News Articles

Sturgis motorcycle outreach calls for volunteers

STURGIS, S.D. (BP)–Ordinarily, Sturgis, S.D., is a charming, Western-style tourist town on the northern end of the Black Hills. People bound for sites such as Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial might even miss it, with so much else to see and do.

But the town of about 7,000 people is expected to expand exponentially — maybe to as many as 700,000 — this Aug. 9-15 for the 70th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Southern Baptists plan to be ready — and “we need your help,” said Jim Hamilton, executive director of the Dakota Baptist Convention, which for the fifth year plans to have an evangelistic outreach at the rally. “We’re expanding this year to three sites,” Hamilton said, “and that’s going to take a lot of folks willing to talk with people about the positive difference Jesus Christ has made in their lives.”

The evangelism strategy at Sturgis will include an opportunity to win a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle for anyone willing to listen to a three-minute testimony.

Each morning during the Sturgis rally, Southern Baptists provide training for volunteers on how to effectively and succinctly share their faith. By training, and then doing, and seeing the people they encounter invite Jesus into their lives, the volunteers return to their homes inspired and equipped to share their faith in their own community, said Garvon Golden, Sharing Christ strategist with the Dakota Baptist Convention and overall coordinator of the Sturgis ministry.

“We have seen this to be true in the Dakotas,” Golden said. “Baptisms have increased over the last three years, and last year we had among the largest percentage increase in baptisms in the nation. While we can’t tie this directly to our efforts in Sturgis, surely what we’re doing here is having a ripple effect back to our churches.

“One of the benefits we see here in the Dakotas is a heightened motivation to share our faith,” Golden continued. Dakota Baptists are seeing the potency of telling the story “of how Christ changed their lives.”

In addition to the evangelism tent across the street from the hugely popular Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame, a second tent is to be set up at the Harley-Davidson dealership on the edge of Rapid City, and a third in Custer, S.D., near the Crazy Horse Memorial.

New this year: a relationship-building ministry at a camp for non-Christian bikers that will involve nightly concerts of music not normally heard in staid Southern Baptist churches.

“This camp is for hardcore bikers,” Hamilton said. “We began to realize these bikers were the least likely to stop and listen to someone give their Christian testimony. … We’re trying to make it low-key so we don’t mess up what God’s doing. … This is about God touching people’s hearts and changing lives.”

By providing breakfast and supper at the “clean and sober campground,” along with security services and relationship-building conversation, Dakota Baptists hope to break through barriers that will lead to evangelistic conversations. This is the first year of a five-year commitment by First Baptist Church of Custer, S.D., to open its church camp to the biker ministry.

“We felt like God wanted us to share the Gospel with more people; that’s why we expanded,” Hamilton said. “On less money we expanded to more ministries, to touch more people.”

Also new this year: a playing card evangelistic tract designed by Hamilton, himself a former biker.

“Our poker chip was new last year,” Hamilton said. “It stops people dead in their tracks when you give them a poker chip. It’s one of those things they want, a souvenir. For us, it’s relevancy. They want it, and it gives us an opportunity to engage them in conversation.

“They might not make a profession of faith then, but months later, when they come across the poker chip in their things, the Holy Spirit could bring conviction to their heart,” Hamilton said. “Same thing with the playing card.”

“Poker runs” are popular in biker culture these days. These are biker runs in which the motorcyclist collects a playing card at each of five stops. At the end of the day, the biker with the best poker hand wins the pot.

“To a traditional Christian, giving a poker chip or a playing card sounds pretty sinful,” Hamilton acknowledged. “But it’s speaking the hard language of a biker. That’s relevancy.

“Many people without Christ are familiar with a poker chip and a playing card,” Hamilton continued. “Why not redesign them and use them to share the Gospel?”

The poker chips on one side have “Sturgis Bike Rally 70th anniversary 2010,” and on the other, a motorcycle and cross outline, with “SturgisBikeGiveaway.com” around the edge.

The poker chips and playing cards are part of the intentional evangelism developed by Dakota Baptists that involves a five-part process — relevancy, receptivity, redemption, relationship, and reproduction, Hamilton explained.

“I think we have discovered an intentional evangelism ‘process’ that will work one-on-one or at any event where large numbers of people gather,” Hamilton said. “Its biblical base is found in John 4, where Jesus engaged the woman at the well in a conversation.”

South Carolina Baptists have been using Dakota’s intentional evangelism process for two years during its Myrtle Beach Bike Week; Florida Baptists are looking to implement it at the Daytona Bike Week next year.

“Our problem is not our message,” Hamilton said. “People are open to the Gospel. … At some point we have to stop inviting people to church and calling that evangelism, and invite them to become a follower of Jesus.

“I believe we need a national emphasis — a strategy — on intentional evangelism, on ‘sharing your story,'” the Dakota executive director said. “In fact, I think we’re desperate for it. We as Southern Baptists have always been at our best and most effective in doing Kingdom work when we cooperate and partner together to do more for God than we could ever do alone. … A national emphasis on intentional evangelism would not only focus us on every Christian being a missionary, it could also be the catalyst that helps us return evangelism in the local church to its rightful place.”

With beautiful scenic drives through the Black Hills, attractions like Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer Park, wild buffalo herds and the mining town of Deadwood, S.D., the Black Hills lure bikers, wannabes and Southern Baptist volunteers to some of the most fascinating scenery in the nation. For those interested in traveling a bit further, attractions like Devils Tower in Wyoming and the South Dakota Badlands add to the area’s appeal.

Southern Baptist ministry at Sturgis will focus not just on hardcore bikers but also the “people groups” of motorcycle enthusiasts and the people who provide support services for the week, including vendors of the 1,700 or more tent businesses catering to bikers, police officers, sheriff’s deputies, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and personnel who pick up more than half-million tons of trash tossed during the week.

“You don’t even need to come to Sturgis to have a part in the intentional evangelism,” Golden said. “We are still looking for teams that can come and share testimonies under one of the tents during the week of the rally, either in the morning, afternoon and evening shifts. We also are looking for prayer teams to prayerwalk or drive Sturgis during our 30 days of prayer for the rally, but if you can’t be here, we have three other ways you can be a part.”

Golden spoke of prayer, providing printed materials and financial support.

“You may do the Virtual Prayer Walk on www.sturgisbikegiveaway.com,” Golden said. “A booklet — 30 Days of Prayer for Sturgis — is also available. Prayer is so vitally integral to what we do here. God works through the prayers of His people, and we’re asking Him to move in a mighty way. …

“More than 100,000 bikers will pass our booths each day during the rally,” Golden continued. “We will need biker New Testaments and tracts to distribute. Any donations toward the purchase of these items would be appreciated.”

Volunteers for the first time this year will be asked to donate $50 to offset the cost of printed materials.

“Also, we have a budget of $55,000 for the rally,” the DBC Sharing Christ strategist said. “This budget provides training, booth and vendor spot rental, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, housing, city fees, licenses, and other expenses.” Checks can be made out to the Dakota Baptist Convention, specified for “Sturgis,” and mailed to DBC-Sturgis, P.O. Box 770, Sioux Falls, SD 57101.

In the first four years of the Sturgis strategy, at least 16,777 people listened to someone give a personal testimony, and 3,753 first-time professions of faith in Jesus Christ were made. Names and contact information of those who make a profession of faith is sent each day to the Evangelism Response Center at the North American Mission Board, which redirects the information to a Southern Baptist church near the contact’s home.

“People are walking away from Sturgis with Jesus in their hearts and He is going to begin to change their life,” Hamilton said. “With this intentional evangelism, we have been obedient witnesses in a place that desperately needs it.”

Not everyone leaves with Christ as personal Lord and Savior, Hamilton acknowledged. Some say, “That was a good story” or “I’m at a different place in my life right now.”

“It is not up to us to save them,” said Buck Hill, SBC Starting Churches strategist for the Dakota convention. “It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to draw them, and then God to save them. However, we are called to spread the Good News, and that’s what we do in Sturgis.”
Karen L. Willoughby is managing editor of the Dakota Baptist, newsjournal of the Dakota Baptist Convention, and of the Louisiana Baptist Message, newsjournal for churches in the Louisiana Baptist Convention.