, one size fits all, as opposed to hospitality which means one size fits one person. This is very personal, everyone is unique. I sensed that God was saying, “Treat everyone as an individual and don’t try to put them through a system.” We modeled hospitality through food and drink and we hosted what we called “dinner parties.” We found that when you sit around a table people feel safe and open up but when you take the table away and put people in a circle they feel intimidated or insecure. During these times, we observed a lot of social factors. Many people were passive, fearful and small minded, but through eating a meal together people really opened up and you could see change.
The dinner parties started in our home and then eventually we went to restaurants and cafe’s where we would meet around a table. We modeled this approach first as a couple and then others caught on. In one way it was similar to Alpha but there was no teaching.
Paul: What else were you doing during the first few years?
Mark: The second strategy was building leadership over a ten to 15-year period and we are in our 12th year now. When we hit 83 people in our living room that’s when we decided to start a public meetings.
Hospitality is a language and a deliberate thing. We never served cheap food on plastic plates and there was only homemade cooking. No “take-out”! You will never build a church unless people feel valued and they see that God values them also.
For us, we brought the value and the love of heaven through food, through drink, through the atmosphere of generosity. We disarmed people by sitting around a table. When the church grows, the trust has grown. Trust is a key. If people don’t like you or they don’t believe you, you will never have their trust As the trust grew the church grew. We had to be very genuine about who we are and what we are doing and what we believe for them. Through that process of trusting us then they began to trust God, or they began to trust God and then they trusted us. And as a result, they began to trust each other. That is how the church has grown. They begin to bring their friends. When friends bring friends, things happen.
Leadership is a language. My wife and I learned German when we came, but I was a terrible student. I had great teachers but I was struggling to learn.
I felt God say build a leadership mentality for the first ten years. I had to spend a lot of time redefining what leadership is and what it isn’t. Building a leadership mentality is about who responds, who is hungry, who is coming closer. You believe in everyone but you invest more time in some. Those who are hungry for more are the people you spend time with.
Paul: Do you have an example how your leadership emphasis worked?
Mark: I told a few people who were interesting in worship music to invite their friends and have a party in my garden. I watched how they did music and spoke encouragement to them. “You guys who can sing and should be a team.” They took 11 months for the team to learn 4 songs. I made it a point to observe. Through observation you can see things in people often that they themselves do not see.
For me leadership is deliberate. In the beginning of our church I was constantly speaking to potential, placing value, and pointing to vision and I watched the ones who responded and I then invested more in them. Also, I observed some people who are just broken. They needed pastoral care. For me it is then slow to speak, be careful to listen, ask the right questions and point them to Jesus.
I have three hats if you want to call it that. There is the leadership hat where I am always speaking to potential, articulating values and sharing vision which is necessary if you want to build a church. Then I put the pastor’s hat on for people who are broken. I never want to leave them broken and I am always asking them, how are you doing and how I can pray? Then there is the friend hat and sometimes you don’t know what to say, you are just there for people. I would say building a church is a sharing vision. It is like an architect who has a blue print that he begins sharing with people.
Paul: Where did you meet once you began holding public church services?
Mark: Our first public service in 2011 was in a Movie Theater at Cinema near the Sony Center and shorty after we could no longer meet there. Actually, over the years we have had held meetings in 150 different locations. Since July we have been holding once again “live” church services. For 16 months due to the corona crisis we did not hold any public services but we were very active online. Now we hold three church services each Sunday at the Meliá Hotel and later upload the services on YouTube. There are still people online who have anxiety about coming back to a church service.
Paul: What were the main challenges and solutions you found as you led the church for the first 10 years? (Mark immediately pulled out his mobile phone and read the following points.)
Mark: The Big Seven challenges:
lack of application
The solution to these challenges:
faith in God alone
apply what we learn
In church planting, whoever turns up, you have to work with them and that is where you see the grace of God in the most amazing ways. But still many people when they showed up had a small thinking, fixed mindset and lack of application skill. The gospel overcomes these things but just because you preach the gospel doesn’t mean people believe it. That’s the challenge, you preach the Gospel through food, hospitality and generosity and at the same time you are investing in people constantly through a friendship culture and leadership culture
Paul: What questions guide you at Hillsong?
Mark: Why do people come to church and why do they stay? And if they do stay, how do they grow? And if they do grow, where do they go? Coming, staying, growing, and going are key things that everyone should know.
Our prayer is that we can be an example to other churches, that it can be done. Sometimes God uses the unusual, and just think I don’t even speak German. We conduct church services in English and translation is available through headsets in German, Polish, Spanish and Portuguese. About 1200 adults and children attended Sunday services before Covid 19 and now we are up to about 1,000 again. About 60% of our Sunday attenders are involved in small groups during the week. Small groups are so important. As our church gets bigger we need to keep the smaller groups going.
The challenge now is due to corona, we lost people. The people we lost were probably not that committed and life has just taken people away from church.
Language is not a problem unless one makes it a problem. 75% of our church is in the age category 18-33. In our context this group is bilingual and it is not a problem that our services are in English. About 70% of this congregation are German speaking and 30% come from other language backgrounds.
It’s not just corona. The world is changing in general and whatever ever happens in the world the church needs to be the light, and like the good Samaritan metaphorically pouring in the oil and the wine. I think God has called us to raise people up to what God has called them to be. We just need to help more believers apply what they are learning and living it in the market place. The challenge for the church, “Are we going to be the church that Jesus needs now in a broken world.” What does that look like? How do we raise our kids? How do we get believers to be active in education and politics and finances and every aspect of society?
What does a local church look like on Sunday and does it empower believers to live their faith tangibly, influentially and with wisdom in the Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. I believe that the churches that make an impact and are helpful to our broken world are the churches who know why they are here. They are not just here for themselves, but they are passionately involved in the brokenness of society, wherever that takes them.
If churches just fill Sunday services and there is not community those churches struggled through corona. But people who have had community have done quite well through corona.
It’s amazing to see how one person can do well in a season and another person cannot do so well in the same season. It always comes down to their heart and how they are established. A lot of people do not apply faith, they hear messages on Sunday and thousands of messages from pastors, but how many people live it?
As Leaders we need to speak about the potential of the church. If you want young leaders for the future, you’re not going to give them a chance if you don’t speak to their potential. The chance for us is to do something that we wanted to do but up until now did not have the courage. Post corona means we can do so much more than what we did before. For Hillsong Berlin, after corona means helping to start new churches in Prague and Warsaw and supporting a church plant in Bucharest. Berlin Hillsong is in the East and we are looking east to plant churches like Freimut Haverkamp in Hillsong Konstanz, and looking to plant more churches throughout German speaking Europe.
We have our best opportunities now. More than we have ever had. It is just a question what will we do about it?
The first 10 years were the pioneer years now for the next seven years we want to be more established in Berlin which means the following:
“Artists still live” here. We try to use community to help young people communicate difficult topics and subjects. This is a platform that helps our church to serve the city. “The Kindness Project” is where we try to make a difference with vulnerable people who live in Berlin.
Getting established means strengthening everything we are already doing.
We have also started the “Lift Leadership influence” for today. It’s a conference that helps people to take their faith into the market place and encourages creativity. It’s future minded.
We want to see young people taking their faith into the marketplace which could mean starting social enterprises, working parallel with schools and going into different parts of society that are broken and coming up with new ways to influence. This is innovative and entrepreneurial. Berlin is a broken city and is desperate for the things I have mentioned.
Paul: Mark, thanks for taking time to share your heart and vision for church ministry.
Mark: Paul you are very welcome and I am impressed and thankful that you have taken the time to do your doctoral project on Pentecostal Church Planting in Germany. Thanks, for also letting me know about the many small communities in Germany that do not have one Bible believing church. This gives me something to seriously consider and think about.
Paul and his wife Mechthild have planted churches in various parts of Germany as well as in Bregenz, Austria. The Clarks are actively involved in teaching as well as assisting and coaching other churches being planted in German speaking Europe. Paul initiated and administers a web platform which provides resources and inspiration for German speaking pastors throughout Europe. Paul is author of the book: German Pentecostal Church Planting 1945–2005: Implications for Intentional Mission in the Twenty-First Century.