Gayle Bennett | The Association of Related Churches | Birmingham, AL
My history with ARC is intricately tied to a precious couple: Billy and Charlene Hornsby, whose love for Jesus and people fueled their constant ministry.
I began working for Billy in the winter of 1993. He had been asked to spearhead the new “Cell-Church” initiative at Bethany World Prayer Center in Baker, Louisiana, and needed an assistant to help him with all the details. I had no idea the awesome years the Lord had in store for me!
“Brother Billy,” as he was known at Bethany, was always working on ways to teach others from his extensive knowledge of the Bible, leadership and church growth. His heart was to help “the little guy”- the pastor or leader that was out there all alone, needing encouragement and answers to his personal and ministry challenges. Billy began networking these pastors, introducing them to each other, to new life-giving ideas and offering them resources to help grow their churches. I’ll never forget his Team Management Seminar nicknamed the “Helpim Buk, Inc.” His goal was always to “Helpim” make the dream in “his” heart come true!
At all times, Charlene was the steady, sweet and godly wife that served and loved him and all those that were blessed to know her. I’ve never met a kinder soul. She was the perfect helper for Billy, the one he relied on and trusted completely. As he mentored and was a friend and father to countless men, she served and took care of the steady stream of visitors that he brought through their front door. Charlene was the perfect hostess. She greeted guests with her beautiful smile, along with a fresh “cuppa” coffee and snack, all tastefully presented on a tray adorned with fresh flowers!
In the mid-90’s Billy created the Bethany Cell Church Network and I believe that his deliberate gathering of pastors and churches into a network was the seed of what would become ARC. He traveled the USA extensively holding BCCN regional training meetings of pastors. It was during this time that he visited Seacoast and met Pastor Greg Surratt.
During the year 2000, Billy and Greg strategized (as the story goes…on a golf course) how they could help young couples fulfill their dream of launching a new church. Their heart, and ARC’s DNA, was to help them with the training, resources and encouragement they would need to “start strong.” Through the years Billy had met many that did not receive the appropriate backing from their home churches once they shared their call to launch a new church. So they planned on how to help them make their dream come true by providing the relationships and resourcing they so desperately needed up front to “launch strong.”
On October 27th and 28th of that year Billy and Greg, along with Scott Hornsby, Chris Hodges, Dino Rizzo and Rick Bezet, met together at Pastor Scott’s Fellowship Church in Clinton, Louisiana, to brainstorm the establishment of what is now known as The Association of Related Churches. I was also privileged to be there to take the minutes of those two foundational meetings. The first words spoken at the first meeting were by Billy. He said: ‘God spoke to me: “All that you will do for ME is what you will do for people.”’
ARC officially began as an organization on November 1, 2000. Pastor Greg Surratt funded the project and was the Vice-Chairman, Billy was the Chairman and I was his assistant. For the next few years ARC’s office would be located in a room in my home. I smile to think about the times salespeople would ask to “come by the office” and I had to make excuses for why that wasn’t possible. In 2009, Billy asked my husband Ronnie to move to Birmingham and come on staff to help with the financial side of ARC. We made the transition and have not looked back!
It took several years for the idea of ARC to transform into the dynamic organization we see today. The Lead Team, organized and headed by Billy, truly had to “invent the ARC wheel.” Through the years, the processes morphed, getting better and more refined. They have become those we see in place today that help launch and equip couples from around the country that come through ARC’s training and assessment. The church planters are then connected to each other and partner pastors of churches that fund their dreams.
Even early on, I remember hearing a young pastor who had suffered a great deal launching his new church remark after attending his first ARC Conference, that he would rather have launched “the ARC way” instead of “the hard way,” as he described his experience. How many couples are grateful to this day for “the ARC way” of church planting!
In the fall of 2010, Billy was diagnosed with cancer and on March 23, 2011, he went to be with the Lord. In July of 2012, Charlene also joined him after a long battle with cancer. Their family and the family of ARC were deeply saddened at the overwhelming loss of this incredible couple. Their guidance and friendship enriched and changed forever so many of our lives. They left a great legacy of godliness, love and honor for their family, countless pastors, church leaders and friends the world over.
It has been amazing to see what the Lord has done through ARC since our humble beginnings late in 2000! He has formed and shaped it from the inside out: from the hearts of our leaders, our staff, our partners and planters, out into our world where “we plant life.” I know Billy and Charlene see from Heaven and rejoice at the Harvest coming in!