A not so “classic” outreach

Annual car shows help fuel churches’ traction with community

Twice a year the Copper Hills Church parking lot becomes the space for the 200-car Westwing Classic Car Show. Photo: CHC

Car shows can be more than vintage automobiles looking their best, buffed and freshly detailed. Two USMB congregations host car shows so that visitors see and get to know Jesus as church members serve exhibitors, car fans and every onlooker they meet.

Copper Hills Church (CHC) of Peoria, Arizona, and Kingwood Bible Church (KBC) of Salem, Oregon, regularly host car shows to connect with and serve their communities.

“The car show brings a lot of people that wouldn’t normally go to church, and that’s what makes it worth it to me—just seeing our neighbors show up,” says Nathan Ensz, lead pastor at KBC. “For most people, church is not on their radar. We want to show the love of Christ to the neighborhood and want our neighbors to know that we genuinely care, and this is one of the ways we can do that.”

BBQ, people and cool cars

In addition to hosting an annual car show, Kingwood Bible Church in Salem, Ore., serves free BBQ to members of the community. The event began as a memorial for church member Marv Lowen. Photo: KBC

KBC welcomed 15 cars, one motorcycle and approximately 200 visitors to its parking lot Sept. 10 for its annual BBQ and car show with activities for all ages including a bounce house, face painting, free burgers and BBQ, a mix of 50s and worship music and awards for “Pastor’s Choice” and “Best in Show” among the cars.

Ensz says the show began approximately 10 years ago as a memorial for church member Marv Lowen, who had a great appreciation for cars. Over the years, the church and Lowen’s widow, Betty, have adapted the car show to be not only a place for people to see cars but also experience church and have meaningful conversations pointing to Christ’s love.

Ensz says if any visitors experience a hard time in the future, he hopes they will remember the genuine love they experienced from the congregation and come back, knowing they will be welcomed and loved.

Josh Murrel, associate minister at KBC, says he served as one of multiple “floaters” during the event with the intention to talk to and get to know people so that no one left without feeling welcomed and valued as a visitor and as a child of God.

“Good BBQ, friendly people, cool cars—not that necessarily deep, but it gives something for people to unify around and to at least start conversations around,” Murrel says. “What I loved was making a space for people to come together around a shared interest, even if it was as simple as BBQ food and then be able to build meaningful conversations from there.”

“The tool to our why”

What began with 50 cars and a handful of volunteers has grown to a church-wide outreach at Copper Hills Church in Peoria, Ariz.

Approximately 200 cars and 800 visitors filled CHC’s parking lot Nov. 12 for its 12th biennial Westwing Classic Car Show with the mission to spark conversations and help neighbors know and experience Christ.

“We want to onboard as many people as we can to have a real relationship with Jesus,” says David Reuss, founder of the car show. “By grouping exhibitors together, talking to people and serving them where we can, we want to show people Jesus so they can see something different, ask questions, and we hope make the decision to genuinely know and follow him too.”

What began with a handful of volunteers, 50 cars and burgers and hot dogs, has, over the last six years grown to become a church-wide outreach with a full parking lot of cars and a burger and hot dog fundraiser for charities.

“As the show grew, more stories—like of people who said they went to the show and someone at the church helped them, or someone invited them to church so they started to come—did too, which is our whole point,” Reuss says. “We don’t have a car show for a car show, but a car show to get people on campus so we can show people that we look and feel like Jesus so they can slowly understand we’re normal people that treat them differently than any other car show or event.”

Whether purposely placing exhibiting friends together or selecting members of CHC to get to know its show’s exhibitors and visitors, CHC is intentional in its outreach, though Brad Klassen, CHC lead pastor, directs its purpose further.

“It’s more than being intentional, but it’s why we do the event,” Klassen says. “We’re not in it for the classic car show, but that is merely the tool to our why. Our why is we believe we are here in this community to increasingly help people do life with Jesus.”

A car show may not be the best route of outreach for every church, but for churches like KBC and CHC it has been a way to use its space and resources to reach its community.

“Our God is so eager to reach a lost world with hope—so much that he didn’t think it was too much to die,” Klassen says. “When churches keep that in front of them, Jesus is eager to use whatever tools we use to reach people with himself.”


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