THE CHURCH NEVER CLOSES
An interview with ARC Executive Director, Dino Rizzo
We sat down with Dino Rizzo to talk about the issues and challenges facing our world today. What is the Church’s role, how do we respond, and where do we go from here? Pastor Dino shares his heart for how the Church is continuing to move forward, and how the vision of ARC has never been more important.
How do you feel about the term “the new normal?”
I hear a lot about this “new normal.” There’s a new normal for families. There’s a new normal for work and for school. But I don’t know if there is a new normal for church. I think the Church has always been resilient. The Church is a body, an organism. It’s constantly changing, adapting, and growing. You cannot hold the Church down. No matter what the Church has faced, for centuries it has always prevailed.
Jesus says in Matthew 16:18, “I will build My Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” I believe this with all my heart. The Church will continue to be alive and healthy. The Church will continue to grow because Jesus is the Head. Nobody expected any of this to take place, but there is One who is not surprised. I am assured that no matter where the wind and the waves and the storms direct us, He knows where He is going. There will be uncertainty in our lives, but I am certain that God is in control.
A lot of pastors have told us that church feels like it did in the early days. A lot of them are simplifying their focus. What should the church be focusing on?
I love that everyone is a little bit of a church planter right now. You’re either relaunching, regathering, reopening, or reintroducing the church in some way. It’s a lot of change. John Maxwell says, “Change doesn’t produce growth, but growth requires change.” A lot of things are different right now, but I love how so many leaders have returned to their roots. I’ve been encouraged by the innovation of many church planters and pastors. We have become very organic. He has called us to reach people, win the lost, and see healing take place in people’s lives.
Many regions are not able to gather in person yet. How do we continue to be creative and adapt?
Normally you can run the play and it works. You may have to contextualize it to your location—a small town, a rural community, the Northwest, or New England, but the methods and routines are proven. Now everyone’s routines are different depending on state or county mandates, which are changing continuously. The disruption and constant change has made leadership challenging for us and for church planters and pastors.
I am learning to stay fluid. The churches I’m seeing that are continuing to make an impact and bring transformation to their communities are staying fluid and adapting weekly, or even daily, to new mandates. You cannot change what the government is going to decide. What has God told you to do? We have to keep people safe and healthy, but let’s continue moving forward and reaching hurting people.
Why is gathering together so important? Should we be concerned about the numbers?
We should always be concerned about numbers because every click, every watch, every attendance, every kid at check-in, and every student ministry engagement is a person. Every person has his own story and his own struggle. We need to make sure people are connecting with the message.
Gathering together has always been important for the Body of Christ. There is something unique about being together with God’s people. There is nothing like a local church family. There’s nothing like being in relationship with other believers. I believe with all my heart that people will come back to church. It may take some effort, and they may return slowly at first. Meanwhile, we need to do everything we can to make sure our messaging connects with people right now, wherever they are. Even if we’re helping people digitally, we’re still the Church.
What are you hearing from other pastors right now? What do we do with our fears and concerns?
Most of the fears and concerns I’m hearing from pastors and leaders relate to the uncertain times ahead of us. I remind them that this is not the first time the Church has faced uncertainty, and that we know what God has called us to do.
What has He put on the inside of you? Each of us bleeds a certain something when we are cut. When DeLynn and I pastored, we bled outreach. At the end of the day when we didn’t know what to do, we went back to outreach. In these uncertain times we need to go back to our strengths, to our God-given gifts. What were you born to do? What do you bleed? It could be serving people, worship, prayer, teaching the word of God, raising up leaders, or ministering to families. When you don’t know what to do, go back to that. Bobbie Houston says it best: “When you don’t know what to do, love the people.”
Unity is one of our values at ARC. When it comes to conversations about racism, diversity, and unity, what is the Church’s responsibility?
I don’t think there is anything more important to the Church than proclaiming the Gospel to all people. That includes people who are like us and people who are different from us. The Church must make it a priority to get the Gospel to all people. That is the heartbeat of ARC.
Let’s lean in and listen. Let’s learn, adjust, and change. Let’s look at the things we’re doing and make sure there are no hurdles or obstacles keeping us from reaching all people.
ARC includes some amazing, diverse churches that are making a difference right now. I am so proud of those churches. Let’s learn from them. What do we need to do? How can we be better? What conversations can we have? What connections can we make? We want our churches to look like heaven, full of every background, skin tone, accent, and style.
Mental health is another topic on many people’s minds right now. How can the Church break the stigma around the concept of mental health?
People are dealing with anxiety, depression, loneliness, and mood swings at a rampant pace right now. Even in more normal times, the stress of finances, parenting, employment, culture and media, and life in general comes at all of us in ever greater measure. I am thankful the Church is talking about mental health and that we at ARC are having these conversations. We’ve gathered professionals, some of the best in the world, to help people with mental health struggles. We want to be in those conversations. We want to serve, support, and remove the stigma. We want to help the hurting find healing.
What will church planting look like for ARC this fall and next year?
Our methods will look different, but the message is sacred. Some churches will be launching in-person this fall, and many will be launching online. Some cities are limiting the number of people who can gather at one time, so instead of launching in one location, a new church may launch in five locations. Some are launching based around small groups. A lot of churches are finding new locations and venues we never before considered, like retail spaces, multi-use spaces, and pop-ups. All the new launches are continuing with interest parties (either in-person or online), gathering teams, and casting vision.
As an organization, ARC is finding new ways to come alongside church planters to offer training, provide resources to couples, and share ideas. I am proud of how our team and the church planters have been able to get creative, try new things, and push forward. Each of these churches is uniquely equipped to reach its community.
Dino Rizzo serves as the Executive Director of ARC and on the Senior Leadership Team at Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Alabama. Dino and his wife DeLynn have more than 35 years of ministry experience. Their heart to be the hands and feet of Jesus is evident in everything they do. Dino began the Servolution movement, which has evolved into thousands of churches participating in Serve Day each year. He has written multiple books, including Servolution and Serve Your City. In 2000, Dino and five other pastors co-founded the Association of Related Churches (ARC). With a vision to see a thriving church in every community, reaching people with the message of Jesus, ARC has helped plant over 900 churches since it began.