Some churches stage lavish Christmas programs. Others focus their creative energies on Easter pageants. Religious holidays have long been an opportunity for churches to reach out to the community they serve by inviting folks to special services and celebrations.
Today is Independence Day and while it has no formal ties to religion, the holiday is a big deal for the folks at Mesa’s Central Christian Church of the East Valley.
At Central Christian, it’s all about the fireworks.
Tonight, the church on the corner of Adobe and Lindsay will put on its seventh annual “Fire in the Sky’’ celebration.
And if the image of the preacher’s kid shooting off bottle rockets in the church parking lot is what comes to mind, you probably haven’t been in Mesa very long.
“Fire in the Sky’’ (church staff members call it FITS for short) is the sort of celebration that rivals those staged by cities.
With three stages that feature continuous entertainment from 6:30 until the fireworks begin at 9, a food court, games and activities, FITS draws crowds in excess of 20,000 and the production requires 800 volunteers.
“We basically work on this year-round,’’ said Rick Calcutt, who as the church’s pastor of worship arts and media is in charge of the production. “Just as soon as it is over, we begin preparing for the next year. The coordination is a year out to get the permits, fire police, barricades, staging that we have to get in here. Then there are are the rehearsals and planning the program. It’s a lot of work.’’
It is also a lot of expense, although Calcutt would not divulge how much money is spent on the event, which is free to the public.
“Let’s just say it’s a lot,’’ Calcutt said. “But it is our biggest outreach and we feel the money is well-spent.’’
When you consider that Central Christian, with a weekly attendance of about 6,000 at its services, is already bursting at the seams, it’s reasonable to wonder what motivates the church to put on such an extravaganza.
The reason is pretty simple, says Calcutt, Fire in the Sky represents a great public relations tool for the church.
“We just want people to see that we are regular people who like to have fun,’’ said Calcutt. “It helps dispel a lot of the ideas some people may have about who we are.’’
If FITS is a PR campaign, it is a decidedly soft-sell approach, lest you fear you’ll be descended upon by hordes of earnest church members shoving religious pamphlets down your throat.
The entertainment is broad-based, with country, classic rock and pop sets, along with the patriotic fare that is a staple of this holiday.
“It’s really just a chance for people to get to know us,’’ Calcutt says.