Sturgis impact grows across the nation

by Karen L. Willoughby, posted Friday, August 15, 2014 (4 months ago)

STURGIS, S.D. (BP) -- What sounded like a good idea at the time has grown into a national movement known as the "Sturgis method." It involves a three-minute Gospel presentation and the possibility of winning a new motorcycle.

In addition to the Dakota Baptist Convention-led intentional evangelism initiative the last nine years during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally each August, offshoots now take place in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., with the Lone Star Rally's first evangelistic thrust in Galveston, Texas, set for Nov. 7-8. Each of these rallies touts attendance of nearly 400,000.

Also this summer, a similar Sturgis-style outreach took place at the National High School Rodeo Finals in Rock Springs, Wyo.

Organizer James Scott, pastor of Hyattville Cowboy Church near Manderson, Wyo., said he wants to expand the Sturgis model of intentional evangelism to the Collegiate High School Rodeo Finals in Casper, Wyo., to Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyo., and to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.

"Oh boy was it awesome," James Scott said of high school finals with about 12,000 people in attendance. A team of about 20 Christian witnesses gave 1,900 Gospel presentations to those who stopped by the tent, willing to listen to a three-minute testimony in exchange for the possibility of taking home a 4-wheeler. As a result, 101 people made professions of faith and 23 made rededications to the Lord.

"It was just amazing people would come in and talk with us," Scott said. "When it's the person's time to come to Christ, there is a transformation right in front of your eyes. Their adam's apple pops out. They begin to squirm or shake. ... It's breathtaking to watch it right in front of your eyes.

"When people just witness to people, they can relate to their stories," Scott said. "Nobody wants to go to hell. We've got to proclaim the message that Jesus is the only way to heaven and proclaim the light so people can come out of the darkness."

Former biker Jim Hamilton, then-executive director of the Dakota Baptist Convention, suggested to his staff in 2006 that they somehow capitalize on the opportunity to witness among nearly a half-million people in the Black Hills of South Dakota at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally the first week of August each year.

Garvon Golden, the DBC's current executive director who had lived in Sturgis for five and a half years, said the motorcycle rally was the kind of event that was hard to put your arms around to reach people.

"It's a scary type of event. If you're not familiar with biker folks and their mentality, it can be threatening," Golden said. "A lot of ministries up there were smaller efforts. It was more servant-based evangelism and not direct intentional evangelism."

Southern Baptists previously had distributed bottled water as an outreach to the bikers, wannabes and onlookers at the rally. Hamilton suggested to his staff that they bring in Texas evangelist Ronnie Hill to do what Hill had successfully done in a limited way at a NASCAR race in Bristol, Tenn.

The DBC's plan became an evangelistic thrust revolving around a presence on the Main Street in Sturgis, the giveaway of a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle and a short personal witness by volunteers of the new life they had lived since making Jesus the "boss" of their lives.

The first year, Hill led the DBC team and volunteers in making 2,900 gospel presentations, yielding 718 professions of faith.

"How do you put a price on one soul?" Hamilton asked at the time. "The Dakotas never saw this kind of harvest in one week. Few places in the United States see that kind of harvest. God really blessed the effort."

This year's intentional evangelism at Sturgis resulted in 513 people making professions of faith. The nine-year total: 6,430 people making Jesus the boss of their lives.

"We won't compromise the Gospel," Golden said, justifying the Sturgis method of drawing in people to listen to a Gospel presentation who otherwise probably wouldn't listen to one. "We will do whatever it takes -- I should say anything that's legal and moral and ethical -- to get someone's attention.

"We know that what we do in Sturgis is not just dependent on people being prepared to share their testimony, or in the number of volunteers, but on the Holy Spirit being there in power," Golden said. "Prayer is the key component to the effectiveness of our ministry in Sturgis."

A 30-day prayer guide for the Sturgis rally, revised this year by Morgan Medford, Dakota's church planting catalyst, received many hits on the www.sturgisbikegiveaway.com website. A Facebook "boost" also added to the "improved communication" noted by Dakota missions director Buck Hill.

"We had a lot more people praying and watching," Hill said, referring specifically to facebook.com/SturgisBikeGiveaway. "We did a Facebook boost, paid for by a volunteer from Virginia, and received 21,414 views this week, and we also had 68 new page Likes." The "boost" resulted in an initial 11,256 views, Hill added.

"The Facebook page is used mostly right before and after the rally, and in January to promote it," Hill said. "Usually we get about 100 page views a week."

While time volunteers were busy at the evangelism venue, which this year was moved to a location nearer the heart of the party action in Sturgis -- a decision by Golden that nearly tripled the number of professions of faith -- 16 DBC-led volunteer chaplains wandered through the town, building relationships with vendors, city workers and police/fire personnel.

"One of the [tattoo parlor] vendors we've been building a relationship with for the last nine years, who never before wanted to have anything to do with religion, this year he held out his hand and said, 'I need this much prayer,' indicating a half-inch space between two fingers," said Sonja Newton, a member at Foothills Community Baptist Church in Piedmont, S.D., who helps Hill coordinate the chaplains.

Newton said the Sturgis intentional evangelism ministry needs at least 24 chaplains next year to minister to the increased number of vendors expected for the 75th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and the 10th annual DBC intentional evangelism ministry at Sturgis.

Hill, meanwhile, said at least 200 volunteers are needed next year to "catch" those passing by the DBC venue, to tell their story to, and to process the contact information among the one million or more people anticipated for the bike rally during the first week of August.


Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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