In the fall of 2000, the six founding members of ARC gathered on several occasions to talk about a dream – the dream to resource a new generation of church planters to start churches across the U.S. The hope was for those churches to be relationally connected in some way, and a name was picked to mirror that hope – the Association of Related Churches, or ARC.
Two of the founders were about to plant a church – one in Conway, Arkansas and one in Birmingham, Alabama. Another founder pastored a church that was willing to invest “seed” money into those two plants. Another pastored a church that gave toward the equipment needs for those two start-up churches. Another founder was known for building systems and teams. He was picked to be the leader for the fledgling ARC organization.
Back then, church plants were not overly successful in the broader church world. Everyone acknowledged the importance of the call of God and being theologically trained. Still, three things seemed to be missing to help new churches succeed: the practical training in how to get it started, the financial resources needed to get it off the ground, and a relational component that provided an environment for healthy ministry. The founders of ARC wanted to address those needs, and they wanted future churches to be life-giving and focused on reaching unchurched people.
That was the dream. It was a big dream with a small team and some initial seed money to get it started. Outside of that, there was no conference to kick it off, no headquarters to meet in, and no people contributing. There was nothing visible for the eye to see, but the dream of ARC was born.
A Decision Point
One of the first orders of business was structure. ARC needed to be incorporated as a non-profit, which included filing the Articles of Incorporation, the Constitution, and Bylaws. These documents required the founders to clarify exactly what the structure for ARC would be and what ARC’s role would be with future churches – those that would be planted and those that chose to contribute towards ARC’s mission of planting churches. Whatever was decided would be locked in going forward.
It was decided at that point that ARC would not be a denomination. That decision meant that all churches planted through ARC would be completely and totally autonomous – operationally, financially, and governmentally. It meant that ARC would not be involved in any accountability or oversight structure. The church planters would not be employees or agents of ARC, but rather employees of the churches they pastored. ARC would not attempt to steer the churches into one common thought, such as issuing directives on what a church should promote doctrinally, philosophically, ministerially, or politically. Once a church was planted, it would not answer to ARC in any way. Instead, each local church’s accountability structure was determined by pastors and leaders connected to that local church, and not by administrators of the ARC organization. This allowed a pastor to lead the church well while having structure and accountability.
The Plan for Addressing Issues
Fast forward to today, ARC has seen more than one thousand churches planted. For the couple starting a church through ARC, there is a significant vetting process, including background and reference checks, credit reports, and multiple evaluations to determine if the couple is genuinely ready both in character and in preparation. There are no fool-proof systems for vetting couples, but the team works hard in every aspect of the assessment process.
Training is important. Each year, ARC adds additional layers of training to better prepare the planter in government compliance, legal and business issues, and HR matters, including anti-harassment training. There are multiple requirements and milestones for the planter to complete. One of those include establishing an accountability structure for the new church. ARC has no input in who would be involved in that structure and has no say if that structure one day morphs into something different.
ARC has many churches that relate to us, either as a church planted through ARC or as a church that invests in the mission of ARC financially. Occasionally, we hear of a pastor or a church that has a failure in leadership. It is heartbreaking to hear because of the pain it causes and the integrity that is compromised. Most often, that church will have overseers in place – pastors connected to that local church, who work with the pastor, the church board, and legal counsel to bring correction, healing, and help to those who were hurt. This rarely makes the news, but the difficult work is methodically carried out. Sometimes ARC is asked to engage in that process, but ARC has no authority to address any situation in a local church. That is made clear both in that local church’s bylaws and in ARC’s bylaws established years ago.
The Role of the Family within ARC
The relationships within ARC function like an extended family and getting together is like a big family reunion. Most come to a conference or event to reconnect and renew friendships. Some attend because they’re needing help or direction in their church. Some arrive at an event exhausted, empty, and discouraged from serving so much without a break. Those in the ARC family work hard to serve one another. They reach out in love to help those who are hurting. This makes us different than a corporate organization because we operate like a family. That is a family of relationships that the founders dreamed might one day exist. Relationships that not only work to help the church be healthy and full of integrity but will also join others in spreading the Gospel to see a life-giving church in every community of the world.