ARNOLD – Thousands of Missourians heard the gospel message proclaimed in multiple ways at the annual “Celebrate America” event hosted by the First Baptist Church here.
FBC Arnold Next Generation Pastor Jason Ervin said this was the 11th year the event has been held, and this year’s event occurred on the Sunday before July 4.
“It’s a big community event that draws thousands of people,” Ervin said. “We have carnival rides; a car show with a people’s choice, pastor’s choice, and best of show. We have two to three (bicycle and motorcycle) stunt shows. A brass band performs. We have food trucks and then a 15-minute professional fireworks show. It’s all free except the food.”
“It costs several thousand dollars to do,” he added. “It is a budgeted item, but there are also some offering designations for this. The church is 65 years old. It loves the country, it loves our community, but most of all we love our Lord and Savior.”
Ervin said the city of Arnold experienced flooding this year and was unable to do their annual July 4th event. He thinks the church event may have picked up a few more people since the city event was canceled.
He estimates 4,000 people were there. People parked in nearby lots at a shopping center, library and junior college and were shuttled to the church.
Real Encounter motorcycle and bicycle stuntman Brad Bennett said his group has been part of the Arnold event for seven years.
“It’s very impactful in the community. The church does a good job beginning to end,” said Bennett, who founded Real Encounter Outreach and who currently serves as the Missouri Baptist Convention’s interim director for interim director for Making Disciples.
Bennett said the gospel was shared multiple times throughout the event – once by Real Encounter, once when pastor Kenny Qualls climbed on a fire truck to address the crowd, and repeatedly by trained volunteers who shared the gospel one-on-one.
“There are probably very few freedom events by churches in Missouri that are this big,” Bennett said.
Gauging effect on church attendance numbers is hard, but Ervin said that at times when people without church affiliation call the church needing a pastor, they mention attending the “Celebrate America” event.
First Arnold also offers sports ministry and family life events, and a large trunk or treat activity in the fall.
“There’s value even getting them on the campus,” Ervin said.