ST. CLAIR – Call it Bass Pro meets the Bible.
An estimated 10,000 people attended “The Truth and the Outdoors,” a free, evangelistic outdoorsman’s expo hosted by the churches of Franklin County Baptist Association March 25-27. At least 173 people accepted Christ over the weekend, and 57 people indicated they were “searching, or wanted to know more about a relationship with Jesus.”
“We will need to sort through them, as I am sure there are some duplications and probably some who had already accepted Christ who marked their cards indicating they had accepted Christ,” said Franklin County Association Director of Missions Jim Plymale. “We will start the follow- up of these this week.”
The Truth and the Outdoors is aimed specifically at hunters, fishermen, and outdoorsmen. Big draws included buck scoring, wildlife photography competition, 3D archery, duck call clinics, a carnival-style midway and food court, a zip line and a lumberjack show. Each attendee received a Gospel of John, and an integrated Christian witness, woven through the seminars and clinics.
“People just keep coming up saying how much they love and appreciate it,” said Rick Thomas, chairman of the event committee and member of New Hope Baptist Church in Sullivan.
Nearly 300 volunteers from Franklin County Association’s 37 churches acted as “spiritual guides” and made the expo run smoothly.
The expo received tremendous cooperation from the St. Clair school district. In fact, Plymale said administrators saw so many of their students at the previous event that they sought them out and offered the school complex. The school board approved the association’s plans and made exceptions for certain exhibitors and vendors to bring rifles on campus.
“We had to pay a small rental fee, but they’ve been tremendous to work with,” he said.
The extra space for exhibits and sports fields offered the elbow room to significantly scale up the event. This year they had the room for three exhibit areas, food court, zip line, lumberjack show and a country store. Total attendance this year grew from 2009’s 4,200 to approximately 10,000.
“The word of mouth among the vendors spread and we just kept getting more and more wanting to get in on the act,” Thomas said.
The vast majority of the vendors were not “Christian vendors.” In this way, expo volunteers also ministered to those who came to work. Many of those attended the early morning worship service on Sunday just out of curiosity.
Plymale said the association hopes to begin a new outdoorsman-oriented church plant as a result of the contacts made during the weekend.
“In the next few weeks we’re looking to get several Bible Study groups going, then in a month or two hopefully we can start a worship service and build from there,” he said.
God continues to bless the Franklin County efforts, despite some meteorological challenges. The first Truth and the Outdoors expo drew its 4,200 people and 75 vendors despite torrential rains that turned the parking areas into a muddy mess. This year, 4,500 people showed up for the Saturday festivities alone, and that was despite six inches of snow.
“We just kept shoveling snow and throwing down salt as the people kept coming,” Plymale said. “It’s obvious that God has put this on people’s heart that they need to come despite the weather.”
Thomas said the association would like to host the expo again in 2012, but will have to wrap up and digest what was learned from this year’s event before they can move forward.
“If we can’t get the finances, it’ll probably take two more years,” he said. “In the meantime, I’d like to see this go on in other areas. Mark Bay, our event coordinator, has all the relationships and contacts and could easily help make this happen in another association. With the right churches and associations in place, we could do one of these every three or four months across the state and it could continue to grow.”
BRIAN KOONCE/staff writer