Amplify: From a Church Backyard to the National Stage

If I asked you where the nation’s largest free Christian music festival takes place, you might guess a city like Chicago, Dallas, Phoenix, or Denver. Actually, the answer is somewhere closer to home for many of us—Benton, Arkansas. That’s right. For over ten years, Amplify has taken place in the backyard of Holland Chapel Baptist Church in Benton, and God has used this two-day event to reach thousands of youth with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

On a call with Josh Turner, Amplify’s co-founder, he tells me that Holland Chapel’s backyard was at one time a small airport the church purchased from the city years ago. The seeds of Amplify were planted back in 2010 when the church’s pastor pulled Josh aside and told him, “We ought to do a concert for outreach.” Josh loved the idea, but it remained just that—an idea—for a long time. All the while, something was stirring in Josh. “I couldn’t shake it,” he reflects. “Looking back, I knew the Lord was doing something.”

That same year, Philip Blunk was part of CityChurch Network’s (formerly Nehemiah Network) CityFest 2010 with Luis Palau — an outreach music festival for youth at War Memorial Stadium. Today, Philip is the Church Relations Director for Amplify. A few weeks ago, I sat down with Philip to learn about his heart for evangelism and more about Amplify.

A Vehicle for the Good News

Philip is, at heart, an evangelist. There’s love and warmth whenever he talks about Jesus. That much became clear to me within seconds of our conversation at a downtown coffee shop in Conway, Arkansas. You also get a sense of urgency when he talks about the need to reach others with the gospel. Philip’s heart is for younger generations, and he believes the Amplify festival is a great vehicle for delivering the Good News of Jesus Christ to them.

Philip tells me that “Amplify is a free Christian music festival that brings churches together to lift up Jesus and reach people who don’t know Jesus.” As Philip talks, you can’t help but hear the passion in his voice. “What I tell pastors, churches, and leaders in the Body of Christ is this is an incredible outreach opportunity for our people. We all want our people to take what they get from the Lord and go out and reach those in their spheres of influence. Amplify is the perfect venue for our people to invite their unsaved friends and peers, who will be exposed to incredible music and a powerful gospel presentation. And when they get saved, processes are in place to get those people into [a local] church.”

Reaching Youth Where They Are

During His earthly ministry, Jesus went where the people were; He didn’t ask people to come to Him. Philip thinks we should adopt a similar approach in our evangelism today. “This summer, there are hundreds of music festivals all over this nation that are drawing millions of our Gen Zs and Millenials.” Music is powerful, something Philip agrees with. “Music opens the soul. The mind, the will, the emotions, and then you’re exposed to the message that’s attached to the music. That’s why it’s very powerful.”

Philip goes on to acknowledge that the enemy is well aware of the power of music and uses it. “Music is a primary vehicle that the enemy uses to attract young people. Think about when you were a teenager. If you didn’t know the Lord, what music were you getting into? I didn’t know the Lord. I was getting into ungodly music and absorbing whatever was being put out there. It molded my life until I met Jesus when I was 24. That’s why we have to take back the music and reach our young people with it.”

Philip is encouraged by churches that are beginning to see the opportunity to reclaim music and use music festivals to reach younger generations. “Instead of being fearful and criticizing and condemning ungodly culture, the Church is starting to reclaim the gift of music. The church is presenting music from a Christ-centered point of view to reach people.” 

The Beginnings of Amplify

Back in 2012, Josh Turner wanted to do something similar—reach youth for Christ through music. However, he had zero experience putting on an outreach event like a concert. “I didn’t know where to start,” he tells me. So, he prayed and said, “Lord, I know we’re supposed to do something, but I don’t have a clue what I’m doing.” Josh began gathering people from the community for the event. That’s when a friend connected him with Matt Brumley, who had experience putting on a fundraising concert for the Benton Chamber of Commerce. In Matt, Josh found a kindred spirit who also had a heart for evangelizing young people.

Things started coming together for Josh and Matt. They brought in people who had experience doing large-scale events—a stage company, production, audio, and lighting. They even booked a nationally recognized band—Kutless. One day, someone asked Josh and Matt, “What do you think about doing this as a two-day festival? You’ve already got all the equipment, so it won’t cost you anything more.” Keep in mind this was only a few months before the event, but Josh and Matt decided to step out in faith. “I just felt like we were following the Spirit’s lead with this,” Josh says. When asked how he felt about the decision, he admits, “Honestly, I was so oblivious to what it took to make that happen. I was pretty relaxed. God’s grace on the whole thing was us not knowing what it took to put it on.”

Déjà Vu All Over Again

Josh knew someone well-connected in the music industry, which helped him book more bands for the festival. Turning one concert into a festival was more than one church could handle, so Josh and Matt reached out to churches in the community for help, whether it was volunteer counselors or people to be in the prayer tent. Looking back, Josh admits it was remarkable how much churches worked together to make everything happen. All signs pointed to God being in the event. They were hoping for a massive turnout. With the wind to their backs, Josh and Matt rode a wave of momentum and excitement leading up to the festival. That wave crashed on the first day of the festival.

On the first day, a small crowd showed up in the morning but thinned out by the afternoon. Typically, the crowd builds throughout the day leading up to the headliner but not on that day. “Matt and I argue over this, but I say that the headliner that first night was singing to five people. Matt says it was eleven. Regardless, we know there were at least one and a half portapotties for every person,” Josh tells me. Josh and Matt were disappointed, but another day was still left for the festival. They held out hope that the second day might fare differently. 

At first, it felt like déjà vu all over again. “The crowd was pretty low for most of the day,” Josh shares. An hour before Kutless took the stage, Josh and Matt sat in a golf cart on the festival grounds. “Is there anything more we can do to get the word out? Have we done all we can do” Josh asked Matt. “Well, we’ve got time to pray,” Matt told him. So, they prayed. Not long after they had finished, they noticed something. More and more people started showing up. “It felt like 10,000 people, but it was probably another 1,000 or 1,500 people.” That night Kutless performed to what Josh estimates to have been around 2,500 people. 

Josh’s Fuel to Keep Going

The turnout and stories of people giving their lives to Christ that night were enough to motivate Josh and Matt to do the festival again the next year. “There was never a plan to make it an annual event.” In fact, there were years when Josh and Matt thought that maybe it was the last Amplify. However, year after year, God has opened the way for Amplify to continue, whether it’s through partner churches, volunteers, local businesses that sponsor the event, or receiving the necessary funds to keep the festival free to the public. And here’s the thing—people keep showing up. In 2018, over 65,000 people attended Amplify, making it their largest year to date.

Every year at Amplify, there’s a giant cross placed on the festival grounds for people to place testimonies and prayer requests on post-it notes. And every year, Josh goes through all of those post-it notes. He calls it his “fuel.” “There’s story after story. Thousands of people giving their lives to Christ.” Through the many stories Josh shared with me over the phone, it appears his tank is pretty full. Amplify has become one of the best outreach events for churches in the community to reach younger generations and will continue bringing churches together for just that purpose this coming August 9th and 10th.

Partnering with Churches from Start to Finish

I ask Philip what to expect at this year’s Amplify. “It’s going to be so much more than a music festival. It’s going to be very intentional in its heart to reach the lost. The music is going to be incredible. There’s going to be something for everyone, from rock to rap to country. Great praise and worship. Each night is going to feature all that music. Later, worship artists will come, and you’re going to have twenty-five thousand people worshiping Jesus together. It’s going to be beautiful. And then Nick Hall [the evangelist for the event] is going to get up and preach the gospel. We will see hundreds, if not thousands, respond to the gospel each night. It’s going to be amazing, man!”

Part of what distinguishes Amplify is how they partner with churches leading up to the event and in follow-up after it. Philip shares more about what this partnership looks like. “Nick Hall and Pulse [an evangelistic ministry that organizes evangelistic campaigns like Amplify] genuinely want to serve the local church and the Body of Christ. Nick’s not trying to say, ‘Hey, let’s do an evangelistic crusade,’ and then blast off and go on down the road. He endeavors to partner with churches with follow-up models so there are relationships after.”

This year, Amplify is harnessing the power of technology for follow-up. As Philip explains to me, this allows for “immediate follow-up with people who make a decision.” He tells me, “There’s a ‘text to’ number that’s projected on the screen to this huge crowd. And all the people who said, ‘Yeah, I want Jesus,’ text to this number. Then, they are immediately connected to a real person, who starts dialoguing with them and gathering information, which is filtered by zip code. Then, all those names are sent to partner churches, which have sixteen hours to follow up with the people they get. The goal is, that everyone who gets saved at Amplify is directly followed up with and placed within twenty-four hours.”

Launching into Deep Water

Philip reminds me that during Jesus’ earthly ministry, He regularly preached to the masses. “In the gospels, Jesus ministered to the multitudes over 70 times. Jesus certainly understood the value of mass evangelism,” he says. Philip believes we are called to follow His example today in reaching a wider audience. “I believe he’s moving us back to that place. It’s seed-sowing season. We’ve gotta get out of the four walls.” 

One of the appeals of Amplify is how it helps churches get outside the four walls and reach their neighbors with the Good News. “Large outreaches like Amplify unleash the power of a unified Church. They help give space for the love of God and bring unity to His Body. As we sow that seed, we’re getting a harvest there. But we believe a greater harvest is coming, and we’re sowing seed and getting ready for it just like Jesus did. That’s the value of large outreaches.”

I ask Philip what he believes God is up to right now among the younger generations. “The Father always has a focus—for us individually and collectively as the Church. I believe He is focusing us, His Church, on the youth and younger generations. It’s all about the kids. That’s the end of the Old Testament: “He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents” (Malachi 4:6a).

“Every kid loves their music, and they are either a slave to it or not. It’s corrupting them, or it’s not. We have the bait, man—Christ-focused music. It’s time for the Church to take that, launch it to the deep, and reach our youth and younger generations. It’s time to go reach people. I’m talking deepwater fish. We’ve been fishing in two feet of water for decades. Meanwhile, there’s this massive harvest out deep. It’s time to go deepwater fishing as His Church.”

How You Can Get Involved

For more information about Amplify, visit, where you can sign up to volunteer and get FREE tickets to attend. Pastors and ministry leaders can sign up on Amplify’s website to gain entrance to The Pastors and Leaders Tent, a place where they can connect and build relationships with other pastors and ministry leaders from across Arkansas. Amplify’s website also provides updates on pre-Amplify gatherings, such as Amplify Prayer Night Gatherings and Make Jesus Known training (see dates below).

Amplify Prayer Night Gatherings

  • July 10th @ 9:00 AM – Agape Church (Little Rock)
  • July 18th @ 6:00 PM – Hillcrest Community Church (Little Rock)
  • July 19th @ 6:30 PM – LakePointe City Church (Hot Springs)
  • July 22nd @ 6:00 PM – Geyer Springs First Baptist Church (Little Rock)
  • July 30th @ 12:00 PM – Encounter Church (Little Rock)
  • August 8th @ 6:00 PM – Amplify Festival Grounds (Holland Chapel Baptist Church, Benton)

Make Jesus Known Training

  • July 9th @ 7:00 PM – LakePointe City Church (Hot Springs)
  • July 10th @ 7:00 PM – Family Church (Bryant)
  • August 7th @ 7:00 PM – First Baptist Church (Benton)

Chris Loux — Communications Director, CityChurch Network

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