Sticky Church, by Larry Osborne. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2008. 201 pages.
Larry Osbourne serves as pastor at North Coast Church. During his tenure at North Coast Church, he has seen the church slowly grow from a church of 120 souls into a church of thousands. He has also had over 80% of his members attend small groups for well over 20 years.
Sticky Church is a book written to help churches close their back door. Far too many churches are content to get crowds to walk through their front door, but they ignore the stream of people leaving through the back door. In order to carry out the great commission and truly teach everything that Jesus commanded, Osborn writes that churches need to be sticky. They need to retain the people already coming to their church. Larry Osborne would have us slam the back door of our churches shut using his model of sermon based small groups.
Larry Osborne’s book is neatly divided into three parts. Part 1, entitled The Sticky Church Advantage, and Part 2, How Small Groups Change Everything, are meant to convince the reader of the importance of having a sticky church and also of the effectiveness of small group ministry. In Part 3, Sermon-Based Small Groups, Osborne shares the best practices of small group ministry as he has experienced it at North Coast Church.
Osborne makes a good case for sermon-based small groups. These groups are not meant to grow a church. The purpose of these groups is rather to disciple the people that are already coming to your church with life-on-life ministry. Osborne is convinced that this life-on-life ministry is a better way to disciple Christians than the typical linear discipleship models like a Bible information class. He even gets a bit sarcastic when discussing the typical Bible information class as if to downplay its usefulness: “I was weaned on a linear, step-by-step discipleship model. I attended a new believers’ class designed to teach the basics of theology and how to develop a personal walk with God. (Apparently, every new Christian needed a good grasp of the Trinity, the inspiration of Scripture, the basics of the atonement, the sovereignty of God, and a few others things I can’t remember)” (41).
Osborne makes huge claims regarding his sermon-based small groups. He spends the first two parts of his book making these huge claims. He says that sermon based small groups empower others in ministry while destroying the myth that only pastors can do ministry. Sermon based small groups create a church that is more transparent and honest. They create an atmostphere of spiritual discipline and accountability. They even make the pastor a better preacher because the sermon not only bears the whole weight of worship, but also the whole weight of Bible study.
Part 3 of Sticky Church is full of the nuts and bolts of small group ministry. These chapters are by far the most practical chapters in the book as they survey all the topics necessary for beginning your own small group ministry. Osborne also includes a helpful appendix full of materials worth using for sermon based small groups.
After sharing with the reader his own journey, Osborne concludes by almost throwing out his own book. He writes, “It’s much wiser to find a model that works well (even if it’s not the best model out there) in a church you and most of your people would attend. That almost always guarentees a strong fit with the DNA and culture of your church.” What a wise things to say! Although sermon based small groups work well in his church, he admits that it won’t work well in every church and leaves the reader to ponder, “Is this something that fits into my church?” This is a tough question to answer and each church leader must answer it for themselves.
While confessional Lutherans will disagree with some of Osborne’s emphases (for example: his minimizing of good Biblical instruction before church membership), this book is a must read for all those who are considering starting or revamping small group ministry. It is a practical and very fast read. Certainly, there are many different approaches to small group ministry, but this approach is one of the best ones.