How a Cancellation Becomes a Win

Friday night was an amazing night for Awaken Church! That’s weird to say when we had to cancel Movies in the Park, the biggest community outreach event we do all year.

All week, we knew there was a chance for rain and thunderstorms on Friday night. But, that’s pretty much every night in the Spring and Summer in Columbia, so everything went forward as planned.

Our crew began setting up for the event at 3:30pm. The weather was perfect, we had a ton of volunteers, and everything was rolling along very well. By the time the gates officially opened, we already had 600 people at the park for the event. 30 minutes later when I welcomed everyone and introduced our sponsors, 2100 people were at the park. Awesome!

It was incredible to see how well our teams served those in attendance. Red shirts were everywhere and doing everything from serving drinks and popcorn, to welcoming, to parking…even spraying bug spray for those who needed it. The best part was to see how much fun our teams were having while they served.

Then, 5 minutes before we started the movie, I get a weather statement on my phone saying a Severe Thunderstorm Warning has been issued for our area. We check the radar and sure enough, a massive storm is on its way with high winds, large hail, heavy rain, and lots of lightning. We could see the clouds and lightning in the distance, the wind was picking up, and the temperature was dropping. Not good!

I had no choice but to call off the event. As I stood to make the announcement, a gust of wind blew through the park that almost turned our movie screen into a kite! Thankfully, it fell gracefully, and no one was hurt. I announced the event was cancelled and asked everyone to leave calmly. What happened next blew me away.

Those same teams in those same red shirts went to work like I have never seen a group of people work. What took 4 hours to set up was safely packed up in about 30 minutes. I saw our team helping families gather their belongings, holding little kids hands, walking with people to their cars…doing whatever it took to help people. No one asked them to do it…they just did it.

With that many people leaving all at once and exiting onto the busiest road in our part of the city, 5 of our men ran out to the street with vests and parking flashlights and started directing traffic. No one asked them to do it…they just did it.

A team went around picking up trash that the wind was blowing everywhere. Another team was driving around the field gathering the trash out of trash cans. No one asked them to do it…they just did it.

Did I mention that it was pouring rain the whole time most of this was going on?

So, we didn’t get to show the movie. But, we did get to serve and love on people, we did get to bless our city and our sponsors, and we did get to have those divine appointment type conversations with people. And hopefully, God used our teams to demonstrate the gospel through their selfless service.

And that’s how a cancellation becomes a win. Awaken Church, I’m so proud of you!

Why We Do Movies in the Park

Heading into the Summer of 2009, our Launch Team was looking for a way to connect with the community in a big way prior to launching Awaken. After much discussion amongst ourselves, meetings with community leaders, and learning from other churches, we landed on Movies in the Park. What has happened since, has been nothing short of mind-blowing!

That first summer, with about 20-25 people on our launch team, we put on this outdoor movie event hoping that a couple hundred people would show up. Much to our surprise, over 1000 people came to both events! Last summer, we saw an average of 2000 people come to each event. Now, Movies in the Park has become an anticipated event in our part of the city.

Our goals for Movies in the Park are much more and much deeper than just drawing a big crowd of people. Here are the big reasons why we do this event:

  1. To bless our city :: We constantly reinforce the DNA in our church that we are here to make a difference in our city. We want to be so involved in the city that if we vanished, the city would weep and miss us. The idea for this event really started out of conversations with community leaders and asking, “What does the community need?”
  2. To involve people :: Movies in the Park has become a great first step for people who have been attending Awaken, but have yet to get involved. It’s fun to serve at the event and new people get connected with our Partners and volunteers.
  3. To connect with people & invite them to Awaken :: While we do not turn Movies in the Park into a preaching crusade, we do want to leverage the opportunity to serve and connect with the people that come. There are many people who are connected and involved at Awaken now who first came to Movies in the Park.
  4. To build partnerships :: Movies in the Park could not happen without sponsors and partners from the community. This year, Verizon Wireless, Chick-fil-a, EdVenture Children’s Museum, Coca-Cola, Richland County Recreation Commission, and Gary Patterson State Farm Insurance are stepping up big time to make the event happen. We value these partnerships not just for Movies in the Park, but for other opportunities to serve our city.

We thank God for the platform and favor He has given us in the city through Movies in the Park! We’re excited about this years events on May 13 and June 17. If you haven’t signed up to serve, email our event director Misti Bailey ( and join the team putting on this great event! And of course, invite everyone you know to join us on Friday night. It could very well lead to them taking that next step to follow Jesus!

Coming Up at Awaken

This is an incredibly exciting season for Awaken Church! God has given us a wave of momentum from Easter and even though summer is upon us, we have no plans of shrinking back. Here are three things to put on your radar…

1. Family Vacation continues this Sunday :: Our goal for this sermon series is to discover God’s vision for our families and how we can live it out. The response from the first week of this series was way beyond my expectations, so I have high hopes for what God is going to do as we continue on. Sunday is Mother’s Day and we have a little something special planned to start the service…so, don’t be late! You can visit our website for more info on Family Vacation.

2. Movies in the Park is next Friday :: Movies in the Park is an outdoor, family-friendly, community event that Awaken puts on each summer in partnership with area businesses and organizations. Last year, an average of 2000 people attended each event and we’re expecting the same this year. Movies in the Park is a great way for us to bless our city and connect with and serve lots of people. For more info on Movies in the Park, you can check out our website or Facebook page.

3. Community Groups are forming now :: May is an “off” month for our Community Groups as many are having parties, serving in the community, and adding new members. If you are not in a Community Group, now is the perfect time to join one! We literally have groups meeting all over the city, there is a place for you. For more info on Community Groups, visit our website and to join one, you can visit the Next Steps area on Sunday.

There are a couple of other things going on right now that I can’t share just yet, but are very, very exciting. God has His hand on this church and I absolutely cannot wait to see what is next! The best is truly yet to come!

See you Sunday for part 2 of Family Vacation!

Easter Highlights

We had an incredible Easter Sunday at Awaken as we celebrated our Triumphant King Jesus! God graced us with beautiful weather, record attendance, and a powerful move of His spirit as we saw lives changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ!

I’m so proud of our partners and volunteers. Easter was our first Sunday doing two services and they pulled it off like they’ve been doing it for years! Everything from set-up to tear-down ran smoothly. And, all that with a record number of adults and children in attendance and baptism after both services. Awesome job!

Over 30 people indicated they trusted Jesus as Savior! 5 of those immediately took the next step and were baptized on the spot. There were a couple of incredible stories:

  • During the first service, a mom and her two kids all trusted Jesus as Savior and were baptized following the service. The family was invited by one of our Partners who stayed with them the entire time and was absolutely overjoyed at what God did in their lives!
  • In the second service, a lady trusted Jesus as Savior and took the step to be baptized. Her husband and parents were with her and all were totally overjoyed. After the baptism, her parents told me with tears in their eyes how they have prayed for years for their daughter to trust Jesus as Savior and God answered their prayer on Sunday!
  • Between services, a man told me he trusted Jesus as Savior and wanted to be baptized after the second service. The cool thing about that is on Monday, he and his wife had their second child! A new Christian, baptized, and a dad again all in the span of a few hours – amazing!
  • Later on Easter afternoon, I talked with one of our AwakenKids elementary students and her parents. She trusted Jesus as Savior and after talking with her parents, she wanted to let me know. She kept saying over and over how the gospel became real to her on Sunday! Way to go parents and AwakenKids team!

All this week, we have heard story after story of people who were at Awaken on Sunday who have not been to church in years, if at all. With almost all of them, we’re hearing those same people say they can’t wait to come back this week. And, thanks to the initiative of some of our Community Group leaders, some of those who were with us for the first time on Easter have been invited to and are attending various Community Group gatherings over the next week or so. Win, win, win win!

I could go on and on. Suffice it to say that Easter was a game-changing day for Awaken Church. We saw our mission to make God’s name great through lives changed by the gospel of Jesus come to life. I can’t wait to see what’s next. I know this much already – the best is yet to come!

Somebody Invite Somebody

Anticipating is building for Easter at Awaken Church! I absolutely cannot wait to see how God moves as we gather to celebrate the Risen Jesus.

If studies are correct, then over 80% of your friends who are not Christians or do not attend church are at least open to and likely to respond favorably to your invitation to church for Easter Sunday. In anticipation of what God is going to do and to create more room to invite more people, Awaken will have two identical Easter services at 9:30 am and 11:00 am. It’s going to be a huge day!

A lot of you grabbed a stack of invite cards on Sunday and by the time you got home, the fear had already begun to set-in. What if they say no, what is they punch me in the face, what if they cuss me out, what if inviting them hurts our friendship…all these thoughts may have run through your head.

Let me encourage you to push out of your comfort zones and fight through the doubts to invite your friends to hear the gospel and worship Jesus on Sunday.

If you had free tickets for choice seats to see your favorite sports team, you would have no problem inviting people to join you. This is really no different…but it is because what Jesus has done for us is WAY more important than anything teenagers or grown men/women have ever done with a ball or a puck!

Here are some practical ways you can invite friends to Easter at Awaken:

  1. Pray for people by name  each day. Trust that God is already at work in their lives. Ask Him to soften their heart.
  2. Share a meal with your friend and invite them over the meal. Pick up the tab and invite them to church. Or, you could invite their family over for a meal in your home. Serve them well.
  3. If you go out for a meal, ask how you can pray for your server before you bless your food, tip them well, and hand them an invite card before you leave.
  4. Offer to eat lunch together after church on Sunday. Offer to pick them up or caravan with them on Sunday morning.
  5. Talk about Easter at Awaken on Facebook and Twitter. Aim for at least one status update per day that would include an invite to Easter at Awaken.
  6. Point people to our website. They can listen to previous sermons, get all the info they need for AwakenKids, etc.
  7. Prayerwalk through your neighborhood and invite people who are out working in the yard, playing outside, out for a walk, etc.
  8. Put some invite cards on your desk, your coffee table, your car console, etc. where people will see them and ask you about them.
  9. Keep invite cards with you all the time and be ready to step up when the opportunity pops up!
  10. There are literally a zillion ways to invite people…these are just a few.

The point is this – God can use your invitation to radically transform a life. Don’t miss this incredible opportunity to invite your friends to hear and respond to the gospel on Easter Sunday.

AC’ers…I’m praying for you as you invite your friends and people you cross paths with this week. I am praying for and expecting a move of God on Sunday – that God would make His name great through lives changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Friday Five

It’s been an incredible week as I was able to spend a couple of days with church planters and leaders from across our state dreaming and strategizing about what it looks like for our churches to be “in the city, for the city.” This week adds to my already pretty high excitement about what is happening around Awaken in the upcoming weeks.

Here are the top 5 things happening at Awaken that you need to know about :

1. Community Group registration is open and groups will officially launch the week of March 20. We are very excited about this important next step for our church! Join us Sunday for part 2 of Tangible Kingdom as we cast vision for Community Groups at Awaken. You can also visit the website for more info and to sign up for a group.

2. Our next Partnership Class in on Sunday, March 27. We use the term Partner instead of member because we want our Partners to be active participants in our mission of making God’s name great through lives changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. You can check out our website for more information on Partnership. If you’re ready to jump in, you can register online right now.

3. Our new sermon series, Christ Alone, launches next Sunday, March 20. I am praying for a harvest during this series – that we will see many, many lives changed by the good news of what Jesus has done for us. Start inviting your friends now – we will have series invite cards available on Sunday. Christ Alone will run through Easter.

4. More and more people are signing up for Online Giving, which is awesome. Online giving is a great way for you to give consistently and generously. To get signed-up for online recurring giving, check out our website and follow the instructions. It’s easy, safe, and helpful.

5. 2011 is off to a great start for Awaken Church! January and February were the best back to back months since we launched and I am confident it is just the beginning. If you’re not involved yet, I want you to be a part of what God is doing in our city. Take advantage of these opportunities and join us in making God’s name great through lives changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A Culmination and A New Beginning

Last Sunday at Awaken was electric! I loved every minute of our worship service as we wrapped up the RESTORE series through Nehemiah and launched into a new season of life and ministry as a church.

In response to how God worked among us through the RESTORE series, we have embraced a new mission statement as the rallying cry for why we do what we do. It is the ultimate answer to why we exist and what we hope to accomplish. Everything we do…everything…will be aimed at fulfilling this mission.

Our mission is “making God’s name great through lives changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Making God’s name great :: there is no other name worthy of being made great. In 1000 years, no one will remember Awaken Church, Jay Hardwick, or anyone else…but God and His glory will reign forever. Therefore, we will live our lives to make His name great, pray for His name to be made great in our city, and use what He has given us to make His name great in lives, communities, and sectors where it is not.

Through lives changed :: we believe there is healing, redemption, and new life in the name of Jesus. The path to change in a city begins with change in a life and a family. We want to see Jesus move people from death to life, from broken to whole, from slave to free, from immature to mature, from consumer to missionary.

By the gospel of Jesus Christ :: the only means of real change and the only lasting change in a person’s life comes by the gospel of Jesus Christ. While God uses events and circumstances to align us with His purposes, it is ultimately the gospel – that Jesus has died for our sins and by His resurrection, given us redemption, forgiveness, and victory – that changes lives. We will ferociously seek to know, live, and share the gospel.

In short, we desire to be a force for God’s glory in the city of Columbia and around the world! He’s called us to be a city within a city whose sole desire is making His Name great through lives changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

God has done a great work in us over the last 40 days of this series and season of prayer and fasting. Now we are ready to act on what He has put in front of us knowing that He is able to do exceedingly abundantly more than we could ever ask for, dream of, or imagine…ALL for His glory (Eph 3:20-21).

I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but I do know that the best is yet to come!