One Sunday morning last year, greeters waved and held signs saying “You Belong Here” and “You Can Sit With Us” to welcome cars pulling up to SOCO Church, which meets in an event space in downtown Bentonville, Arkansas.
The worship band led the congregation in Hillsong’s “O Praise the Name” before a plaid-clad pastor in clear-framed glasses took the stage to preach. By the time the greeters returned to the sidewalks with their “See You Next Week” signs, 627 people had attended back-to-back services, and 14 of them made decisions for Christ.
All on their first Sunday as a church.
“I remember just weeping,” said Brad Hampton, who copastors SOCO (short for “souls” and “community”) with his wife, Jessica. “God is so faithful.”
Their year-and-a-half-old congregation belongs to the Association of Related Churches (ARC), a nondenominational church-planting network known for training planters to go big. Through starting more than 800 churches in the US over nearly 20 years, ARC leaders discovered that a large gathering on their first Sunday is a major factor helping churches become more sustainable in the long run.
ARC has leveraged its church planting expertise to come up with a playbook on how to successfully start a new church. And pastors aren’t expected to go it alone; the network relies on recent planters to coach the next round.
“Twenty years ago, you started a church in your house and you preached it up until you got enough people and enough money to go to a building,” said Josh Roberie, who oversees training and coaching for ARC. “We have a launch large strategy. You make the first day like an opening day.” ...1