Although Greg Surratt didn't start out with many specifics in mind, his vision of starting 2,000 churches has created one of the most fruitful church-planting networks in the nation.
The Association of Related Churches (ARC) numbers more than 400 affiliates today, with partnering congregations giving up to 2 percent of their annual offerings to fund the cause.
Last year, that generated $3 million in funding for ARC, which provides grants of up to $50,000 to help launch new churches. If needed, the association provides an additional $20,000 of support to a new church for the first six months. It also offers coaching and other church-planting resources.
The network planted nearly 75 churches last year. Although it is only one-fifth of the way toward the fulfillment of its vision of 2,000 congregations planted, ARC still hopes to reach its goal by 2020, says Operations Director Michael Smith.
In addition to church plants in the U.S., ARC maintains initiatives in Ireland and in one other undisclosed location.
"We've planted less than 10 so far," Smith says of its overseas work. "But our goal has really been more about building relationships with existing networks to share our launch model."
Many churches sponsored by ARC are independent, but a number maintain some level of relationship with an existing network or denomination. The association, though free of any direct ties, has close relationships with a number of denominations.
Surratt, pastor of the multisite Seacoast Church in Charleston, S.C., says that ARC's methods have changed over the years, though its original vision has remained intact. When the association formed, its selection process revolved around relationships. Today, he says, the organization more easily recognizes God-given abilities in church planters and is able to train them for maximum kingdom impact.
"Any of the 12 to 15 people on the lead team could lead it right now," says Surratt, who replaced the late Billy Hornsby as president two years ago. "I am currently the president, not because I am the most talented or gifted person for the job, but mainly because the other guys felt that I was at a station in life where I could take on more responsibility. The ARC is the most collaborative organization I have ever been associated with."
The association's decentralized process helped it withstand the shock of losing Hornsby, who died in March 2011 after a diagnosis of terminal cancer the previous autumn. Hornsby, the former teaching pastor of Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Ala., had joined with Surratt and four other pastors to form the organization.
The fledging network provided $25,000 and a pledge of monthly support to Rick Bezet and Chris Hodges, pastors from Bethany World Prayer Center, to plant churches in Little Rock, Ark., and Birmingham, Ala., respectively. The funds gave Bezet and Hodges the confidence they needed to start their churches, and both have since blossomed into megachurches.
Author and church planter Ed Stetzer calls ARC one of the most influential of the emerging networks, with a reputation that exceeds its primary reputation for church planting.
"It's more than that," says the president of LifeWay Research, who pastors a two-year-old church plant near Nashville, Tenn. "It is a community of churches and pastors that have a passion for life-giving churches and ministries. My prediction is that it will continue to grow in influence." —Ken Walker