An AVAIL Conversation: Dino Rizzo on church-planting secrets, serving your community and why you should calm down


AVAIL Media Host, Virgil Sierra, recently sat down with Dino Rizzo for the AVAIL Podcast. With 35 years of ministry experience and 20 years of planting and pastoring a megachurch, Dino is the executive director of the Association of Related Churches (ARC), a global family of church and business leaders that exists to see a thriving church in every community reaching people with the message of Jesus. Dino is also a staff pastor at Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Alabama, and the author of several books, including Servolution: Starting a Church Revolution Through Serving and Serve Your City: How to Do It and Why It Matters. To listen to the entire conversation—and others like it—subscribe to the AVAIL Podcast.

AVAIL: Tell us a little bit about Dino Rizzo.

Dino Rizzo: I was raised a good old Italian Catholic. I was not raised at church. I was raised in a little community called Myrtle Beach, South Carolina—raised on the beach. I was reached through outreach at church, and it really impacted my life. It was a real deal. They listened, we had a great conversation, and it appealed to me. And through that outreach, I gave my life to Christ, got involved with the local church, had a great first pastor—thank God for all the pastors that are part of this—and the team and good staff.

They spent time with me, and they walked me through things, and then I was able to go to Bible college, ended up doing a lot of youth ministry. I loved that and thought I was going to do that rest of my life but ended up planting a church—my wife and I—in 1993 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, called The Healing Place.

I served there 20 years, we stepped down from our church in 2012 and went through a time of restoration and ended up in Birmingham with Chris Hodges, pastor of Church of the Highlands. And we’re just loving our life. My wife DeLynn and I have been married 33 years, got three children and still teach at churches about outreach. So, we’re having a great time.

AVAIL: Can you tell us about the vision of ARC?

Dino Rizzo: ARC was started 20 years ago with a vision that Greg Surratt, pastor of Seacoast Church, and Billy Hornsby had to plant churches. What would it look like if we resourced a couple who had a dream in their heart—like you and me. I started church when there was no ARC. There are other great church planting organizations, but I didn’t know any.

The first two churches we launched were Church of the Highlands, pastored by Chris Hodges, and New Life Church, pastored by Rick Bezet. Since then we've launched 994 churches together. Again, there’s some great church planting organizations, there's some great networks and vibes and flows of tribes. We feel like that God’s gifted us to launch churches and then to create relationships for those couples and those teams so that they can thrive in the community that they’re in.

AVAIL: What would you say are some of the leadership skills and qualities that ARC is really focused on or encouraging in the church planting process?

Dino Rizzo: There are the solid principles of leadership—character, hard work, honesty, sticking to it, being resilient, being stable, making sure you’re grounded in those things that are important—whether it’s that theology or that truth or that value. There’s the care that never changes. We care for people. Then there’s the ability to be flexible and to be able to have a bit of elasticity to your ideas, cause they’re going to have to breathe.

AVAIL: I know that ARC church plants have a really high percentage that persevere and make it. It’s clear, not every church is created equal. Why would you say that some church plants are more successful than others, or some make it in some don’t?

Dino Rizzo: That’s a hard question, and you know it, because you’ve done it. It’s leadership. It’s culture, it’s hard work, it’s being able to connect with people, it’s telling your story, it’s location, it’s a theme, it’s an experience. I mean, all those things are factors. But, you know, I think too, it kind of boils down to calling. There’s a God factor that I will never understand. There have been some people that we said ‘no’ to that went and planted a great church. There have been some people who we said, ‘Yes, they’re going to plant a crazy good church.’ And two years later they closed.

Rick Warren said it this way: that we don’t make the wave. God sends the wave. We need to learn how to ride the wave, based on our context. God’s going to send it, and not every wave is the same size or rides the same way. But Lord, help me to have the skill, the balance, the risk to ride the wave that God almighty has assigned. And how about this? And help me to quit looking at everybody else’s wave and the way everybody else is riding their wave and to pay attention to my wave. That's a big difference.

AVAIL: I know that you’re very passionate as well about serving, and you’ve written some books on this topic. Can you tell us a little bit about your books and also why you're so passionate about starting a “servolution”?

Dino Rizzo: It’s because I was reached through outreach. I was a person who would never have made a move toward church. I wasn’t wicked and full the devil. I just didn't know. We worked the weekends. We were in tourism business. So the church made a move toward me. There are zillions of people that will not make a move to the church, and so we make the first move. That's outreach, engaging your community, loving your neighbors, being hospitable. Outreach is about noticing a need, noticing a pain, noticing the suffering and what can we do to come alongside of that.

How do we empower the church and leaders to realize that there are all kinds of people all around them that are waiting for someone to be the hands and feet of Jesus? Then it’s just small steps. It doesn’t take a lot of money. It doesn’t take a thousand people. My first outreach was with me and another guy. We went out and gave some flowers to a couple of widows that we knew about. Then we had a dinner and six other widows that we brought flowers to. Then, at Christmas, we did a lunch for those widows and did a Christmas party. Nineteen years later, we had 306 widows at a Christmas party, but it started with a small, tiny outreach. I spent $16 on those flowers, the first outreach God provided. So, get started, do something. I just want to say this last thing: You could grow your church through outreach. I have seen it all over the world. You can grow a church by reaching your community.

AVAIL: What’s a big pain point that you’re seeing right now in this season?

Dino Rizzo: I think marriages are struggling. I think it’s hard to raise kids right now. Raising teenagers. There’s nothing more important than the people who bear your last name. Nothing impacts you like the people who bear your last name. So, my heart goes out to anybody struggling like that. But there’s hope. I’ve been through things in my marriage. I've been through things with my kids.

AVAIL: So, if you had a group of a couple of hundred church planters—young church leaders in front of you—and you had to give them one tip, what would it be?

Dino Rizzo: Calm down, calm down. It’s okay. God is big. It’s going to be okay. Quick binging it on your phone. Get off that social media. Calm down and love people. It’s going to all turn out OK. We are a worked-up world. God is good, and we’re going to be OK.

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