Leadership Solutions Blog

Larry Osborne: Church Has Changed: Thinking Differently

This article was created from a webinar interview with Larry Osborne, a Teaching and Lead Pastor at North Coast Church in San Diego, CA. Watch the full interview here.

What are some of the big things that need to change as the church looks to redefine itself coming out of this crisis?

For some time, we lived in a Christian-influenced culture. In studies of great literature from Western European backgrounds, these writings were rooted in Biblical stories, even if they came from non-Christian authors. At that time, culture had some basic ideas of Christianity and stories from the Bible. 

Now, however, we lean more towards a post-Christian culture, where it cannot be assumed that all people know the basic principles of Christianity, whether believers or not. Because of this, we must stop thinking like a majority culture. We cannot assume that every person we meet has some background of what the Bible story is. 

In his book Thriving in Babylon:  Why Hope, Humility, and Wisdom Matter in a Godless Culture, Pastor Larry highlights the story of Daniel, who found himself living in one of the most anti-Christian societies in history. Not only did Daniel survive, but he thrived in this environment through God’s provision and direction. 

Churches often use the story of Daniel as children’s curriculum because it is an adventure story. However, this story was really told as an adult primer for surviving in a Godless environment. Church leaders and believers alike can glean how to navigate our current culture through the story of Daniel. 

What is the new normal as we’re adapting to the new challenges of COVID-19? How does the Church need to be adapting?

We have a tendency to generalize the events of today as if they will go on forever. When describing the “new normal” in ministry, this often takes what we’re currently experiencing and assumes human nature has changed. This is not the case. In a few years, we’re going to want to attend a football game that is packed rather than half-filled. As it relates to church, people will want to be physically present; they will still hate congestion and crowded places, but they won’t want space between them and other people. 

The difference now is that we’ve added something. We’ve moved from being either/or to both/and. When describing the digital church experience, Pastor Larry says, “We were Macy’s with a website.” Essentially, the focus was on the in-person experience, while the digital experience was mostly an afterthought. Churches would primarily drive foot traffic because it seemed to be the biggest marker of discipleship. 

In contrast to the Macy’s example, businesses like Target and Walmart have capitalized on both their in-person and digital experiences, knowing that their customers will want both. Churches can learn from this by becoming agnostic to the how; whether online or in-person, every guest should have a similar experience. 

The church of the future is going to be agnostic about where the information comes from. 

Even after COVID-19 has passed, we’re still going to want to gather people together in our communities. This is an important piece of discipleship. Successful churches will have a physical community presence but also be a source of online, secondary information to a less-frequent audience. Churches should know the difference between the recurring customer and simply the person they have the privilege of helping along the way. 

How do you see the church coming out of this season and changing the way that they communicate and brand themselves?

As churches move from Macy’s to Target, they will do well. The moment we begin to be agnostic to where information comes from, we will segment and customize the experience for all guests. Churches should start to hire leaders to oversee their digital presence, rather than shepherds who maintain.

Churches are going to make great improvements in communication amongst themselves. The polarization of our culture is going to give the church some big decisions to make, and it will only increase. The downside to segmentation is that we’ve always been tribal people; we don’t know that we’re growing up in an echo-chamber. 

Now, we have non-geographical echo chambers, meaning they are by choice. Pastors need to realize that nothing is regional like it used to be. You are speaking to the whole country on Sunday, not just one region. 

As we learn how to navigate this culture, we need to decide something. Do we want to be one of these four things:

  1. Prophet - Stand up and tell it like it is.
  2. Spokesman - Has an opinion, and posts what they feel. 
  3. Bouncer - Goes after everyone who is wrong. 
  4. Recruiter - Moves towards others by listening, inviting, and understanding.

In our echo chambers, most of us are getting our understanding of other groups through our own chambers rather than directly from the other side. When we do this, we have no idea that our echo chamber has its own language. If you don’t know the language of a dialect,  you have lost your ability to recruit to Jesus. 

How would you address making social issues into church issues? What is the church’s role in addressing social issues?

We oftentimes let social media force us to be what we weren’t called to be. The problem here is that God already gave you a vision. Figure out what you are and be that, but don’t be a church that gives into pressure. Address issues in light of the role God has given you.

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