VIDOR, Texas (Christian Examiner) -- Up to 9,000 people will give just one can of food to see a 70,000 string synchronized light show tuned to the songs of the season this year at Pine Forest Baptist Church in Vidor.
Since 2009, the folks there have produced a 12 nights of the holiday season that includes a near-life-size Christmas train, sacred music, a bonfire, hot chocolate, hot cider, s'mores and free pictures with Santa Claus.
The outdoor outreach extravaganza takes place each year in the one-acre prayer garden that was designed and built 10 years ago by church members.
"It kind of wears us out at Christmas, but it's good being worn out like that," says Stephen Dollar, 24 -year pastor of this rural church near Beaumont in southeast Texas, where about 300 people gather for Sunday morning worship. "It's worth it because it helps people enjoy Christmas, and it helps us let people know Jesus is the reason for the season."
Dollar credits Music Minister Dale Prudhome, and his team of about 50 volunteers with developing, designing and arranging the light show and all that goes with it.
"I don't know of another church in Texas that does a major synchronized light show like this at Christmas or any other time of year, for that matter," Dollar told Christian Examiner. "It's a gift from God to us that we are able to do this, and we trust that it's a gift from us to people in the community."
The no-cost event – though most people bring a non-perishable food item for the church's food pantry – expects to draw 7,000 to 9,000 people this Christmas season, the pastor estimated. The nights of the light show, people sit in their vehicles and tune to 103.1 FM radio to hear the music.
"We have a real long church parking lot," Dollar said. "We have nine lanes like football players in a scrimmage line, and park them four deep. We can accommodate 36 cars at a time.
"It's just a constant flow of cars," the pastor continued. "The show lasts 10 to 15 minutes, with three songs, and then repeats. Most people leave after that, but some stay to see it again."
The 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., three-evening weekend event started the Friday after Thanksgiving, and goes through Christmas weekend. As vehicles enter the church's parking lot, they're greeted by Pine Forest members, who give a Christmas greeting to the passengers, candy canes to the humans and dog biscuits to the canines, as well as information about the church.
"Last Saturday we had 227 carloads of people for our first family night," Dollar said. "Hardly anyone comes alone; there's always three, four kids with their parents, and the family dog, who always gets a treat too."
A miniature train with engine, passenger car and caboose that together can carry 50 people is another attraction at Pine Forest's two family nights, along with hot chocolate, hot cider and pictures with Santa. The train goes past a miniature Christmas village.
"This is a great thing to come to for the kids," the pastor said. "It [the Christmas light show and family nights] also gives us prospects and opens doors for ministry, evangelism and outreach."
Dec. 20 is set for the next family night at the Christmas Light Show at Pine Forest Baptist Church.
The website www.LightsAtPineForest.org gives directions, schedule, and people's comments.
"I just want to say that if there is anyone that hasn't seen this ... they should!" wrote 'Kim.' "This is the most beautiful presentation that I have ever seen! The Lord can sure open your eyes to so many different things and He uses people in so many different ways! Thank you all at Pine Forest Baptist Church for blessing us with this beautiful light show. I look forward to seeing y'all every year!"
And this from Marsha: "Absolutely wonderful. Loved the programming on 'Mary Did You Know' with Mary lighting when her name is mentioned, and the baby Jesus lighting. Very, very cool!"
Even men write in, such as Henry: "My family looks forward to seeing this every year. It is so wonderful."
While Christmas is the happiest time of year for many people, for some it's the saddest time of year, the pastor said.
"We need to encourage people during the holidays to turn to the Prince of Peace, and hopefully this [synchronized light show] will cheer them up," Dollar said.