Route 66 Festival in Illinois Town Helps Provides Church With Opportunity to Share the Gospel

For more than 20 years, Edwardsville Illinois’ annual Route 66 festival at City Park has offered visitors fun, food, and classic cars. What was missing, realized church planter Rayden Hollis, was a gospel opportunity.

In an Illinois town proud of its Route 66 heritage, thousands gather every year to celebrate what John Steinbeck called “the Mother Road.” For more than 20 years, Edwardsville’s annual Route 66 festival at City Park has offered visitors fun, food, and classic cars.

What was missing, realized church planter Rayden Hollis, was a gospel opportunity.

Hollis is the planter and lead pastor of Red Hill church in Edwardsville. The church isn’t quite three years old, and they don’t have their own building yet. But Hollis is passionate in leading his church by a missions strategy based on Jeremiah 29:7.

“Just as the Israelites, exiles in their community, were commanded to seek out the welfare of the city they were living in,” Hollis said, “it’s our philosophy that we too, as exiles, need to seek out the welfare of the city we live in and pray for it.”

That philosophy is at the core of Red Hill’s presence at their city’s summer festival — and it’s a noticeable presence. At this year’s event June 8-9, park visitors stirred the humid air with hand-held fans emblazoned with Red Hill Church. Diners at picnic tables ate under misting fans donated by the church. Dog walkers at the festival discussed their pets with dog walkers from Red Hill. Church members brought a bean bag set and played alongside park visitors.

And showcased just outside the church’s two tents at the festival: a 1955 Chevy Bel Air. The gleaming red and white car — made even more vibrant by the sun’s glare — attracted visitors to the Red Hill display.

To Hollis, Red Hill isn’t just about gathering for their Saturday evening worship, it’s about the church going out into the community and making the city better.

“I’ve been a part of churches where if the Lord removed that church from the community, the community wouldn’t even notice,” Hollis said. “We don’t want to be that church.

“We want to be so deeply integrated into the life of our community that if we were pulled out, it would have a devastating effect upon the regular rhythms that people engage in inside of our cities. So, we’re trying to find ways that we can step in and make an immediate impact and difference in the life of our city, just by observing what’s naturally happening in it.”

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SOURCE: Baptist Press, Andrew Woodrow