Evangelist-led innovation: Sturgis-style biker ministry at Texas-sized motorcycle event

by Karen L. Willoughby, |
About 400,000 people are anticipated for the 13th annual Lone Star [Motorcycle] Rally on Galveston Island, which ordinarily is home to 48,000. It's a 28-mile long island no more that 3-miles wide in the Gulf of Mexico. The Rally action takes place on 20 blocks spreading out from the Strand Historic District.

GALVESTON, Texas – What has thrived in Sturgis, S.D., then spread to Daytona Beach, Fla., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., expands again, this time to Galveston Island in early November.

It's an evangelistic ministry to motorcyclists and those drawn to the biker culture, or at least the biker rally.

Called Mission Lone Star, it is an extension of what is known nationally as the "Sturgis model" which involves a Christian volunteer sharing in three minutes or less the story of how Jesus changed their life for the better, and then asking the willing listener: "Has anything like this ever happened to you?"

This intentional evangelism method is expanding among church members who have been to Sturgis or other rallies and return home, trained and experienced in giving their three-minute testimonies to people who line up to hear it.

"This is the big difference in this model versus other models," said Jim Hamilton, a former biker who lived in Bismarck, N.D., when as executive director of the Dakota Baptist Convention he enlisted evangelist Ronnie Hill to help with evangelistic outreach to bikers. "Most of the time people run from an evangelistic encounter, but with the Sturgis model, they want to hear it."

Evangelist Ronnie Hill of Fort Worth, Texas is known for evangelistic innovation, using incentives such as chances to win big prizes to give people a reason to stop and listen to a Gospel presentation.

Hill, from Fort Worth, Texas, has been an innovator in using incentives -- not to twist people's arms to make a decision but as a way to get them to stop and simply listen to a testimony about the change that is possible with Christ.

He has given away Harley Davidson motorcycles and a $10,000 cash prize at NASCAR races, the Calgary Stampede in Canada and led Dakota Baptists to do so at the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally at Sturgis, South Dakota.

Hill a couple of years ago even set up a website, threeminutestory.com, where people could listen to his three-minute testimony and sign up for a chance to win a new car.

Importantly, that is only the start of this evangelistic method, as every person who makes a profession of faith gets a follow up call or visit to begin discipleship in Bible study.

Hamilton bought into this innovative method for catching the attention of the lost among biker groups and made it an ongoing outreach to the more than 400,000 bikers who make the annual trek to South Dakota.

"Ronnie helped us perfect the Sturgis method, and part of why it has been and continues to be so successful is because we used an evangelist to help us build the framework," Hamilton said. "It's a technique that works."

In Galveston, visitors will be offered the chance to sign up to win $1,000 in a drawing held each day, simply by listening to a 3-minute testimony.

"Most of the people who come to the Lone Star Rally are interested in two things: motorcycles and money," said Hamilton, now executive director of the Golden Triangle Baptist Network in southeastern Texas.

"Since this is a four-day rally, touted as the largest weekend motorcycle rally in the U.S., instead of giving away a motorcycle, we will go fishing with money.

"Each person who registers to win $1,000 must agree to give three minutes of their time," Hamilton continued. "Right then and there, they'll listen to a volunteer talk about how God has changed his or her life. There are no strings attached. The person can walk away or further engage."

During the Lone Star Rally, Galveston will swell nearly 8 times its population of 48,000 with the bikers, wannabes and gawkers who are anticipated to roar in for the 13th annual, four-day weekend jam-packed with live music, bike shows, contests, rides, vendors, military tributes and much more.

Nearly 2,000 vendors are expected to offer "wares" for bikers, wannabes and gawkers at the Lone Star Rally. Christian chaplains in teams of two during Mission Lone Star will engage them and build relationships that in time could lead to spiritual conversations.

Booth space for Mission Lone Star has been reserved on one of the three main streets of the rally action. About 200 ministry volunteers are needed to work 4.5-hour shifts. Some will "catch" passers-by, inviting them to register for the drawing. Some will share their 3-minute story. Still others will serve as chaplains, ministering to the 2,000 or more vendors in Galveston for the Lone Star Rally.

"We're hoping to win several hundred people to Christ," Hamilton said. "One out of every six people who hear someone's testimony will make a profession of faith, according to research done at similar events.

"The booth will be open Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 6-8," the organizer continued.

"If you're considering volunteering for the booth, it's important to also consider which days you're available to commit there. Volunteer chaplains will need to be available to begin serving vendors one to two days prior to the start of the rally, through Sunday, Nov. 9."

More information is available at www.missionlonestar.com.

During the nine years of ministry during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, 6,480 people made professions of faith in Jesus as a result of the Sturgis method, according to the Dakota Baptist Convention. Each person also received follow up contact to start the discipleship process.

That's out of 37,989 three-minute stories.

"People are hurting, searching, looking for answers, even big burly bikers," Hill told the Examiner. "If we can get more workers out there, we can get more people saved and more people will hear the gospel and more people will give their lives to Christ.

"The gospel works; it still works," the evangelist continued. "It's still powerful. It still changes people's lives."