“Back in 2006 I bought a couple of raffle tickets to support a medical air pilots association,” recounted the Rev. David Anderson. “First prize was a Harley Davidson Sportster. I won it.” Upon hearing of his good fortune Anderson’s wife asked, what are we going to do with that?
“That’s how ‘Biker Sunday’ came about,” said Anderson, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Sagola, Mich. “We have a worship service — leathers are welcome — and we rope off a spot in front of the church for the bikes.”
Anderson preaches in leathers, and people dress up, even if they aren’t bikers. After worship, one of the church’s families hosts a brunch for the more than 100 people participating, and then they go out for a 4-5 hour ride.
“The bikes stretch out for about a mile, and we now have escorts because it has gotten so big,” Anderson said. One of the church members is a photographer who has begun to come along to take photos, which are provided on a CD to each rider as a memory of Biker Sunday.
“It has brought down a lot of barriers and misunderstandings and preconceived notions on both sides,” Anderson said. Bikers often are stereotyped as being rough and tough, so it is good for the congregation to realize that not bikers all are like that, and that these are good people. For the bikers who may have ideas about what ‘organized religion’ is all about, the day helps them see that they can actually have fun together, doing something they love.
“It’s nothing I could have ever choreographed — it just happened,” Anderson said. Once word got out about Biker Sunday, it spread quickly. “Whenever other bikers get wind of it, they want to join up. Now people in the church are even starting to invite their friends to come and see the bikers.”
“That first year we set a date, ran an article in the newspaper and said ‘All bikes welcome: join us for worship, a nice meal and a great ride,” Anderson said. Bikers came because they like to ride bikes and they like the fellowship. Now those same folks are taking ownership in the group.
Churches often run into problems when they get in the business of trying to entertain people, Anderson said. “We are not saying, ‘Come hear a rock band and we are going to make this as ‘unchurchy’ as we can’ — the centerpiece is the worship service,” he said. “We haven’t had to try to entertain them because they have entertained themselves.”
Not only have they entertained themselves, but they’ve also helped Anderson understand Harley culture in the process.
“The bikers weren’t some sort of evangelistic target,” he said. For him, the Sundays are more like “Let’s share this blessing with those who like to ride. I’ve learned a lot from them about being on the open road and the freedom that comes with that.”
“Did I pray to God for a Harley? No,” Anderson said. All he did was buy $20 worth of raffle tickets to support another ministry — and all of a sudden a motorcycle came with it. “The bike was a gift to me — sort of heaven sent.” So, he thought, why can’t I use this for ministry too?
For some people the bike might have been a liability. But for Anderson, it opened up a new chapter in life, to begin riding again in his 50s. “I wanted to turn it over to the Lord and say, what would you like me to do with this?”
“We really feel like we are doing what God has asked us to do,” Anderson said. His advice to other churches that may be wondering how they can be more creative in their outreach?
“Look at where you are planted. Is there something unique to your congregation such as being near an airport, at the crossroads of trucking, or in a tourist town? Ask God to give you a heart for those who are coming through the area.
“I think God is waiting for churches and pastors to be available — Lord, what would you have us do, given what we have and where you want us to go?”
Erin Dunigan is a freelance writer, photographer, and pastor who lives in a small coastal community in Baja California, Mexico when she is not following her wanderlust out into the world.