Finally! We’re getting to checking North Coast Church in California. This was actually a request from a reader several months ago, but we just haven’t had a chance to take on this Goliath of a church with so many other things going on.
Now, we have time to take a closer look, so let’s do it!
North Coast Church in California is the biggest church we’ve checked so far with a claim of over 13,000 attendees in a single weekend. Real Life Ministries is definitely the second largest with over 8,000, but we never thought we’d be looking at churches this large this early. Yet, here we are! Let’s not waste any time. This church is going to take a lot of writing to cover!
Church Website: https://www.northcoastchurch.com/
If you go to North Coast Church’s website, you find that they have six separate campus locations, but like many of the larger multi-campus churches we’ve checked in the past, there is only one website for the church with a tab for looking at the different locations. I prefer that multi-campus churches do this instead of creating separate websites for each location, as that can cause confusion for churchgoers.
Looking at the church’s homepage on their website, we can see the current sermon series that they’re in, which looks like a study through the book of Mark right now.
Scroll down and just below that they have something called “The Daily Dose,” which is a daily devotional video to help us in our daily walk. Today’s Daily Dose, or Friday’s actually, is quite relevant to us right now. It’s called “Blessed Are You When People Insult You”.
Certainly no red flags here. It’s a pretty helpful 5-minute video and based in the Bible for sure, and although the demeanor of this teaching pastor comes off as a little disingenuous to me, the message is good.
Back on the homepage just below the Daily Dose video is a menu of more options to explore on this church’s website. And below that is just their contact information. Let’s see if we can find any red flags here and then move on. If we try covering their whole website, we’ll be here all day! These multi-campus churches with tens of thousands of members have a lot of information on their website to get through typically.
We often find with large, popular churches like this that there’s a huge campaign on the website to convince their attendees that they need to give money to the church, be a “Growing Giver” as SMCC says, or “Go All In” as Real Life Ministries says.
They have their own little slogan to make tithing sound cooler or more about Jesus, but at the end of the day, it’s just a marketing scheme created to bring in more money.
Does North Coast Church do this? Actually...I’m not sure. It’s not clear on their Donate page, but RLM (Real Life Ministrie) doesn’t make it clear on their Donate page either. You have to dig further with them, whereas SMCC makes it clear pretty much up front that they preach tithing and that financial giving is important to them.
After digging as much as I can, the only thing I’ve been able to find that suggests they preach tithing is this sermon from October 19th about the widow’s offering in the book of Mark. This still doesn’t come off as particularly money serving, however, as it only seems to be part of their verse by verse study through the book of Mark, not a topical sermon created out of context and out of the minds of North Coast Church.
We’ll have to listen to this sermon itself and read through the notes they provide to make sure, but for the time being, we’re not seeing any red flags here either.
Who We Are
Here is where we run into some trouble. There’s a lot of bragging about this church’s size and all they have to offer churchgoers on this page:
“We offer fifty-six worship options on six campuses, each with a different worship style and ambiance.”
“The largest campus is located in Vista. Instead of a single large sanctuary, the 40-acre campus features four separate worship venues, all of which feature the same sermon but differ in atmosphere, music and feel.
The other campuses also offer multiple service times, full children programs, a campus pastor and the same sermon broadcast on a huge video screen (think movie theater), each with their own unique feel.”
This church may not make their tithe preaching clear on the website, but it’s definitely obvious that they’re pulling in a lot of money somehow based on this information alone. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. A church having lots of money itself isn’t the red flag. It’s what the church does with that money and how they got it in the first place that concerns us. So far, we know that they put a lot of money into creating “ambiance”, a “40-acre campus” that “features four separate worship venues,” and a “huge video screen (think movie theater).”
Looking at the pictures of each of this church’s campus buildings on the website is revealing as well. The Vista campus looks like an outdoor Hawaii strip mall with, according to the website, a “bustling Plaza area.”
Ugh. Time to grab those red flags.
While it does appear based on what the website information provides that this church teaches the Bible, they also pile on a lot of extra stuff that this church checker finds money serving, materialistic, and worldly in general.
The Plaza, the ambience, the plethora of different “worship styles”, and the long list of activities and groups for people to join are all unnecessary, as well as people and money serving in general. None of it is focused on God, but rather our own fleshly desires.
So far, it’s not looking too good.
We initially reached out to North Coast Church back in May to try and ask our questions. At first, we thought they might oblige us. They responded quickly via email and on Facebook Messenger, but It became pretty clear after months of continued attempts to contact them further, that we’re being stonewalled once again.
And unfortunately, this megachurch’s website doesn’t provide as much information as we would like. Let’s see what we can find out anyway, shall we?
1. What is your church's official position on tithing?
North Coast doesn’t provide this information on their website as far as I can tell. They don’t mention it in their statement of faith, on their Donate Page, or anywhere else, but we do see in the notes of one particular sermon on the Widow’s Offering that they may in fact preach tithing. Just not as openly or clearly as many other churches.
Here are some statements we read in the sermon notes that suggests they do in fact preach tithing:
“Money is an instrument of worship”
“Giving is worship and obedience”
“Money is our primary value indicator”
“This weekend we heard it’s not about what God wants FROM us, but rather what He wants FOR us. So where do you start? Proverbs 3:9-10 is explains “giving off the top” which is both an act of thanking God for his current provision AND a way of trusting Him for future provision. When it comes to giving, we’re all at different places. Here are some steps to help you start and continue to move forward:
Go from nothing to something, …
from something to systematic, …
from systematic to tithing, …
from tithing to sacrifice.”
While there are also some statements in these sermon notes that suggest they DON’T serve money, such as their list of “six wrong attitudes regarding giving,” it seems odd to me that they would confirm that “giving is for the church” is in fact a wrong attitude to have regarding giving, and then at the very bottom contradict that by encouraging tithing and systematic giving to the church.
Until we can speak to someone from the church directly, I think our understanding of this church’s position on tithing will continue to be unclear. We’ll just have to find a church checker in California to do some in-person investigations!
2. Does your church have an official membership with a membership agreement or contract?
We see no signs of official membership at this church on the website, although it’s still possible that they do have one. The reason I find this to be unlikely is because of how well-organized the website is in general. Typically churches this organized on their website will provide every piece of information a potential churchgoer could want. We don’t see any kind of membership information, so we assume they don’t have one.
On the other hand, they stonewalled our Questionnaire and any other attempts we’ve made to find out this information has been ignored entirely. It’s quite possible that this church does have official memberships. We’ll just have to do more digging to find out for sure.
3. Is your church transparent with its financial information? How much does your church bring in through donations and tithing, plus additional income, and how is that money distributed?
I’ve emailed the Contributions team at North Coast to see if they’ll answer this question, but so far we’ve gotten no answer on this. We do know that if you’ve contributed to North Coast Church, you can register an account on their website to see a contribution statement, but that’s nowhere in the way of financial transparency, so for the time being, we’ll have to assume the answer to this is ‘no.’
4. Which denomination does your church align with the most, if any?
Google doesn’t list North Coast as a non-denominational Christian church, nor does Facebook, but their website doesn’t list any denominational affiliations. On their Who We Are page, they simply state that:
“We are a Bible teaching church and would love to help you grow.”
For now we will have to assume they are non-denominational.
5. Is your church's pastor available for other questions or comments regarding the church, its doctrines, etc.?
North Coast has a few teaching pastors that alternate teaching all six campus locations, but none of them provide their email address or any real contact information on the church’s website. They provide their websites, their Twitter pages, and one teaching pastor (Larry Osborne) does provide his Facebook Page, but whether or not he actually responds to PM inquiries has yet to be seen.
We do know that you’re supposed to be able to contact this church through their website, but so far, none of our questions have been answered, so we’d have to say ‘no’ to this question as well.
6. How is your church's doctrinal flexibility and tolerance regarding minor, non-essential doctrines? If a member has a disagreement with the pastor or leadership on a certain doctrine, how is it handled?
While according to this church’s statement of faith, they don’t appear to be particularly dogmatic on any non-essential doctrinal positions, we don’t know how this kind of situation would be handled in this church. More digging will be necessary to find this one out.
7. Does your church require that its members be baptized? What is your church's official position on baptism?
By going to the New Believer Info page on the church’s website, you can find what appears to be their official position on baptism:
“Baptism is an important step as you follow Jesus. It’s an outward symbol of the work that God has done in your life. Baptism events are offered at each campus. We look forward to celebrating with you!”
It doesn’t appear that they require baptism for membership, if they even have membership at all.
8. Please describe what a typical service and/or meeting looks like in your church.
Go to the What To Expect page on this church’s website and we find everything you could possibly need to know about a typical service at North Coast Church. Here’s a summary:
“All of our worship services have a casual and informal atmosphere. The worship and music style varies depending upon the campus and the venue you choose.
Worship at all of our campuses is upbeat and contemporary, led by a worship band.
The Vista campus also offers a wide variety of music styles from rock and roll, to country, to traditional hymns, gospel, and more, all depending on the venue you choose.
All campuses and venues share in the same weekend sermon delivered by either Larry Osborne or Chris Brown. The message is broadcast on a huge video screen (think movie theatre) or in-person in the LIVE venue on the Vista Campus Saturday night and three times Sunday morning.”
Red Flag: There seems to be a lot of focus on how this church will be comfortable and pleasing to people, but not much at all on the content of the sermons here or how they focus on serving and pleasing God. They do mention under the “Do I need a Bible” section of this page that the pastors don’t really preach sermons as much as they just “teach from the Bible.” That could be a very good thing, but we won’t know for sure until we listen to the sermon itself.
9. How many people do you have on staff at your church, both paid and volunteer?
While the website does provide a full staff directory, this doesn’t tell us how many of these people are paid and who are volunteers. There could be hundreds or even thousands more who volunteer but aren’t listed in this directory.
10. What is the pastor's educational history?
You can read a mini-bio of each teaching pastor at North Coast Church on their Teaching Pastors page.
Pastor Chris Brown graduated from Azusa Pacific University and pastor Larry Osborne holds a Master of Divinity and a Doctorate from Talbot Theological Seminary.
11. How does the church discipline its members with their sin?
Another piece of information we’ll have to dig much further to find. There’s nothing on the website that we can see that answers this question.
12. How is the pastor compensated (income, benefits, bonuses, etc.)?
When we emailed the Contribution Team at North Church, we asked this question. We haven’t received a response, but we’ll update this post if we ever do.
13. What is the size of your church and any other space the church owns for meetings and church services?
The total regular attendance of this church is in the tens of thousands and their Facebook Page has over 13,000 likes and follows. They have six campus locations, but how many total buildings and spaces this church owns for meetings and church services is unknown.
They mention several times throughout the website that they offer so many different worship styles within a single campus as well as a “bustling Plaza”, that we’d have to get someone at the church to actually tell us the exact number.
All in all, with the answers we were able to get on our own, we can’t say our impression of this church has improved. While we don’t know if this church is legalistic at all or not quite yet, everything we learn about North Coast seems to confirm this church’s dedication to serving and pleasing the desires of people through materialistic means and spending millions of dollars (probably) on their campus facilities.
But let’s move on! We’ve got a lot more to check with North Coast Church.
This is the first church we’ve checked, and the first church I’ve heard of in my entire life, that has so many different “worship options”. If you go to their Vista location on the website and click “worship options,” you can see that they have several different music genres and bands to choose from.
Talk about catering to people. Not to mention the greenbacks it must take to maintain each of these bands’ equipment and the “ambience” that the church provides at each of these “worship options.” Holy shish kabobs. I’m actually overwhelmed by it all.
Each worship option has a clip to show an example of what each service is like, but for a full song, we had to go to their NCC Worship channel on YouTube.
Experiencing a full worship service is out of the question as we don’t have anyone in California to physically attend one, nor does it appear that they offer a full recording of one of their worship services online, but we can watch several of their worship song videos on YouTube. So let’s do that to get the closest thing to a worship service possible.
It seems most if not all of the songs on the YouTube channel are performed by The Edge, their “edgier atmosphere for worship,” so that’s the one we’ll be checking.
All of these worship songs appear to be taken from popular Christian pop artists such as Phil Wickham and Lauren Daigle. Truth be told, I haven’t paid much attention to “Christian” labeled music in several years, so I have no idea who these people are. I’m sure using songs by these popular Christian artists is another useful strategy used to get more attendees at this church though. It’s obviously working.
Overall, it’s just the typical modern Christian worship service taken to an extremely over-the-top level. A light show, emotionalism, a full rock band for your enjoyment. It’s a performance that puts your attention on the show and your own experience. Not on God, in my opinion. It’s exactly the kind of worship service that we tend to avoid, and so we can’t recommend this church’s worship services at all.
On a more positive note, however, it looks like you do have the option of not attending any of their worship services and simply listening to the message in their coffee shop. It’s a very light positive note though, since I’m sure they charge money for that coffee. *sigh* Ugh.
Anyway, let’s get to the sermon. My favorite part!
Speaker: Larry Osborne
Date: November 2nd, 2019
The sermon we’re checking this week for North Coast Church is part 44 of a sermon series that they’re doing through the book of Mark.
Is the sermon topical or a verse by verse study through the Bible?
This is part 44 of a verse by verse study through the book of Mark. Although they take a lot of sidetracks off into a more topical approach throughout the sermon, it seems based on a verse by verse study as the foundation.
Is it Biblical? How frequently is the Bible used? Is it interpreted in context or twisted to fit the narrative of the sermon?
While a lot of it is Biblical, the main message itself seems to be Biblical in my opinion, the Bible is read and referenced frequently, and pastor Larry does a great job of giving a contextual explanation for the book of Mark before beginning his reading of the passages for the week, there were a few side-rants that I found to be particularly troubling. In order to describe the legalism and religious pride of the Pharisees in comparison to Jesus, pastor Larry says the following: (emphasis mine)
“I get to work with lots of pastors. I get to work with lots of churches. I’ve been around here quite a long time, and I look in the mirror in my own life, and here’s what I find. The times that I get most upset at fellow Christians or what God is doing are almost exclusively when I’ve lost power, I’m not honored and don’t have the prestige I want, or things are done differently than I like. Now I’ve got my own reasons why they should be done that way. 'Hey, this honors God better. This doesn’t honor God. This is too much like a show....'
“Let’s just pick worship, right? You can go anywhere and everybody has their own idea of what honors God best, wouldn’t you agree? But here’s the problem. I can’t find no Bible verse for any of it! Can you?...I just want to challenge all of us to realize how the root of sin that was in them is also the root of sin that is born in each one of us. Our nature is to be a selfish pig.”
While I can certainly agree that human nature is sinful and fallen, I can’t help but think that this pastor is avoiding an obvious and huge problem within the Christian churches today. Power, prestige, and personal preferences are NOT the only reason for a Christian to get angry at their church or another Christian. To dismiss the kind of controlling and manipulative behavior that goes on in a lot of churches today and put the blame for the problem on the Christian that’s angry with the abuse and manipulation comes off as gaslighting to me. It's possible he's not intentionally doing this, but if he is, it's a concern.
As for worship, which we just addressed in the previous section of this Check, it seems that pastor Larry is suggesting that people who have a problem with performance and concert-like worship services are just reacting to their own nature of “selfish pigness” and expressing personal preferences, rather than any objective facts regarding what honors God and what dishonors Him based on Scripture.
While pastor Larry’s perspective on this issue certainly applies in a lot of different situations, it doesn’t in any way apply to victims of abuse, manipulation, and the control that other Christians, non-Christians, organizations, or churches sometimes try to invoke on people. Lastly, I don’t think it applies to people that find worldly concert-like worship services to be disrespectful and idolatrous either.
There is such a thing as legitimate, righteous anger. Anger at injustices toward others, the anger Jesus had toward the money-changers at the temple for their disrespect toward God and His people, and anger at injustices done to us personally are all legitimate causes to be angry and are not caused by our own selfish desires, but rather actual wrong being done to others, ourselves, and toward God.
Anger caused by our own pride, or as Larry says here, our own desire for power, prestige, or preferences, is what he seems to be focusing on here, but I don’t think it applies to Christians who want a worship service that actually honors God above man. That’s not a preference. That’s required of us if we want to avoid idolatry.
Music genre preferences are not what make Christians upset about worship services like North Coast Church’s. Anger at the lack of focus on worshiping God Himself, but rather on a sort of idolatry of our own personal experience and the praise of the church and its worship band, is what they’re thinking about. It’s not about our own pride and how we think things should be done. It’s about anger towards idolatry, which offends and insults God, and therefore offends and insults His people. Pretty sure there are a few Bible verses about idolatry, but hey, I’m no Biblical scholar ;).
Another great article that very eloquently explains the problem with such “showy” worship services as North Coast’s, which is based in Scripture, is here, and I highly recommend reading it if you still don’t see the problems that we have with most Christian worship services today.
So, I guess I would say that some of the sermon is contextual and Biblical (okay, most of it), but some of it is definitely the pastor veering into a territory of his own ideas and narrative, particularly in order to defend his own church’s excessively worldly worship services.
What’s at the heart of the sermon? What’s the main point and purpose of the message?
The heart of this sermon is exactly what the title describes: Who is your Jesus and how do you worship Him? Pastor Larry reads from Mark and then describes how five different groups of people saw Jesus at the time and how they worshiped Him, or didn't.
While I appreciate the message of giving grace to people in how they choose to worship God, since it points away from legalism and much more towards the graciousness of God, I can’t help but think that Mary’s form of adoration and worship for Christ in the book of Mark is being used to defend something I don’t find honorable toward God at all: North Coast’s worldly worship services.
When I say I appreciate the graciousness of the message, I really do. There are definitely Christians and churches that confine worship and judge others for failing to worship in the ways that they find to be acceptable. This kind of legalism that pastor Larry describes definitely exists and I love how in the sermon notes we’re encouraged to dig deeper into Scripture and think more about all the different ways which we can worship God.
The problem I find is his defense and argument for the kind of “extravagant” worship as he calls it, that his church practices in their worship services. When Mary used the most expensive perfume she had to pour on our Lord’s head, she was literally loving Him, directly. Her heart was completely focused on serving Him. She was preparing Him for His burial and showing Him her adoration.
Spending millions of dollars on band equipment and light shows and stages for those bands isn’t done out of adoration for God Himself or to God Himself, but out of pride, out of selfish, worldly desires for a great performance. For a show. For us. It’s to satisfy our own lusts of the flesh. The lust of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). It's to entertain people, and to attract more members. It's not really for God. It's for people.
What good does a big show really do for God? We are showing love for ourselves and our own comfort. Not God and honoring Him. Pastor Larry very well could have used this same argument to justify charging hundreds of dollars for church merchandise like Kanye West is doing, all with the excuse that he’s just “worshiping God extravagantly.”
Please. They're not the same thing. At all.
God doesn’t care about the outward appearance of things or the money we spend on “worshiping” Him. He cares about our hearts and where they are in relation to Him. Putting on a big show means nothing to a God who doesn’t have our hearts, and if our hearts are worshiping an experience, our own emotions, and the show, rather than God Himself, are our hearts really with Him? (Matthew 15:8-9)
Were you fed the Word of God, or the words of men?
This church does teach the Bible, I have to admit. The sermons are based on verse by verse studies through the Bible, and their sermon notes, as well as small group notes, allow them to dig even deeper into Scripture beyond the sermon afterward.
It wasn’t a meaty feeding of the Word, and the pastor did use it to try and defend his own ideas (which we don’t find Biblical) rather than stick to Scripture itself part of the time, but for the most part, this was a solid milk feeding of the Word.
All in all, while I disagree with his interpretation of Mary’s perfume washing of the Lord and what it means for us today, there’s no denying that this sermon was in the Word. It may not have been as substantive as I would have liked personally either, but for a church this size, it’s much more substantive than most churches with similar characteristics (like SMCC).
We couldn’t see any sign of political bias at this church, so we have them in the middle of the Political Scale.
There’s still too much information we’re missing for an accurate and full Grace Scale rating. But based on what we do know, this church seems to be slightly more on the gracious side. Until we find out where they stand on membership, tithing, sin discipline, and other legalistic practices, they will remain mostly in the middle, but a little more gracious overall.
Controversies & Scandals
We couldn’t find much at all in the way of controversy or scandals with North Coast Church, but we did find a Google review worth noting.
We’ll have to do more investigating to make sure what this woman claims is true, but it sounds like the church charges money for some of their groups. That would be another red flag of money serving, folks, and I really hope it’s not true.
While the sermon was in the Word, it wasn’t enough to outweigh the red flags of money serving at this church, and the fact that North Coast stonewalled our questions prevented us from learning vital information about them as well.
North Coast may have some awesome small groups and mostly biblical sermons, but due to the overwhelming display of materialism, the defense of that materialism by the cherry picking of Scripture, and the lust of the eyes being made the clear priority for how this church spends its money, there’s just no way we can recommend them. Or even sit on the fence.