Infinite growth, invariable expansion
At the nation’s premier multisite church, two financing needs take precedence above all: flexibility and simplicity
By RaeAnn Slaybaugh
North Coast Church in Vista, Calif., is one of the 20 largest churches in the United States. It also consistently ranks among the country’s fastest-growing, most influential churches.
But it all started humbly — as so many massive churches do — as a home Bible Study, in 1976.
In September 1980, Larry Osborne was called to become North Coast’s second senior pastor. At the time, 128 adults and children gathered in the Carlsbad High School Cafeteria for the first Sunday service sermon.
Fast-forward to 2020, and North Coast Church is welcoming more than 13,000 individuals across nine locations, for a total of 57 worship services.
This level of growth and expansion required really flexible funding solutions — something Osborne can (and does) attest to personally, having headed up the church’s finances for nearly four decades.
In 2019, Larry Osborne moved into his current role at the church — as teaching pastor and Kingdom Ambassador — after the church’s third senior pastor, Chris Brown, came onboard. From the start, Osborne couldn’t possibly foresee the incredible growth the church would enjoy. It all started with a leap of faith.
When Osborne came to North Coast Church, he was a 28-year-old first-time pastor. His wife, Nancy, was just 24.
“There weren’t many churches willing to take a chance on such a young pastor,” he recalls. “But there was a small group of adults our first Sunday who were, and it’s been an amazing ride ever since.”
Perhaps part of what those Bible study participants saw in Osborne was an innate aptitude for finance. “I’ve always had kind of a weird, natural understanding of finances — at least for a so-called ‘giga-church’ pastor,” Osborne says. “So, it just made sense for me to step in and take that overarching role over values, visions, and some of the larger financial decisions.”
This financial prowess which provided him with the foresight to establish a solid controller and stable financial systems, early on. Both have made managing his daily duties infinitely easier, even while Osborne had so much else on his plate as senior pastor.
In addition to Osborne’s 40-plus years of leadership, Chris Brown has now served as a teaching and senior pastor for more than 17 years.
Prophetically, this commitment to establishing stable top-level leadership and staff structures would prove instrumental in honing the church’s most recognizable legacy: pioneering the multisite church model. Thanks to amazing “bench strength,” North Coast is widely regarded as a key national and international influencer in the widespread adoption of various innovative ministry models. It is one of the first churches in the country to launch video venues, multiple campuses, shared pulpits, sermon-based small groups, and massive community service projects.
In fact, as Kingdom Ambassador — Osborne’s new role at North Coast — his focus in now on working with churches and pastors all across the country as a mentor and coach.
Flexible funding is a priority
Of course, such rapid, large-scale expansion calls for flexible funding solutions.
The church’s search for optimal lending / banking partners has been ever-evolving, with its needs adapting as it expands its physical reach. Suffice it to say, North Coast leaders needed a lot more than a “loan shop.”
Their relationship with one lender, Bank of the West Religious Institution Banking, began more than 20 years ago. The bank’s director and regional relationship manager, Phil L. Brown, made the first contact when he called on then-pastor Larry Osborne and Business Administrator Stan Johnson.
Brown again met with North Coast leaders in 2013 to discuss financing for a satellite location they were considering purchasing. At the time, the church owed $30 million and was looking for another $4 million.
“We put out a proposal, and although we didn’t win the deal, our $34-million proposal — without any participants being required — was an indication of our strong commitment to the religious arena and our confidence in the church’s mission and their talented management team,” Brown recalls.
Not surprisingly, then, Bank of the West one of the top choices when North Coast leaders put out a request for proposal in 2021. Like many borrowers at the time, they were looking to refinance debt to take advantage of record-low interest rates.
But that wasn’t all — the leadership team required a church-friendly financing partner, at minimum. The right lender would need to possess more than just familiarity with church operations, but a deep understanding of the needs of a rapidly expanding, pioneering multisite church.
Indeed, North Coast Church was the first church in the country to adopt the video venue concept. Rather than building a mega-sanctuary at one location, the management team opts to buy and / or lease satellite locations and replicate itself in strategic locations. As such, North Coast leaders need a lender that will come alongside them as a partner in their mission to add satellite locations and help them expand their ministry — not just once, but for years to come.
Proposals were requested from several lenders. After several meetings to better assess the church’s needs, Brown issued a comprehensive banking relationship proposal.
“The total loan commitment was of a size that most lenders wouldn’t consider without a participant — $40 million,” he recalls. “But the church management’s team wanted to deal with just one bank, rather than several participants.”
That requirement alone disqualified several lenders. However, Bank of the West’s offering included a unique property acquisition / capital improvement financing facility that set their offer apart, this put them over the top.
They were looking for flexibility and, primarily, the ability to move very quickly to acquire additional funds without having to jump through too many hoops.
As Brown explains, this facility product is specifically designed for clients, like North Coast, that are looking to expand via satellite locations and / or have multi-phase improvement/renovation projects. In essence, this gives North Coast the comfort of having in place a sizeable pre-approved line of credit which can be used should an attractive satellite location become available or a church acquisition opportunity present itself.
“As a church, we’ve historically lived below our means, so we’ve had retained earnings and the ability to deal with financial things easily,” Osborne points out. “But when it comes to large acquisitions for a multisite church, you’re dealing with developers and other people who aren’t going to be pushing a ‘pause’ button while we go out and get approval, acquire funding, and do everything else that a church must do.”
In most cases, Osborne and his team were looking at substantial investments — buildings from 15,000 to 30,000 square feet — to launch a campus.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT
NORTH COAST CHURCH
Year established: 1978
Location of main campus: Vista, Calif.
Number of locations: 9
Staff (full- and part-time): 133 / 233 + 50 in childcare
Combined weekly attendance: 13,000
2021 budget: $27 million
“That means we need the ability to jump,” he adds. “You never know when those opportunities are going to come; they just show up. We needed the flexibility to take advantage of those opportunities without taking out a huge loan, just to have a huge loan.”
“It was essential that our financing partner understand our unique need for guaranteed availability and quick accessibility to significant capital at a preset price,” Osborne continues. “In other words, we needed high borrowing capacity without having to restart the process every time or having to borrow it at all ahead of time and pay interest on it.”
Other essential elements
Perhaps just as important to North Coast leaders is a five-year draw-down period included in the facility provided by Bank of the West. “This is truly unique in the lending arena and offered them the flexibility they were seeking,” Brown explains. “It was one of the main reasons they chose us as a financial partner.”
Moreover, the facility includes deposit accounts, treasury management solutions, and a corporate credit card facility. All these elements spoke to the church’s overarching need for simplicity in its banking and financial activities.
While Osborne says the church doesn’t take advantage of the corporate credit card facility, having it available — in the same place as checking and savings accounts — is beneficial.
Additionally, treasury management makes depositing, moving and wiring funds quick and easy.
“Beyond this, it’s helpful to deal with the same people across the board,” Osborne points out. “The working relationship has been excellent. Avoiding overly bureaucratic covenants was key, for us. That has been significant in keeping our flexibility intact.”