By Carl Stagner
The Church of God movement is known for making Jesus the subject—looking past ethnic and cultural differences for the Lord’s sake. Recognizing that the call to ministry doesn’t distinguish between male and female, and reaching our hands in fellowship to every blood-washed one—regardless of color of skin, or name over the church doors, for example—the Church of God has placed a premium on unity, holiness, and the mission of reaching anyone and everyone with the gospel. It should be no surprise then, that over recent decades Church of God congregations across the country have developed motorcycle ministries that really make a difference. Often stereotyped and frequently feared by a four-wheeled society, the distinct culture and community of bikers has proved a field ready for harvest in the Church of God.
Everybody knows Easter Sunday services are the most attended of any Sunday during the year, right? Except at Hope Community Church in Andover, Kansas. The Church of God congregation hosted Biker Sundays for ten years, ultimately attracting the biggest crowds of the year. Pastor Steve Weldon recognizes the value of the event, which proved a powerful tool for the gospel in their particular community. “We have seen people start coming to Hope and be brought closer to Jesus because they first came to Biker Sunday,” he explains. “When they came to Biker Sunday they felt loved and welcomed, and therefore knew if they ever decided to go to a church, ours would be a safe place. We also ended up doing a few biker-related funerals for the same reasons. If people know you genuinely love them, sooner or later you might see them again.”
Rocky Wills, associate pastor of First Church of God in New Martinsville, West Virginia, has a number of years of experience in motorcycle ministry. Not only has he seen the powerful effect of unchurched bikers making friends with Christian bikers, but also the wonders such a ministry can have on non-bikers. Rocky has witnessed biker ministry engage 90 percent of the congregation in preparation and carrying out of service-oriented outreach.
One of the largest biker ministries in eastern Kentucky, and perhaps the largest in the Church of God, finds its home at Owingsville First Church of God in Owingsville, Kentucky. Pastor Lowell Rice first got into motorcycling in 1983. The church’s involvement blossomed in the years since, along with the attendance at their annual Blessing of the Bikes event. The church of approximately 150 has seen up to 200 motorcycles and 500 people visit. Owingsville’s Blessings of the Bikes Sunday also includes formal recognition of World War II and Korean conflict veterans by a United States congressman. Throughout the years, other local and national heroes have also been given prestigious recognition. Food, fellowship, a gospel concert, and a memorial ride (common among motorcyclists) to raise money for families fighting cancer, round out the day. “I would consider this day to be our greatest day of outreach in the life of the church,” Pastor Lowell explains.
Of the church’s other motorcycle ministry activities, their annual trip to Sturgis certainly stands out. The Black Hills Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, better known as Sturgis, is also commonly known as a not-so-family-friendly experience. Still, the hotbed for hedonism is a perfect opportunity to share the hope of Jesus. Pastor Lowell explains that “it is very common to find the Christian Motorcycle Association giving Bibles to bikers, praying for them, and at a tent revival giving them the opportunity to receive Christ as Savior and Lord.”
Speaking of the Christian Motorcycle Association (CMA), a survey of Church of God involvement in biker ministry reveals a common thread of partnership. Any Church of God congregation can be involved in motorcycle ministry, even if they don’t have a lot of bikers or have the capacity to host a biker Sunday. Through partnership with the CMA, even modest-sized Church of God congregations can make a big impact on the biker community—and they do! Crystal Springs Church of God in Benton Harbor, Michigan, is one example.
“Crystal Springs has been partnering with CMA for almost three years,” Pastor Bill Bridgman explains. Bill serves as chaplain for the local chapter of CMA—the “Prayer Re-Riders”—and loves to ride as often as he has the chance. “So even though Crystal Springs Church of God doesn’t do direct outreach to the local biker community, through our partnership and my direct participation, we are engaged in the outreach.”
At least a dozen Church of God congregations across North America engage in motorcycle ministry to one degree or another. Each one has found unique opportunities to give life to a distinct subculture, but in so doing have been changed themselves. Pastor Don Billey of Main Street Church of God in Anderson, Indiana, is one example.
“The motorcycle community is a largely unreached population that surrounds us every day,” he explains. “Bikers are used to stares, locked doors, and even shunning by the population, in general, and church people, in particular. So, we have a group of people who are cultural outcasts, but whose needs, relationally and spiritually, are real. Bikers don’t want special treatment, they just want to be shown respect, compassion, and acceptance. What we have is a group of people needing relationship and needing to hear the gospel. To me, it’s a no-brainer.”
Through the church’s motorcycle ministry, including Motorcycle Sunday (this year, celebrating ten years) and Saturday biker breakfasts, souls have been won to Christ, visitors have joined the church family, and lifelong friendships have been formed. The non-bikers in the church have warmed up to bikers and anyone who perhaps looks a little different on the outside (think tattoos, leather, etc.), but are genuinely wonderful people on the inside. The experience has made a personal difference in Pastor Don, himself.
“For me, it took away some of the fear that I have to admit I had about bikers,” he concludes. “I’ve discovered a group of people who genuinely love one another and who would do anything for people in their community. As a result, my ministry has expanded well beyond the walls of the church and into some areas where I never would have dreamed I would go.”
To learn more about the Christian Motorcycles Association or to find a chapter near you, visit www.cmausa.org.
Across North America and around the world, God is on the move in the Church of God. Join the movement. Reach our world. Donate today at give.jesusisthesubject.org.