Twenty-two years ago, the iconic leader and certainly the world’s best father-in-law brought his influence to bear upon a small crew of friends, inviting them to partner with the Holy Spirit and each other to do Godly work – to start and scale churches across North America, resourcing them with finance to reach people far from God. If that weren’t ambitious enough, his vision included that the best way to do this would be through a culture of fellowship – the same kind that banded those first-century believers together, making them a force that could not be contended with. It was then that the Association of Related Churches was founded from this cauldron that stewed heated by the flames of prayer, innovation, and passion. An endeavor like this would only be real with a bit of competition. The first people who would become the beta test of sorts would duke it out for years to come on who truly was ARC plant #1. Pastors Chris and Rick will likely not settle that one for years to come.
The six people that banded together – Pastor Billy Hornsby [now with Jesus], Pastor Scott Hornsby, Pastor Greg Surratt, Pastor Dino Rizzo, Pastor Chris Hodges, and Pastor Rick Bezet – were founders unified through friendship that galvanized more than just an organization to equip church planters. They started a family.
And, 1,077 church launches and counting later…
12,276 launch day salvations and counting later…
Seventy-one million dollars invested and counting later…
The bond that started in Louisiana – the gateway to all things good in sports, culinary, Cajun humor, and so much more – has become a portal for thousands of pastors and leaders to make their calling and election more sure, more certain, more systematic, and more effective.
Over the years, you’ve taught us what to do with troublemakers – providing us with training so that we’d be prepared and not delayed on the assignment given to us by our king. Rushing thousands of pastors with skinny jeans, wide-leg pants, high-top sneakers, boots, and jumpsuits, to scour cities for spaces to launch a life-giving church.
People with daddy issues, and marriage issues, and depression issues, issues with substances like alcohol were not canceled but nurtured here because the culture has been not to reject relatives.
These men and their wives steadied us when we toggled between belief and unbelief, like the guy in Mark 9 who had something that needed to be healed that he thought was impossible. You, sirs, have turned our “ifs” into “surelys” so that churches could be planted and new partners could be grafted in places like California, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida, Memphis, Iowa, Vermont, and God’s favorite place outside of Louisiana – Westchester County, New York.
Your steady leadership was a compass north during the pandemic. The genius of you, Pastor Chris, is so far-reaching. Your apostolic gift. Your love for the church. Your heart to teach and share systems and your ability to gather young leaders. Your vision that simply elevates everything you interface with. I mean, anybody that’s got better pipes than Gladys Knight is saying something. Would we even know who Tibideux and Boodreux are?
Or you, Pastor Scott, the ultimate encourager – good enough to talk to people in the lobby and point out what you like about a certain trucker hat [I appreciate what you said about mine yesterday]. But still, to this day, after 22 years, you go to EVERY ARC training so that young couples can see that longevity is possible. You, sir, are the embodiment of Paul’s words to his beloved Corinthians — an epistle seen and read of all men.
What can we say about you, Pastor Greg? If there were a metaphorical black light that could illuminate your influence on this organization, you’d see your fingerprints everywhere. Your trademark casual and influential leadership style, that is both winsome and filled with wisdom, is now migrating a little bit from you to day-to-day local church activities and ARC organizational stuff so that you can keep doing local church and pastoral work not only near the ebb and flow of a creek.
Pastor Rick, I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people like the one Chris Fisher and Irene Rollins talked about. Sometimes I muse on the saying being a “preacher’s preacher.” However, you are a “pastor’s pastor.” It’s something I want to be. It’s something you already are. Great buildings are assisted by scaffolds, and my have you kept so many great ministries from toppling and built a model church while building up leaders to pursue their dreams with your predictably upbeat vibe. I love watching the banter between you and PC – your friendship inspires us.
And Pastor Dino, a man who has personally been a mentor to me and my wife, who is your generosity comparable to? Who is your humor comparable to? I’ve watched you preach in all different contexts, even internationally, and I’ve never seen you miss or not make someone laugh. You have a servant-hearted ethos. And while literally everyone in this audience is your best friend – [the joke’s on them because you already told me that I was your favorite] – you’ve elevated a theology of friendship that I aspire to. Your boy is planning to do this and get on that PANEL CIRCUIT with you – we not out here playing games! It’s your vulnerability and transparency that have inspired us to do the same in our churches.Now young black men [like Brian Bullock], and semi-young black men [eh hem], no longer feel hidden but feel seen and deeply loved. You’ve allowed women who have often been overlooked and hidden to exert their leadership gifts without feeling second class. Latinos and Latinas are welcome here to bring their beautiful contributions. Asians are now represented here along with our Indian brothers and sisters. Because of you, we remain confident in our calling and faithful to our spaces. Whether we have TV screens or LED screens, portable or permanent venues – your work now makes us have less anxiety, manageable stress, and sometimes unmanageable pressure, but we have a template today because you guys became the font for obedience and longevity and character.
For me, you gave 7 minutes that changed my life.
A mentor in Pierre and Marlize DuPlessis literally saved my ministry. My pastors, John and Leslie Siebeling, and my colleagues at The Life Church – [now I have siblings in DC, Massachusetts, Santiago, and Italy] – that have infused our ministry and mine and my wife’s sense of purpose with adrenaline because of their apostolic gifting. And hundreds of friends that text me, give me nice comments on IG that are sometimes like an epi-pen of encouragement on those days when you want to jump off a bridge (or, like Pastor Greg says, “go home and just watch a violent movie”). I thank you. It’d be one thing to bask in the periphery of you giants, but thank you for giving us accessibility.
We thank God for a father in law who helped some friends become founders and founders who began a family. While today is not the finale of that good work that started 22 years ago – it feels like a fresh wind blowing through this year’s edition of our reunion. You’ve been honored individually (like last night’s masterful job by Stephen Chandler), but this is the first time in the history of the ARC Conference that we get the opportunity to honor you collectively. We honor and recognize our founders – the OG’s and some of the best to ever do it!
Since 2000, ARC has helped to plant more than 1,000 worldwide. If you have a dream in your heart to start a life-giving church and reach your city with the message of Jesus, ARC is here to come alongside you in the journey. Attending ARC Launch, a church planter training event, is the first step in planting a church with ARC. You will hear from ARC pastors, coaches, and staff as they share the nuts and bolts of church planting.
Wayne Francis and his wife Claudene are the lead pastors of the New York Metro location of The Life Church. They have two beautiful teenage daughters, Haleigh and Ryleigh, and love serving together as a family.