GALVESTON, Texas (Christian Examiner) – It felt like swimming against the tide, but two teams of fewer than 50 Christians managed to talk with 4,134 people at this weekend's Lone Star Rally, organizers said. This included 1,060 Gospel presentations and 403 professions of faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord.
Local media reported about 650,000 bikers, wannabes and gawkers at the thirteenth annual Lone Star (Motorcycle) Rally, which had identified itself with previous years' totals of 400,000 visitors as being "the largest weekend motorcycle rally in the nation."
"Estimates are usually high but it looked and felt like 650,000 people were here," said Jim Hamilton, who organized Mission Lone Star this year as an intentional evangelism outreach patterned after the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally's annual ministry, which he started in 2006.
"Downtown Galveston and the Seawall were packed with people," Hamilton told Christian Examiner. "Vendors are already reporting a 30 to 45 percent increase in sales over last year."
The ministry at Sturgis has resulted in 6,480 professions of faith in nine years, so when Hamilton moved from the Dakotas to be executive director of the Golden Triangle Baptist Network in Beaumont, Texas he set out to start a "Sturgis Model" ministry to take place during the Lone Star Rally.
The "Sturgis Model" involves setting up a booth in the heart of town, with people out front -- called "catchers" -- inviting passers-by to stop and listen to a three-minute story. Their reward for doing so: a chance to win a substantial prize. In Sturgis it's a motorcycle. In Galveston it was a $1,000 prize given away each day of the Nov. 7-9 weekend rally.
A "catcher" hands over a willing listener to a "witness" who gives a personal testimony about transformation and tells the person how to commit to Christ.
Evangelist Ronnie Hill of Fort Worth, Texas, trained the volunteers how to effectively share a personal story in three minutes or less.
"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."
The ministry organizer spoke of Alisha, who was a first-time witness who participated because, she told Hamilton, her daughters were leading people to Christ and she needed to do so as well.
"She felt convicted to come," Hamilton said. "[She] came by herself for two mornings and was nervous because she had never done this before. ... She led the first three people she shared with to Christ and you couldn't stop her after that."
Evangelist Ronnie Hill explained why ministering at secular events like motorcycle rallies is effective.
"People are hurting, searching, looking for answers, even big burly bikers," Hill told the Examiner. "The Gospel works; it still works. It's still powerful; it still changes peoples' lives."
A bearded Tom Henderson of Belton, Texas, led 39 people to the Lord during Mission Lone Star, but it wasn't about "adding notches to my belt," he said.
"I never had that kind of response before," Henderson said. "God used us and people responded. I think it was the genuineness of sharing our story and the opportunity for them to do something very simple. It's just hear the Gospel message, repent of your sins, and commit your lives to Christ.
"It happened so fast I don't remember their stories," Henderson continued. "It was young adults as well as older adults responding, I'll tell you that. It was a wide variety."
In addition to reaching out to Lone Star Rally visitors who clogged 18 or more blocks of Galveston Island's town center, a second group with Mission Lone Star targeted the 3,000 or more vendors hawking their wares.
Of the 3,074 personal contacts made with vendors, 1,200 were with people who indicated strong potential for future Gospel decisions, and four people made professions of faith, said Don Hunter, senior chaplain with the Oklahoma Chaplains for Bikers.
"I thought it was a great start with great potential," Hunter told the Examiner. "All the vendors, all the storekeepers were extremely receptive, I think because they saw us as someone actively interested in their welfare and their well-being as opposed to everything there directed to the bikers."
Three of the four vendors who placed their faith in Jesus were people Hunter met three years ago at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. In God's timing, he said, they were ready in Galveston to put their lives in His hands.
"The fourth one came about because of those three ladies," Hunter said. "I went by there Saturday night, and two of them came up and hugged me. Another vendor had come by to see what they had, and he said to me, 'Wow, you must have bought a bunch of stuff to get that kind of response.' One of the three ladies said, 'He gave us something more valuable than a product; He showed us eternal life.' That started the conversation and he made his own profession of faith."
The chaplains reported they prayed with 34 vendors, and 98 other vendors "too busy to talk" nonetheless gave personal prayer requests.
"If I could describe it in one word, this weekend with Mission Lone Star was beautiful," Hamilton said. "God brought all this together – the leaders, volunteers, money – to do what He wanted done at the Lone Star Rally. We didn't get much sleep, but I believe God was honored by what He did through us this weekend."
More hard work is ahead as discipleship begins with all the new Believers. But instead of being weary, the mission teams are excited and already planning to return to Galveston next November for the 2015 Lone Star Rally, Hamilton said.