Question: "What is the Association of Related Churches (ARC)?"
Answer: The Association of Related Churches (ARC) is a church-planting organization based in the United States with branches around the world. The nondenominational organization has planted over six hundred churches while partnering with hundreds more.
ARC’s strategy lies in starting big by offering church planters funds and support to launch large initial gatherings. Through the support of ARC, church planters are given training and resources to launch new churches successfully.
The Association of Related Churches began in the year 2000, founded by six pastors. According to their website, the venture began when pastor Greg Surratt of Seacoast Church in Charleston, South Carolina, told his congregation that he felt they were supposed to plant two thousand churches. Surratt, however, did not possess the knowledge of how to do so.
Meanwhile, church planter Billy Hornsby had been in ministry since 1975. Hornsby possessed significant experience in church planting, having worked with churches across Europe, then returning to Louisiana to serve as a pastor at Bethany World Prayer Center, where he launched hundreds of small groups and trained churches in cell church ministry.
Hornsby considered Surratt’s church a good model to be emulated. Thus, when Rick Bezet and Chris Hodges of Bethany World Prayer Center set out to plant churches and needed both funds and a workable model, connections were made. Surratt offered Bezet and Hodges each $25,000 and any money they might need to meet their budgets for the first year. The two planted their churches in February of 2001.
As part of the church-planting strategy, these two churches were instructed to recycle the same amount of funds used to plant their churches and use it to plant new churches, starting a chain reaction of churches funding churches.
Greg Surratt, Billy Hornsby, Rick Bezet, and Chris Hodges were joined by Dino Rizzo and Scott Hornsby to become the six founders of the Association of Related Churches. Billy Hornsby headed the organization as president from 2001 until his death in 2011.
ARC grew exponentially over its first decade, from only a few churches planted a year in the early 2000s, to twenty-five in 2008, to an average of fifty by 2009.
Surratt took over as president of the Association of Related Churches in 2012, and the Billy Hornsby Center for Church Planting opened in 2015 as ARC’s base for recruiting, interviewing, and training church planters for ARC’s global ministry.
As a nondenominational church-planting organization, ARC does not outline a complex doctrinal statement. The Statement of Faith is short and to the point, largely focusing on the contents of the Nicene Creed and the inerrancy of Scripture, with an added section on the necessity of monogamous heterosexual marriage and the existence of only two genders. The Statement of Faith does not address baptism, women in leadership, communion, predestination, or many other denominational divides.
The Association of Related Churches does not claim leadership over its church plants. As of 2021, the home page of ARC’s website states, “New church plants and existing churches that partner with ARC in planting churches are legally autonomous, independently led, separately operated, and solely accountable to their leadership, independent of the ARC organization.”
Today, the Association of Related Churches continues to grow and plant more churches. ARC provides significant resources and training for both church plants and existing churches. ARC Global equips global church plants, and ARC Women exists to assist women in ministry and pastors’ wives.
The methodology of the Association of Related Churches in many ways breaks the mold of church planting. Traditionally, church planters start small, with a group meeting in their living room or other small space, and then seek to grow. The ARC approach is to start big, with plenty of funding and other resources, with the idea that the instant momentum will help the church sustain itself.
The general nature of the ARC statement of faith may be problematic. But each church is unique, and each one needs to be examined on its own merits. For anyone who is searching for a home church, here are five principles to follow:
1) Choose a church where the Bible is taught rightly and thoroughly (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
2) Choose a church where Jesus Christ is exalted and the gospel is primary.
3) Choose a church where the people strive to love and serve one another.
4) Choose a church where the pastor is genuine and loves his people.
5) Seek God’s wisdom (James 1:5) and will in prayer.