Sunset behind Nettleton Baptist Church In Jonesboro before fireworks begin. (Nettleton Baptist Church Facebook page)
The Fourth of July is the celebration of America’s Independence. It is also an opportunity for churches to minister within their community.
In northeast Arkansas, Nettleton Baptist Church hosts an event called Food Trucks and Fireworks. The church puts on a firework show and enlists local food trucks and sponsors. Their members volunteer as parking attendants, face-painters for the youth, help direct people to restrooms, and work giveaway booths. All the people from the community tailgate and play games with each other, until the fireworks begin at dark.
“I think as a church we were all blown away at how well it went,” Senior Pastor Brady Canright said.
Referencing last year’s event, Canright said they did not take an exact count, but they had more than 5,000 people in attendance.
“The response from the community was incredible. We saw a big influx of first-time visitors to church following the event at a time in the year when you don’t normally see a lot of guests. We still have people joining as members whose first experience with Nettleton Baptist was that event. We’ve even had some food truck vendors start visiting because of the event,” Canright said. This year’s event was Monday, July 3.
Canright said the main reason they started this event last year was to try to do outreach a little differently. He noted some of the traditional outreach events their church had been doing did not seem to be super effective at reaching people.
“We felt like this might do a better job of engaging with the lost and unengaged. We continue to see the fruit from this event in some really cool ways, and fully expect that the word is out, and more people will show up this year. This year, we have a much better game plan including triple the amount of food trucks and vendors than last year,” Canright said.
Across the state in northwest Arkansas, First Baptist Church in Highfill on Sunday, July 2, hosted its “Let Freedom Ring” firework event, which they also started last year as an outreach to the city of Highfill and surrounding communities.
Pastor Jimmy Holmes said leading up to the event they handed out 1,500 door hangers to the subdivisions in the area. They had more than 1,300 attend the event.
“I just couldn’t believe how many people showed up,” Holmes said.
They handed out bookmarks with church information and QR codes that connected to the church website and Facebook page. Additionally, the event featured bounce houses, other fun games for the youth and a performance by Master’s Voice.
“It was just an amazing night. We had several people say they didn’t know this church was here or were new to the area and had been looking for a church,” Holmes said. “I really think this year we are going to see potential head count growth out of the deal. We’ve been seeing a lot of that recently anyway. God’s just doing amazing things and we’re just hanging on for the ride.”
Numerous other churches around the state – including Crossroads New Baptist Church in Little Rock, First Baptist Church in Centerton and Life Line Baptist Church in Little Rock, just to name a few – also held Fourth of July celebrations.
When Peter Cunningham became pastor at First Southern Baptist Church in 2010, he said they had been hosting a firework show for several years. It was not much of an outreach at that time. In 2013, their worship pastor at the time had the idea to tie the fireworks with a one day “Red White Bluegrass event” – Bluegrass music, food trucks and fireworks and it was great, Cunningham said.
After some staff changes in 2015, they took the fireworks to a local city park and turned it into a church picnic in the community and for the community.
“It has somewhat evolved over the years. The event is promoted through social media and people come from all over Bryant. Our church members are encouraged to engage with local residents who show up and attempt to start Gospel conversations. Also, because we have our VBS in late July we are able to use the event to promote registration,” Cunningham said. “Through doing our picnic in the park we have had many people visit a church service and engage in our student and children’s ministries. It is a very fun and non-confrontational outreach. Even yesterday (July 2), we had a family who had been visiting our church for about five weeks and express the desire for church membership, come to the picnic and brought all of their extended family, while also inviting them to church.”
They had inflatables, free food and bottled water, yard games, rented the park pool and a firework show. Even with the heat, the turnout has been huge over the years.
“I enjoy reading Facebook posts after this event, the comments people make are worth the effort it takes to pull something like this off. This event provides an environment where church folks can invite their friends and neighbors with hopes of being engaged in Gospel conversations have a lot of fun and meet new people,” Cunningham said. “This event helps us foster relationships with many in our community. To do a public show, we have to get permits, so we engage with the chief of police and fire, the director at the parks department. I believe it’s important to have a strong relationship with those leaders in our community.”
Canright said events like these are important for their church and other churches. He said these events do a great job of building bridges with people that make the next step of walking into a church that much easier.
“They’ve been on the campus. They met some of the people. They were invited. The next easy step is to come on a Sunday morning,” he said. “There is so much to say about having a strong relationship with the community. … We strive to share the love of Christ in a way that people can feel and see. By hosting a free event like this, it helps us share the love of Christ.”