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Sticky Church, Close the Back Door

September 18, 2008 by

Sticky ChurchEarlier this summer, our friends at the Leadership Network sent us a pre-galley of Larry Osborne’s latest book, Sticky Church. It comes out next month and you’re going to want to get your hands on this one.

First things first, yes, Larry Osborne is a mega-church multi-site pastor. He started over 20 years ago with 128 people at North Coast Church in San Diego and today they’re hovering around 7,000. But before you judge this guy as just another mega-pastor with some revolutionary model you can play along with at home, give this conversation a consideration.

The premise of Sticky Church is that we have “become so focused on reaching people that we’ve forgotten the importance of keeping people.” If ever there was a need for this perspective within CFCC/CMS circles, this books brings it. Says Osborne, “Churches need to be stickier” and “stickier churches are healthier churches.”


Sticky is broken into three parts. The first section makes well the case for why a sticky church matters and what gets in the way of becoming one. Hint: advertising and marketing can actually hinder a sticky church pursuit. Gasp! The last two sections are meant to guide church leaders through application points of how to become a sticky church. The answer to becoming a sticky church, suggests Osborne, is through sermon-based small groups. Again, before you write this off as another Hybillow-Warrensaddle approach to church growth, listen up.

We’re spending way too much time on getting people in the doors of our churches. Osborne is not apposed to marketing and advertising, but what he learned when he started at North Coast was they were acting more like the new restaurant that opened strong and closed weak. The restaurant got a packed house for their grand opening, but they forgot to train the servers or pay attention to food quality. Few came back to visit because the experience didn’t live up to the expectation.

So Osborne decided to stop trying to grow the size of North Coast and instead focused on growing the people already a part of North Coast. The result, as they learned year-after-year, and in spite of their growing size, was that more people came and more people stayed because they focused on making disciples, not filling seats.

May the lessons in Sticky Church help your church become more sticky and less stinky.

Post By:

Brad Abare


Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it. He and his wife Jamaica live in Los Angeles with their daughter, MirĂ³.
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8 Responses to “Sticky Church, Close the Back Door”

  • Jesse Phillips
    September 18, 2008

    YES! Thank you! It’s so much more fun to focus on getting more people, and so boring and difficult and frustrating to think about keeping people. It’s like eating candy v.s. vegetables, but I think eating vegetables is better for the Church than eating candy.
    Thank you for this, Brad. God bless you!


  • Antwon Davis
    September 22, 2008

    I stand firmly behind this way of thinking. Even Jesus focused His energy on creating a rock-solid model that we call “Discipleship” even while He spoke to the masses. It was in His building disciples that made His message “stick”.
    THINK | CHANGE


  • ryan guard
    September 22, 2008

    Oh that Malcolm Gladwell, inspiring every book written in the past two years.


  • Matt Larson
    September 23, 2008

    Doesn’t Sticky church sound a little schticky though? I can’t get past that. I love the idea of challenging the people who are there, but I also see Jesus’ purpose in 1 Peter 3:18 was to bring people to God and 1 Peter 4:1 says we’re to arm ourselves with the same purpose. It’s ok for us to be about bringing people to God. Anyhow, I just want the “church world” to be careful about letting the pendulum swing too far either way.


  • Paul
    April 9, 2009

    You are missing the point….churches need to be less about marketing and all about serving….Sticky church is a horrible book and the only thing worth reading are pages..183 through 187…do THAT and people will come and stay at the church


  • fred
    February 9, 2010

    Matt! Finally someone who agrees with me! Pages 128-29 Osborne declares that in the process of setting up the “Sticky” format, you have to neglect and ignore the experienced, older saints. What is that all about?! Read between the lines! The whole book is aobut Larry’s vision. Nowhere does he invite others into his game except to play by his rules and cow-tow to his plan. There is no working together. He gets his Under-leaders together to indoctrinate and then insists that they reiterate only what he says from the pulpit. That is cultic. His ideas are conveniently encrusted on the tried and true small group format but the end motivation is cult following and the result will be stagnant personal growth. His plan will produce clone like people that are ill-equipped to effectively communicate. His church will be filled with people without vision because he has made no room for vision different that his own. This is the pastor-centered church model which has festered for millenia and has crushed the life of the church. God has provided apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saint for the work of the ministry. These are all stated in plural. Osborne continues the church model where there is a pastor… capitol P Pastor. He cleans house so there is no oposition, then sets up shop with new belivers who don’t have the experience to know better. Yes, he builds a large congregation but at what cost to those he cuts out of the picture. You don’t hear that in the book. It would be interesting to hear thier story. Today, we look to anyone who has written a book as an expert. My “Pastor” got sucked into this tripe while neglecting the talent right in his own congregation.


    • Rich
      August 14, 2010

      Fred and Matt,
      Unless you have personal experience with Osborne and your facts about him being an autocratic leader are correct…you miss the point. The older christians are not ignored as they should be discipling the younger ones in a small group. When they have “matured”, they will naturally want to leave the ol’ small group in order to lead a new one with new believers. I have seen people who don’t attend boring small groups for decades (I’ve been at my church my whole life) stagnate and/or fall away because no one really challenged them to get out of their lukewarmness. If capital “P” works in that church, fine, if you want to start your own church…do it, but stop bashing people more succesful than you are. When people in a small group are surrounded by loving, caring people, they can encourage each other to greatness. You forget than %95 of seasoned church goers aren’t doing much radical anyway. Great leaders make great churches, peroid. Wishy washy leadership ALWAYS leads to lukewarmness, period.


  • Doug
    November 2, 2010

    If all i knew about Christianity was what I read here, I would be an atheist.
    Talk about pettiness, infighting, back-biting.
    I have read most of the book and can not believe it was the same as some repliers talk about.
    No where does Osborne imply that getting people to Jesus is not important. He is saying that if that is all we do, we are not fulfilling the Great Commission: Not to just bring people to Jesus, but making them disciples.
    The church’s mission is more than one-dimensional. It seems to me that many hyper-focus on one dimension and when others bring up or focus on another dimension, they are castigated and demonized.
    I do not know Osborne and personally, am very leery of mega-churches. However, judging just on the merits of what is in the book, I believe Osborne has tried and achieved a measure of balance between the several aspects of the church.
    Anyway, people, please do not judge the book by its cover or coverage here. Read it and make your decision.
    My opinion, it is a must read.



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