By Karen L. Willoughby
STURGIS, S.D. (BP) — “Their eternity is forever changed,” Garvon Golden said of 10,647 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attendees who named Jesus as their Lord and Savior during the past 14 years.
Golden, executive director of the Dakota Baptist Convention, added that “volunteers who have had the opportunity to share their testimony with nearly 54,000 bike rally attenders over these 14 years have the joy of knowing they’ve been obedient to share the faith they have in Jesus.”
The DBC’s outreach in Sturgis will segue next year to F.A.I.T.H. Riders, a ministry primary geared to motorcycle aficionados with chapters in more than 350 Southern Baptist churches.
In order to win a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle, more than 2,750 Sturgis attendees listened to a 3-minute testimony of the difference Jesus made in the life of one of 120 volunteers at the eight-day outreach.
The winner’s name was drawn from listeners who registered for the shiny black 2019 Harley Davidson motorcycle parked in front of a Main Street storefront during the 79th annual Sturgis rally in early August.
Two “catchers” flanking the motorcycle invited passersby inside the storefront where willing listeners connected with a “middleman” (or woman) and then a “sharer” who recounted his/her 3-minute testimony.
This year, 224 of those who heard a Gospel presentation were the big winners when they put their lives in Jesus’ hands, Golden said.
F.A.I.T.H. Riders members have participated in the Sturgis evangelism outreach for nine years. The organization asked the Dakota convention in 2010 to help coordinate a similar ministry during the Daytona [Fla.] Bike Week in March, which has been an annual outreach since 2011.
At both Sturgis and Daytona, the cacophony of revving motorcycle engines couples with colliding musical genres at max volume on jam-packed small-town streets, fusing hundreds of thousands of people clad in an array of garb worn to shock or to support the convictions (or lack thereof) of motorcyclists and wannabes, as well as dozens of dozens of vendors hawking everything an event attendee might be willing to spend money on.
Motorcycle rallies provide limitless opportunities to connect with people who choose to be far from God, said Marcus Merritt of Georgia Baptists. Georgia has been a partner with the two-state Dakota convention of 88 churches since 2006, the first year of the initiative. Merritt, director of church minister relations in Georgia, also is a F.A.I.T.H. Rider.
Golden, who retires at the end of the year, introduced area pastors to F.A.I.T.H. Riders’ national president, Mike Stewart, at a breakfast in Rapid City, South Dakota, and a supper in Spearfish, South Dakota, both on Monday, Aug. 5.
Effects from Sturgis to Daytona
Golden told the pastors their participation in the future will be “crucial” in providing housing and meals for volunteers who otherwise would find the Sturgis ministry opportunity cost-prohibitive.
“As a F.A.I.T.H. Riders family, we couldn’t be happier to be able to coordinate the Sturgis Bike Giveaway ministry events,” Stewart told Baptist Press after his remarks to pastors and leaders in Spearfish. “F.A.I.T.H. Riders owes a huge debt of gratitude to Dakota Baptist Convention for training us in this entire procedure. What we do in Daytona is because of what we learned at Sturgis.”
Jim Hamilton, former executive director of the Dakota convention, first suggested to his staff the DBC evangelistic thrust at the Sturgis rally, which draws a half-million or more motorcyclists and wannabes to the Black Hills on South Dakota’s western edge.
“I had experience in Sturgis and I knew what we needed to do,” Golden, Hamilton’s successor, told Baptist Press. “Every year we added something new.”
There was a “clean and sober” camp for a couple of years, and a second booth location in Rapid City, S.D., where 3-minute testimonies were shared, but “we decided we’d be more effective by narrowing our focus to the downtown location and maximize our volunteers,” Golden said.
In their first three years at Sturgis, Texas evangelist Ronnie Hill led in training volunteers to share their faith in three minutes. Hamilton had seen Hill use the witnessing strategy and adapted it for Sturgis. For the last three years, Merritt has led the training, which he named “ishare,” available online year-round at SturgisBikeGiveaway.com.
Morgan Medford, now retired from the Dakota convention, developed a 21-day prayer guide that is updated each year by Georgia Baptist state missionary Marty Youngblood. Youngblood also leads in a prayer and encouragement ministry to Sturgis vendors, first responders and city employees.
No changes expected
“Like a chaplain, that encouragement can lead to a deeper conversation about their relationship with Christ,” Youngblood said, noting, “As R.A. Torrey says, ‘The most important human factor in effective evangelism is prayer.'”
Volunteers came from across the nation each year to participate in the Sturgis outreach. Area churches housed and often fed them. In addition to Georgia Baptists, the North American Mission Board and Southern Baptist Convention of Texas were key sponsors, supplemented by donations from churches and individuals.
Golden, in his last year as executive director, realized the need to redirect NAMB’s support from the Sturgis rally toward churches in the Dakotas. Within a week of his letter to pastors announcing the end of the Sturgis outreach, F.A.I.T.H. Riders contacted Golden to say they would absorb it into their ministries.
Stewart, speaking to the gathering in Spearfish, said he expects no changes in how the Sturgis ministry is coordinated. DBC missions director Buck Hill continued to provide hands-on leadership, with logistical support from Bob Clardy, a staff pastor at Whitefield Baptist Church in Belton, S.C., and registration led by Ed Wiebe of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.
“The last 14 years have helped Dakotans see that God can use us in ‘outside the box’ ways,” Golden said, “and it has helped us develop partnerships with several churches, associations and state conventions.
“A lot of volunteers have combined to partner with churches here. Those partnerships started because of the rally, and God then led them to partner in other areas.
“I’m grateful God gave us the opportunity to do this evangelism ministry at Sturgis,” Golden said. “I’m grateful for the relationships we’ve built with people all over the nation and that we were able to train our replacements, F.A.I.T.H. Riders.”
Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press.