Sticky Church

I recently finished the book “Sticky Church” by Larry Osborne. It’s an interesting book that I wrestled with for several days. It makes some excellent examinations of the modern church – things we’re doing well and things we’re ignoring. Larry makes some interesting points in the beginning of the book regarding our approach towards evangelism as flashy event vs. friend-to-friend invitations.

“Imagine a restaurant that kicks off with splashy mailers and hands out tons of coupons before making sure the kitchen and waitstaff have their act together. Sure, lots of people will come to check it out, but if the meals are pedestrian and the staff is barely competent, not many will come back again – ever. Even iof things eventually turn around, it’s unlikely that more coupons or even a few word-of-mouth recommendations will overcome the initial negative experience for those early customers. They weren’t reached; they were inoculated.” (27-28)

While this is very strong language, it definitely has an element of truth. Our churches spend time and energy putting together massive events to reach the masses without much thought about what happens next or if we’re actually prepared to care for a host of newcomers.

“Most Christians are pretty lame when it comes to closing the deal evangelistically.” We don’t know what to say or how to talk to people about our faith, let alone how to encourage them in theirs. “But a sticky church offers the perfect environment for come-and-see evangelism, because while every service is designed to help Christians become better Christians, it is always done in a way that non-Christians can understand everything that’s said and takes place. That makes it much easier for even the most introverted and reserved among us to say with confidence when a friend or coworker expresses a spiritual interest or need, ‘Why don’t you just come and see?'” (32-33) While special program evangelism can work, natural evangelism seems to be more sticky. Sending a message that we should invite friends only to the big, flashy events doesn’t create Christians who are satisfied with church as normal. If we are always looking for the next big thing, we’ll never be satisfied.

Once folks are in the door, churches often struggle with follow-up. Things like follow-up and having new-comers in church are different in a sticky church. “Since (a sticky church) doesn’t place much emphasis on big front-door events, most guests are brought on the arm of a friend. Few come with only a postcard or brochure in hand. That makes follow-up natural and more likely to occur. Friends don’t need a follow-up program to remind them to ask, ‘How’d you like it? Any questions I can answer? Do you want to come again?’ That’s what friends do.” (35)

Because follow-up is so natural, assimilation (another thing churches tend to struggle with) becomes natural as well. “Instead of complex assimilation programs, a sticky church simply needs to provide plenty of ministry on-ramps to which members can easily connect friends they’ve invited.” (35)

From here the book goes into an in depth look at sermon-based small groups and their importance in the church. Perhaps someday I’ll share my thoughts on the rest of the book, but for now, I’m interested in your theology and philosophy on evangelism. How do you view evangelism in your youth group? Do you have special programs to draw new kids in? Do you have systems in place to follow-up and care for newcomers?

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