I walked toward the building in (a former nightclub converted into the Seven Cities Freedom Biker Church building) with, I’ll admit, a little trepidation. This would be my first worship experience at a Biker Church, and I’ve never been on a motorcycle in my life.
As I walked up…and this is no exaggeration…the very first sentence I heard was from a conversation between two guys in leather vests standing out front. “Yeah, I had to go to anger management classes” said one of the two men.
Then, the first sign I saw read, “We love the hell out of people.”
This was a different church.
And what would follow in the next hour-and-a-half would be one of the most incredible worship experiences of my life. And that is no exaggeration, either. In fact, when I got home a few hours later and my wife asked me, “How’d it go?” tears welled up in and poured out of my eyes. It was hard to explain the experience.
The pastor was not present, so one of the biker guys had been asked to bring the message. After the kind of driving music you would expect in a Biker Church (the first song was titled, “I won’t back down”), the gentleman rose to speak. He paced a bit, obviously nervous.
The speaker started slowly, like someone trying to walk out of mud about knee deep. But he finally found his footing. He read the story from Luke 7 of the woman who, in the house of the Pharisee, washed Jesus’ feet with her hair. He noted the words of Jesus about the one whose sins were many loves more than one whose sins are few, when those many sins are forgiven.
“My sins are many,” said the gentleman standing uncomfortably in front of us.
There followed one of the most moving “sermons” I ever have heard. It was a story. His story. This self-effacing man told a beautiful story of life-transformation. From addiction to infraction to incarceration to dramatic transformation we followed his journey. “Now, I don’t want to give the devil any free publicity,” the speaker said, his early life obviously a testimony to the power of his demons. And he did not glorify his wayward lifestyle.
He told of finding a gospel tract in prison. Never having been in a church, he was intrigued by the words on the front of the tract: “New Birth.” He read with interest, and when they announced a worship service in the prison later that week he went. He was moved by what the heard and wanted desperately to respond to the altar call at the conclusion of that first prison worship service, “but pride wouldn’t let me,” he said. Then, back in the cell, he fell on his knees and pleaded for the mercy of this God of whom he knew so little. He was radically transformed.
Early on, he read Acts 16:31, the promise from Paul and Silas, “If you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ you will be saved and your house.” “I was just simple enough to believe that,” he told us. He went on to say, “When I got out of prison my wife was still on crack. But a few weeks later she fell on her knees downtown Virginia Beach and asked God to save her. Shortly after that a man who had been praying for my father for fifteen years led my dad to the Lord. And then I had the privilege of holding my mom’s hand in her living room when she became a Christian.”
We were all cheering like we were at a pep rally!
But it got better.
At the end he invited people to respond. “I’m inviting you to the same new birth I had,” he told them. Several people stood.
“There is a big golden bell up in front of the worship space on which is written John 8:36, ‘If the Son sets you free you are free indeed.'” Our speaker went on, “At the Harley place, when someone buys a new bike they ring the bell and everyone cheers. Well, if you are one of those who stood saying you want to be saved I want you to come up here and ring this bell!”
A small parade of people walked up there, pulled the rope and rang that bell one by one, and the place erupted. It was a party for the lost sheep and the prodigal sons who’d been found. Each one who rang the bell was escorted off individually for counseling.
I know that’s neither everybody’s idea of church nor the only way to do church. This is a fresh expression of church—a new form of church for a particular micro-culture. This is a contextualized form of church for bikers; it looks like what church would look like if bikers planned and ran it, for they do. Seven Cities Freedom Biker Church, in Chesapeake, VA, is a member of a network of twelve church plants under the umbrella of Freedom Biker Churches.
I pray for a movement of fresh expressions of church—new and non-traditional forms of church for unchurched people in the innumerable subcultures of our world.
Travis Collins is Pastor of First Baptist Church, Huntsville, Alabama, and Director of Mission Advancement for Fresh Expressions US. He holds a PhD in Christian Mission and is the author of From the Steeple to the Street and Fresh Expressions of Church.