Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Larry Osborn on Multi-site Church Strategy

I recently had the opportunity to listen to a presentation from Larry Osborn, the Senior Pastor at North Coast Church in San Diego, California, about the multi-site church strategy. Larry is a very savvy with cultural analysis and church strategy. One of his more interesting cultural observations was regarding the success of the mega-church model over recent decades. He said that the big-box church is reflective of the big-box culture that is illustrated by big-box department stores, home improvement stores, malls, etc…. After making this point, he highlighted a specific example of what makes a big-box business successful.

His illustration involved Home Depot. He explained how he quit going to the neighborhood hardware store because the part he would need was seldom in stock and usually took a week to order. After walking into the Home Depot he was impressed by the fact that they had the part he needed and he could get it immediately. In other words Home Depot offered QUALITY service because he always knew he could find what he needed. The next thing he discovered was that Home Depot not only had the part he needed, but they had numerous brands and colors to choose from. In other words Home Depot offered OPTIONS that allowed him to find a part that could help him to customize according to his needs. Finally, because the Depot first opened when the construction industry was laying off a lot of workers, much of the help were former contractors. They not only could lead him to the part he needed, but they could explain how the part worked and teach him how to install it. This meant there was PERSONALIZATION represented by the helpful, informed, and caring service.

To Osborn this illustrates that culturally effective churches need to have…
  1. QUALITY – our services must be excellent in quality
  2. OPTIONS – we should offer options… this is the advantage of the multi-venue model with multiple styles, times, etc…
  3. PERSONALIZATION – people need to be personally connected in relationships… this is accomplished through smaller service venues and an aggressive small group strategy
Osborn took the illustration a bit further to better define personalization. He explained how when the construction industry picked up again, the help at Home Depot was no longer able to explain how to use or install a part. Losing their personalization factor resulted in people leaving their store for competitors like Lowe’s. His point being that the way churches close their “back door” is to personalize effectively. Churches that don’t personalize well have a very big back door.

Now, before any of you rip into Larry’s insights saying they are overly consumer driven, you need to understand that North Coast is committed to being uncompromised in their message; however, they are also fully committed to contextualizing the gospel in order to engage the culture. So, do you agree churches should have quality, options, and personalization?


John Carlson said...

I'm not sure that all holds water for me. I don't know exactly what this means, but some of my BEST hardware store experiences when I need something hard to find, have been at small local ma & pa Ace Hardwares and True Values. I'm constantly amazed at what I find at those places that I CAN'T find at a big box store. And when I do go to a big box store, it can take forever and a day to find the smallest part sometimes. Now that's not to say I haven't had GREAT experiences at the big box stores either. It all just depends on what I'm looking for at the given moment, sometimes depends on where I'm at, and sometimes depends on what I'm willing to pay vs. the convenience of where I have to drive to get it. So I just don't know if the comparison can be made to churches or not 100%. I've been to GREAT small hardware stores, and lousy ones. I've been to GREAT big box stores, and lousy ones. A lot of it has to do with the mission, vision, and how well leadership/management of each individual store can cast that and lead it with their staff/teams. Can they motivate everyone to get on board with the mission and vision?

As far as the three traits mentioned: Quality should be sought after to glorify Christ and bring honor to Him and His bride, the church, in all we do. We should always put forth our very best effort in everything from what's on stage, to how clean the bathrooms are. We strive for excellence - excellence being doing the best with what God has given us - and trying to always go above and beyond when we can - go the extra mile.

Options are tied to vision and mission. (I assume by options in this case we're mostly talking about venues?) Is it our vision to offer "options"? What are trying to achieve by offering "options"? Are we trying to appease the people that are already here that want a more "traditional option as we are somewhat doing now? Are we trying to create more room for more people? Are those then people we already have or people that do not come yet? If the later is true, what are we doing to attract those new people in the first place before they even realize we have options for them?

Personalization is another non negotiatable. It's just something that "should be" a natural outflowing of our passionate hearts for Christ, hearts that have been radically supernaturally transformed, and are now willing to reach out to others in a way that is reflective of the radical grace and love that Christ has given us. Reaching out in friendship, love, compassion, care, outreach, meeting needs, or just being someone that can listen. But in any case, It should just naturally flow out of the body, and be modeled from the top down.

So ya - we should strive for all of those attributes (and more) - but for the right reasons. Not to meet the demand of a consumeristic demanding society that expects that - or to be "bigger" or be "big box" for the sake of being big box. But we should strive for those out of ouru radically transformed lives as offerings of worship back to Him for the radical grace and love He has shown us, with the desire to lead others to the same understanding, as God leads us in those efforts.

- John C.

scooterpastor said...

John, you've taken this to the next step which is what I think we need to do (i.e. to lay these observations against our faith and calling in the Bible). Any analysis like this only goes so far and is merely a tool for method analysis and you've done a good job pushing back on it.

Though you like the ma and pa store (which I kinda do to), you've got to admit that there is something in our culture that loves big, convenience, cheaper, quality, options, personalized, etc... The big box mentality (for better or worse) has taken over our culture and people love it.

Does this mean the church should act like a business? Definitely not, but we should also ask how can I tweak my approach to relate to my culture more effectively (and I am not even saying I necessarily agree with all of Larry's conclusions).

Anyway, your right that it all needs to be driven by a unified mission and vision around the Word, which we are all anxious to work on in upcoming days at Parkview.

John Carlson said...

Scooter Pastor Said: Does this mean the church should act like a business? Definitely not, but we should also ask how can I tweak my approach to relate to my culture more effectively (and I am not even saying I necessarily agree with all of Larry's conclusions).

I think the church should feel the freedom to borrow from successful business, marketing, advertising, and customer service practices when they are used in ways that are for the right motives, God Glorifying, (or not NOT glorifying) and are within the style and culture of the church and it's community and done tastefully. Some people think advertising in big ways for a church is wrong - and I've been on the fence with that myself. But then I have to ask myself "WHY" is it wrong? Is it just a stylistic preference for some people not to want their church on a bill board or in a large communty ad? I can see that in some ways. But is it WRONG for the church to do creative marketing and advertising? Is it wrong for the church to borrow the best most creative outside the box ideas from that world and apply it to itself? I feel as if the church needs to EXPLODE with creativity and proclemation to our community that WE'RE HERE! Too often the church sits idly by and goes along it's quiet merry way "hoping" someone will find out about it. But it just doesn't work that way today. Do you think there was a reason Jesus road a donkey into town? Why he was born in a manger in the lowest of lows? Why there was a great star? All seem like outside of the box intentions to grab our attention toward Christ!

First Theology said...

Scooter - Interesting thoughts on "big box" culture... I must say my immediate reaction is skepticism (feels marketed/plastic/fake), but on the balance I have to concede there are things big churches can do that little ones can not (like hire a YA pastor) & vice-versa. I think the "big box" metaphor does help articulate some of the good things "megas" can do - I think another way to say that is "niche ministries". They can have specialists that really dial-in on advancing the kingdom thru a particular demographic (of course that strength can be a liability when it makes folks consumers). The weaknesses with large size can be effectively connecting/communicating/assimilating (I think some of our struggles at PV) which sometimes (but not always) simply by virtue of having a smaller structure you can do better (a reason megas need smaller *deconstructed* communities within the larger corporate community). I think on one level what we are really talking about here is some sort of “institutional theory” (I'm sure there is a technical name for it), and that theory probably shouldn't be equated one-to-one with "the model to *do church*" or "facilitate spiritual growth" or "expand the kingdom" (or however you want to say it)… they are just approaches. All these approaches seem to have strengths that become can become liabilities at the extremes.

I guess the take home for me on this kind of a thing is: "What can we utilize in our context (Iowa City - college town - lots of young folks - Midwest - medium-sized town...) to expand God's kingdom." So I hope that means that we deeply contextualize and are deeply pragmatic AND this is balanced by our deep understanding of Scripture/theology that lets us know how to be "in but not of" this world (in other words what is the relationship between Christ & culture).

scooterpastor said...

Josh, I think you are right. The point is to contextualize for our culture, our community, midwest, university, etc... Our response to our big box, big car, big church, big debt society may be that people need small community, simple faith, simple method.... Of course, everyone needs big God.

John, I am not proposing this, but found it very interesting. North Coast refuses to market and advertise. Osborn said they won't even take an add when the space is free during Easter and Christmas. They believe the church grows through relationships and that the way you reach more is by closing the back door because so many people visit once or twice and then never come back. He says usually this is because there is a lack of personalization. Whatever you think, it certainly worked for them as a church of 6-7 thousand attenders.

John Carlson said...

Ya - I can see that for a church that has successfully grown to that point and obviously has clear vision spread across their congregation. However I do believe we need a bit of a jump start as well to get our name out in the community again - kind of a "re-birth" if you will. It can also give members a certain sense of "pride" if done well. It also helps the members as they take the church to people word of mouth. (The "Oh ya - you're that church I've seen in the paper a lot" or "I've heard a lot of buzz about your church" etc.

Bottom line as I keep saying - what are ways we can find so that it is IMPOSSIBLE to live in Iowa City/Coralville, etc. and NOT know aobut Parkview? It can be done I believe.

First Theology said...

Concerning advertising... North Coast definitely communicates a value by not advertising. I know Rob Bell has been very against advertising at Mars Hill too (sounds like for some of the same reasons).

I think everybody wants the word to get out, but some view "grass roots/word-of-mouth" as more authentic/effective and formal advertising as "corporate/marketed" and thus less authentic/effective (at least among emerging folks). My gut reaction is averse to “big advertising” campaigns but I don't want to spiritualize that opinion/value (I'm probably just reflecting my culture!).

John Carlson said...

My guess is, judging from their site, and I bet more than likely in their early days, NorthCoast did LOTS of advertising, and probably does more now than they say or think they do - just by looking at their site. It's called how they present themselves! (grin) Very marketed, very "branded" very creative, LOTS of use of ad type/marketing type tools.

For us, I like to think of it not so much as "advertising" but creative communication that "we're here." We've talked to people who have driven by PV for 5 years on the way back and forth to work in IC and NEVER even new it was a church sitting here.

If we're worried about emerging church people being turned off by "advertising" of the church - whether they're in the church, or NOT in the church, we're concerned about the wrong group of people. (Or are you referring to emerging "secular" people - is there such a thing?) People respect "GOOD" tasteful well done creative advertising/communication. I see no reason why the church can't do that in very creative, tasteful, and effective ways. But we have to think outside the box of normal church advertising. Like I said, I prefer word of mouth/relationally authentic communication - but I also feel we just need a bit of a jump start in this area more than we have now. And there's all sorts of "free" ways to do this (press releases about current church events, trips, acticivites - just being out there in the public eye.) But we need more than that. We do somewhat well with this already, but it's not a concentrated "group" effort so to speak. It happens happenstance.

First Theology said...

John – Believe me, I’m all for creativity too [I just don't know if I have the artistic kind] :) If we came up with an “ad campaign” like the Mac commercials right now, but we did not have to trash another church/tradition (would they really be the same w/o that?), I’d be all over that. It’s funny & it works… almost makes me want to go get a Mac. Almost.