In Review: Sticky Church

Last night, I finished reading Sticky Church by Larry Osborne. Here's my review of the book:

Like: Osborne's general writing style. The book was easy to read and he was honest about how he feels about all sorts of things related to small groups and the small group movement.

Like: Osborne's illustration about people being like Lego bricks is fairly accurate. People only have time and emotional space for X number of close friends, or only so many other legos can be snapped to yours before some fall off. This is a good analogy for those who seek to be more relationally evangelistic (although he doesn't make this point in the book, that's my application of his analogy).

Like: He's a big fan sermon based small groups, which is what is done in South Korea and at Victory Christian Center in Tulsa, OK, just to name a few. This is a big distinction of his book and church... so few American churches have "pulpit groups," favoring DVD curriculum or giving each leader or group the freedom to choose their own subject matter for the Bible discussion portion of the meeting.

Like: Osborne does not see small groups as a supportive program for his church or his pulpit ministry. He has a paradigm that allows him to view weekend services as being a gathering of small groups for instruction and worship.

Gripe: Osborne speaks of small groups as one of the main things that helps his members "stick" and remain in his church. It is his church's primary method of closing the back door. As I have commented before in other blog posts and book reviews, this is indeed a value of small groups, but should be a byproduct for groups, not the main reason a church launches them... small groups of people meeting in Christ's name are the church. I truly believe the bride of Christ is being prostituted for man's glory and structures ... and her Husband ain't content with the way biblical community is being used in the Western church world.

Gripe: Osborne states that his church's small groups are formed to build relationships and apply the sermon, not encourage relational evangelism. He wrote that people just won't sign up for groups if this is a stated purpose. He commented that relational evangelism does happen, but it's not a major thrust of their groups. He maintains a "involve the consumers more" type of attitude about small groups, vs. helping people discover their ministry giftings and harness the power of biblical community to storm the gates of hell and set captives free.

Gripe: Osborne firmly writes that the Cho model will not work in America, citing that Americans are not good at obeying authority like South Koreans. He also extended this comment to other places in the world as well where highly motivated cell members reach friends for Christ and desire to one day multiply their group and lead one of their own.

Combo Like/Gripe: Osborne states that multiplying groups doesn't work in America and people hate it so they don't ever ask groups to do it at his church. They invite new people who join the congregation or visit the church services to join a new 10-week group starting up and hope it will become a sticky place for the folks, who make the group their permanent home.

Instead of what he calls "splitting or dividing" groups, he comments how the church staff approaches apprentices and asks them if they're ready to start a new group of their own. I like this because it's actually what all the cell-based churches around the world do, even though Osborne doesn't seem to understand this about these churches.

My gripe is the fact that the groups in North Coast Chruch seem to be populated through the big church services, not primarily from the hard work of the members through relationship building. He writes this is the best way to start groups and be "sticky" because unbelievers are most comfortable with a big, impersonal event compared to a scary small group experience. While this is a true sociological statement (especially in Southern California where his church is located), it completely ignores the fact that people are looking for faith through genuine relationships, not religion or spirituality.

If the members of a holistic small group are spending time with unbelieving friends outside of small group gatherings to build a genuine, two-way relationship, they will develop enough of a friendship to draw the unbeliever into the biblical community. In a relatively short period of relationship-building time, unbelievers will gladly visit a gathering in a home where they will see Christ's presence, power, and purposes manifested in such capacities that the person is brought to faith in Christ and repentance.

Petty Gripe: Osborne's frequent use of the word "pretty," used as an adverb instead of an adjective drove me nuts. Whoever edited his book at Zondervan needs to be smacked around for allowing it to remain in the final manuscript. (I remain puzzled at the ever-decreasing quality of writing I find in books published by large Christian publishers.)

Recommendation: If you desire to see your small groups develop a passion for Christ in their midst that drives them to love Him more, each other sacrificially, AND the lost through friendship and servanthood, this book isn't going to ring your bell. Osborne shares his opinions about what has not worked in his church concerning holistic small groups because his church, like so many others, went about it all wrong... making congregational assimilation a primary goal and treating it like a program launch, not a completely different way of viewing and being the church.

Stars? I can't give this book any holistic small group stars, that's for sure. But it wasn't a bad read for what it's worth.

[This review gets a lot of hits, and I wanted first-time readers of my blog to know I wrote about Osborne's use of small groups in my new book, which was just released. Pick up a copy and read even more if what I've shared intrigues you.]


Josh Hunt said...

What I didn't understand about the book was this: exactly what is it about sermon-based groups that is so sticky?


Randall Neighbour said...

Sermon based groups do seem to draw people back to the weekend services to learn about next week's small group topic and promote unity.

I think the author was stating that the small groups themselves made members and visitors stick around more than how he runs his groups.

Gandalphar said...

Ok, it has been a few years since you wrote this post but I am only now coming across it.
My church has started implementing the 'Sticky' church ideology and it has me concerned. Firstly due to what I feel is an explicit degradation of the intellectual aspects of spiritual maturity that Christ has called us too, and secondly because the thrust of this book seems to be so cursory and shallow.
I bought and read the book so I would have a framework for the direction that the staff at my church is taking and I was not impressed with the book or the ideology. I was dismayed that nowhere in this book, nor in far too many churches, is there a recognition for the need of discipleship. That is what I think the true push should be for any ministry that tries to foster relationships. However, there is no current infrastructure in most churches to disciple anyone, no Christian mentorship so that one may be sent out to disciple others! I am saddened once again that in any treatment of ways to grow a church family in this book, there is no explicit mention of the very ideology given us by Christ Himself; discipleship.

I do thank you for the honest review of the pros/cons of this latest cultural re-engineering of ministry concepts already given us by Christ. I am encouraged to know that there are still those who disagree with each other while still showing respect and consideration for a member within the body of Christ.

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled across this post too. If a church/leader has to buy a book and (like going to a seminar) apply X to fix something Y they consider broken, what does that say about the church and its leader(s) and their trust in God vs. a program? Maybe prayer and seeking out God's face first (not a writer) about Y and asking what He would have His church do in (fill in community) with those He has given for (this purpose) would be THE way to go.

Gandalphar said...

I am reminded of a G.K Chesterton qoute: "Meaningles does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessnes comes from being weary of pleasure".
A community of people seeking fellowship with each other is a social club, not a church. Fellowship is a byproduct of each individual seeking Christ.
A.W. Tozer: "Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become 'unity' conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship."