Saturday, November 01, 2008

Sticky Church

It’s hard to argue with a church that has experienced phenomenal growth and that has a sustained 80% rate of participation in small groups. If the senior pastor writes a book about how they’ve made small groups work, it’s worth noting. And that’s the case with Larry Osborne of North Coast Church and his new book, Sticky Church.

Osborne writes in a very readable, conversational style (with a good dose of humor and cynicism). He makes a compelling case for their philosophy of “sermon-based small groups” in the first half of the book. The second half is the nuts-and-bolts of how North Coast puts it into practice. He talks about what a “fly on the wall” would observe in a group meeting, how leaders are recruited and trained, how groups are formed, and more. I especially liked the chapter “Why Cho’s Model Didn’t Work in Your Church,” which helped me understand several things I’ve seen in churches that have struggled to make their groups work.

So what’s not to like? Two things bothered me as I read Sticky Church. I’m a detailed person, and even the practical second part of the book left some questions unanswered for me. I would have appreciated a little more “here’s how we deal with this obstacle” instruction, particularly if I were using this as a textbook for launching or retooling groups. More importantly, I kept thinking, “There must be something more than sermon-based small groups fueling North Coast’s success.” I suspect that culture, leadership, and the worship experience, among other things, are critical factors, but these are downplayed in the book. In his emphasis on small groups, Osborne creates the impression that a pastor with below average preaching and leadership skills can have a dynamic church using this playbook.

Despite this critique, Sticky Church reminded me of a lesson from another great leadership book. Jim Collins, in Good to Great, talks about the hedgehog and the flywheel. The hedgehog concept calls us to keep it simple and focus on one thing we can do extremely well. The flywheel principle argues against looking for a “miracle moment,” asserting that success comes from steadily and relentlessly pushing in a consistent direction. Ultimately, North Coast’s results are clear evidence of these two concepts coming to life. We would all do well to pay attention.

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