How to Invite People to Easter at North Rock Hill

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. In anticipation of what God is going to do and to create more room to invite more people, North Rock Hill will have five identical Easter services – 4:30pm and 6:00pm on Saturday and 8:30am, 10:00am, and 11:30am on Sunday.

A lot of you grabbed extra tickets with the intention of inviting friends and family. By the time you got home or printed the tickets, the fear had already begun to set-in. What if they say no, what if 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 this weekend. Your invitation just might pave the way for God to change their lives.

If you had tickets for choice seats to see your favorite sports team play, 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 North Rock Hill:

  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 or a cup of coffee with your friend and give the ticket during or afterwards. Or, you could invite their family over for a meal in your home and invite them. Serve them well.
  3. Offer to pick them up to ride together to church or offer to meet them in the parking lot so you can walk in and sit together.
  4. Talk about Easter at North Rock Hill on Facebook and Twitter. Aim for at least one status update per day that would include an invite and a link to the Easter at North Rock Hill page on our website.
  5. Walk through your neighborhood and invite people who are out working in the yard, playing outside, out for a walk, etc.
  6. Put some tickets on your desk, your coffee table, your car console, etc. where people will see them and ask you about them.
  7. Keep tickets with you all the time and be ready to step up when the opportunity pops up!

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 weekend. 100% of the people you don’t invite will not attend. But, my guess is a high percentage of those you do invite WILL attend.

I’m praying for you as you invite your friends and people you cross paths with this week. And, I am praying that the people we invite will hear and respond to the gospel this weekend!


Every Week is Somebody’s First Week

Over the last several weeks, we’ve seen a surge in the number of first time guests attending North Rock Hill on Sundays. This is an exciting trend and one that we want to see continue. One of the best ways to see the trend continue is to go over the top to serve our guests well and make it easy for them to get connected.

Every week is somebody’s first week…and every somebody has a story. We have no idea what is going on or what God is up to in their lives. We just know they are with us and now we have an opportunity to be a part of what God’s work.

The critical question for us to answer is, “Will we serve or ignore our guests?

Here are a few ways we all can be involved in serving our guests well:

  1. Be a “guerrilla greeter”. You don’t have to be an official member of the “greeter team” to greet new people. As you walk in the building, get coffee, check-in your kids, and sit in the auditorium, look for AND speak to new people. A simple hello, welcome, and introduction of yourself can go a long way.
  2. Offer a hand. If you see a family with small kids coming in with arms full of bags, jackets, etc., offer to carry a bag. If it’s raining, share your umbrella. If you see people who are unsure of where to go, walk them to the place they are trying to find.
  3. Scoot in. This is especially important in the 9:45 and 11:15 service when seats are at a premium these days. As you find a seat in the auditorium, scoot to the middle of the row to make it easy for late arrivers and for guests to find a seat on the ends of the rows.
  4. Come expectant and fully engage. One of the greatest proofs of the power of the gospel is our engagement in worship. Every Sunday when we gather for worship, we should come expecting God to move in our lives. This expectation leads us to fully engage – to be on time, to sing with passion, to receive the Word with gladness, and to respond to God in worship. There is no more powerful apologetic than God’s people passionately engaged in worshiping Him.
  5. Minimize distractions. Do everything you can to keep distractions to an absolute minimum. Visit the restroom before the service, arrive on time, stay to the end of the service, etc.

Walking into a church for the first time can really be a terrifying experience. We want to do everything we can to help our guests have a fantastic experience and most importantly, to experience God at work in their lives.

Every week is somebody’s first week. Every somebody has a story. Let’s serve them well and trust God to work!


Why I’m Excited About Awaken: Lives Changed

I’m an addict. I’m addicted to Lara Beth…have been since I met her in the 5th grade. Cheesy I know, but true. I’m addicted to the Gamecocks…have been since 1984, the first football season I remember tracking game for game and play for play. I’m addicted to Starbucks coffee…have been since college when I had my first latte and first cup of dark roasted coffee.

And, I’m addicted to life change…have been since the grace of God radically changed my own life in 1995. My addiction went to hyper-addiction my freshman year in college as I shared the gospel with a friend and watched the same grace of God change his life. As he called on Jesus as Savior and God, my heart exploded with a passion to see God do that again and again. I was hooked!

When we moved to Columbia in 2007 to begin the process of planting Awaken Church, we were broken over the number of people in our city who did not know this life-changing grace of God. Our number one prayer was to plant a church that God would use to reach many people who were far from Him.

In this my last week serving as Lead Pastor at Awaken, it thrills my soul and brings tears to my eyes to see how God has answered that prayer. He’s answered it over and over and over again. As God has used Awaken to share the gospel of His grace, many who were far from God have been transformed by His grace. And now, like me, they’re addicts.

One of our first conversions was Brian. Brian trusted Jesus as Savior in one of our launch team meetings. He was so fired up about God’s grace to him that he was baptized on the spot…in his clothes! Now, Brian is one of Awaken’s most faithful partners and a true giver of his time, talent, and resources. Why? So that others will experience what he has experienced. He’s an addict!

This year, we’ve seen God do the miraculous in several marriages that were on the brink of ending before finding Awaken. Enter God’s grace and God’s people. The grace of God has brought salvation, forgiveness, renewal, and restoration to husbands, wives, and their kids. Now, these couples and families are sharing their stories of restoration and renewal with others who are where they were a few months ago. Why? They’re addicts!

Just recently, a hurting man named Billy showed up at Awaken with his family. He had lots of good reasons to stay away from God and from church. But the grace of God was at work drawing Billy. At the invitation of a friend, Billy and his family came to Awaken, heard the gospel, and were transformed by God’s grace! Now, Billy is leading his family, they are serving, they are in community, and they are passionate about sharing with others. Why? They’re addicts!

I could keep going and going. We’ve seen God do the miraculous as over 110 men, women, students, and children have been changed by the gospel in the 2 years since Awaken’s launch. Because the gospel is so fresh and new life in Christ is so real, these who have been radically transformed have become passionate missionaries of the gospel. They are addicts!

Praise God, Awaken is full of addicts…people addicted to God’s grace and addicted to seeing lives changed by God’s grace! I know these addicts will continue to make bold moves to love, serve, share, give, and go so that others will hear the gospel and be transformed by God’s grace like they have been. And as they do, God will continue to answer the prayer that got this whole thing started four years ago.

That’s an addiction I hope is never broken!


Why I’m Excited About Awaken :: It’s God’s Church

As you may already know, I announced my resignation from Awaken Church on November 13 to accept the call to serve as Lead Pastor of North Rock Hill Church in Rock Hill, SC. You can read my post about that decision here.

It’s a surreal season as we close out our time in Columbia and our time at Awaken. It’s bittersweet…like sending your kid off to college. You’re excited to see what’s going to happen next, but sad you won’t have a front row seat for it.

I believe in Awaken Church and love her dearly. I believe strongly that God has greater things ahead for her. So, I want to use this week, my last as Lead Pastor at Awaken, to share a few of the reasons I am excited about what is ahead for Awaken.

Literary great Charles Dickens penned the words, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” to serve as the opening words of his classic, A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens must have known something about church planting because that’s it in a nutshell – the best and the worst. Sometimes at different times. Sometimes at the same time.

I can honestly say we have never felt the intensity of spiritual warfare, the physical exhaustion, the emotional anguish, or the spiritual depletion we have experienced at times over the last four years. You hear the wisdom of those who have gone before you, but there’s always that, “It won’t be like that for us,” mentality that I guess goes with being crazy enough to plant a church. But then it all does happen. And it happens often. And it hurts…a lot.

But then, I can honestly say we have never felt the joy of serving, the elation over lives changed and prayers answered, the love of God’s people, and the power of the gospel like we have in the last four years. We have seen God do the miraculous in saving souls, restoring families, providing for needs, making disciples, and sending missionaries. We’ve had a front row seat for a miraculous move of God. And, we’ve seen God do amazing things in our own lives to encourage, provide, teach, and strengthen us.

So, how do you press through the roller coaster of hardship and joy? The answer is the same as the answer to the question of how Awaken will continue on. Awaken Church was God’s idea. He is obsessed over that which is lost in Columbia, SC. He is on a mission to seek and save that which is lost.

This is God’s church. And that is the number one reason why I am excited and confident about Awaken’s future. He is the One who sovereignly worked to call us, to sustain us, to provide for us, and to use us. He is also the One who has called us elsewhere. Which means He has another leader for Awaken to take her forward into the future.

We are His vessels and we are grateful to have served as catalysts for what He wants to do in Columbia through Awaken Church. He gave us His heart, passion, and vision, and now that has spread to dozens and dozens. Through it all, God has built a church. And He’s just getting started!

God is working right now to prepare a new Lead Pastor for Awaken. In the meantime, He is going to use this season to strengthen His church and prepare her for what’s next and for her new Lead Pastor. All the while, He will continue to use Awaken to make His name great through lives changed by the gospel.

What God starts, He finishes (Philippians 1:6). What God promises to build, He builds (Matthew 16:18). When God promises abundantly more, He does abundantly more (Ephesians 3:20-21). In the best of times and the worst of times…He is there, He is at work, and He is able!

Awaken Church is God’s Church. It was four years ago when we moved to Columbia. It was two years ago when we launched. It is now. It will be for all eternity.


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 (misti@awakencolumbia.com) 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!


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!