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Modern-day circuit riders

District’s motorcycle ministry reaches out in Christ

By Jessica Connor

GILBERT—How do we reach out to the unchurched and bring them to Christ?

For a group of bikers in the Columbia District, you start by revving up the engine and hitting the open road.

Through a brand new motorcycle ministry called the United Methodist Circuit Riders, these open-air riders are hoping to turn biker neighbors into Christian brothers and sisters by relating to them through their shared interest.

I relate to people who ride motorcycles, so I can talk to people who ride motorcycles,  said John Barnett, an active member of Beulah United Methodist Church, Gilbert, who founded the district-wide ministry. You don t bring unchurched believers in by staying in the church. You ve got to get outside the walls of the church, go out and talk to people at their level, and you can t go say, ˜Hey, have you got a minute to talk about Jesus? You have to go with some sort of commonality.

What I know is motorcycles, and that s where I am. 

Pushing 60, Barnett, who has been riding motorcycles since he was 9 years old, had been riding with other bikers at Beulah for some time as a way to fellowship. But one day, he began to look around him in the pews. Beulah has had some growth over the years, but he realized most of the new members were transfers from other churches.

That s a big problem for the church on a global level, Barnett said.

People move around from church to church, but we don t really bring people in from outside,  Barnett said. So I thought, OK, how do we actually go out and reach people who say ˜I believe in God but don t have a relationship in Jesus Christ? How do we reach out and help them develop that relationship? 

So he decided to do what Jesus, John Wesley and countless other evangelists have done since Christianity began: Hit the road.

Right now, the United Methodist Circuit Riders ride every other Saturday, using the 50-50 rule: if there is a 50 percent or greater chance of rain, or the high temperature is 50 degrees or below, the ride automatically cancels. As Barnett said, people don t like to ride when it s cold or raining.

They meet at Beulah and then fan out, meeting others and bringing them in. As the ministry grows, they hope to begin the rides at other United Methodist churches in the Midlands.

The evangelism is light at first “ they re a group of likeminded Christians who get together and ride, but when the opportunity presents itself to witness, they do.

Hopefully we will spread both the word and Christ s love among the biker community and anyone else we encounter,  Barnett said.

Dr. Tim McClendon, Columbia District superintendent, said the new ministry is a wonderful project that will promote relevant discipleship and evangelism.

This has the potential of being one of the most unique and effective ministries of the entire UMC in reaching people for Christ,  McClendon said. It s another ˜first in ministries started through S.C. United Methodists “ lay-inspired and UM connectionalism connecting with people. 

He said it also fulfills the Columbia District s motto: together we can do more.

Those involved with United Methodist Circuit Riders are excited about the fun new opportunity to evangelize and fellowship. They appreciate that the ministry isn t simply a riding group but an authorized ministry of the UMC that recently received approval from the General Church to use the official cross-and-flame symbol as part of its logo.

Beulah member Ron Krepps has been riding motorcycles since he was a kid and thinks the ministry is a great way to do outreach.

I think it s different and I think it s fresh,  Krepps said. You get people of all ages, men, women, all together. 

S.J. Conway, also a Beulah member, has been riding on and off since she was 18; currently she rides a pink and black special edition breast cancer awareness Harley Davidson. Conway said there are at least 12 bikers in her neighborhood alone, and none of them go to church.

The real goal is to involve the community, make them think, ˜Maybe these church people aren t so bad,  Conway said. There are certain places we go that bikers like to go, and they might think, ˜That s a pretty nice group; hey, maybe I ll go to the church fish fry. 

Claudia Rowe, who has been riding about eight years, said the ministry could be effective not only with nonbelievers but with nascent believers, too.

A lot of people know Him but don t really know Him,  Rowe said, noting bikers might feel more comfortable heading to a church where they know other bikers attend a
nd would be wanted and welcomed.

Fellow rider John Painter agreed. If we can put out anything that might possibly lead people to Christ, that s not a bad thing,  he said.

The United Methodists Circuit Riders are planning a mass kickoff event, and have launched a website, www.umcriders.com .

In addition to weekly and biweekly rides, they plan to do some fundraisers and have a presence at activities that draw motorcyclists, such as rallies or swap meets.

But for now they re out there every other Saturday having a good time together, popping into biker-friendly restaurants and making new friends, all to increase the Kingdom one soul at a time.

We ll just see where the Lord takes us,  Barnett said, grinning.

For more information about riding with the United Methodist Circuit Riders, or if you are interested in being a road captain, contact Barnett at john@umcriders.com or 404-695-0314, or just show up at Beulah.

The next ride is set for Saturday, Sept. 7, at 10 a.m. All are welcome regardless of age, gender or type of bike, as long as the bike is street legal.

Bikers “ want to ride along?

All bikers are welcome to ride with the United Methodist Circuit Riders, regardless of age or gender, on all types of street-legal motorcycles.

The next ride is Sept. 7 at 10 a.m.

Riders meet at Beulah United Methodist Church, Gilbert.

For information, contact John Barnett at john@umcriders.com or 404-695-0314, or just show up at Beulah, or visit their website, www.umcriders.com.

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