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Although Steve Preston is never sure where spiritually oriented conversations at Kansas car shows will lead, he knows they strike a nerve. Recently, one car buff handed Preston his business card and a note reading, “Text me. This is private.”
“When I texted him, it wasn’t that consequential,” says Preston, who with his wife, Becky, is a former AG pastor and church planter. “But I feel he was testing the waters, wondering if I was for real?”
The founder of Highway Chapel knows the gearheads who display street rods, old trucks, antiques, and other vehicles every Sunday are watching. An invitation came last fall for Preston to join a weekly lunch group of guys who have been attending car shows together for decades.
After Preston recently attended the funeral of an extended family member of someone in the group, the acquaintance sent him a message on Facebook: “It says a lot about your character that you came.”
“We’re reaching people that don’t go to church,” says Preston, who counts 180,000 unchurched Kansas residents as his congregation. “We’re having a ball.”
A graduate of Southern California University in Whittier, Preston served as a staff member or lead pastor of four congregations before becoming a church planter with the Assemblies of God SoCal Ministry Network.
However, two years ago after a friend asked Preston what he would do if he could do anything, Preston reflected on his desire to turn his car show hobby into a full-time ministry.
“There are car guys everywhere,” says Preston, who drives his screaming red 1965 Ford Ranchero, a coupe utility vehicle, to shows. Although not in mint condition, the Ranchero has been “hot rodded” a bit with a mild camshaft, new intake and carburetor, headers, a new lower front end and raised rear, wheels, and larger tires.
“We get people asking about the car even at stoplights, consistently at shows, and even in the parking lot at the grocery store,” Preston says.
Because Becky had been experiencing health problems, the Prestons wanted to move closer to their two daughters in Wichita, Kansas. Originally appointed in 2006 as Missionary Church Planters & Developers U.S. missionaries, last year the Prestons transferred their assignment to Valley Center, Kansas.
At the end of last season, a woman talked to Becky about her heart problems. The woman realized she was nearing the end of her life, and expressed uncertainty about what would happen at death.
“Becky shared the gospel with her and the woman made a decision to follow Christ,” Steve says. “Those are the moments we live for. People are starting to come up and say, ‘We saw you at another show. I have a family problem. Would you pray for me?’”
Steve says being a part of the car enthusiast lunch group provides an opportunity for him to build deeper relationships. Several of the regulars are reaching an age where health problems are common. A server who typically waits on tables for the car aficionados recently shared about her son’s serious health problems with Preston. The AG missionary prayed for the boy’s physical healing, piquing the curiosity of his lunch mates.
“That’s why God called Pentecostal missionaries to this ministry,” Preston says. “It’s not an academic exercise.”
Steve and Becky are finding a receptive approach to their ministry techniques at Valley Center’s LifePoint Church, where they attend weekly worship services during off season. After Steve spoke at a men’s breakfast in April, group participants started contemplating sponsorship of a show to reach out to car enthusiasts.
“The opportunity is definitely there,” Pastor Steve Rains says of the lifestyle evangelism LifePoint encourages. “Part of that is the church being willing to capitalize on those individuals who are ministering in the world and loving those people.”