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Motorcycle ministry: A 'biker church' in Texas draws a devoted flock

Dennis King preaches in a converted blues bar to motorcycle riders and others who like his brand of everyone-is-welcome worship.

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"I realized God had been answering my prayers all along," King says. "He wasn't bringing the men to me. He was bringing me to them."

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Initially, Saturday nights meant blues jams at The Pigeon Hole, with a quick cleanup for Sunday church. Though it didn't begin as a biker church, word spread quickly. This was a place where everyone was welcome, even bikers. And though King wasn't a hard-core biker, he knew if he wanted to minister to this flock, he had to ride. Suddenly the former Baptist preacher shed his tie. He got a tattoo while church members stood around, some teasing, all impressed by his dedication to become one with them. The Pigeon Hole became a full-time church.

"A lot of churches expect you to change before you come in, but change doesn't take place until you're in the presence of Jesus," King says. "People will stick their heads in here and say this isn't a church, but the people are the church."

Roger Brown says the open attitude is what drew him and his wife, Lindy. "I've gone to churches where no one would speak to you," he says. "You were an outsider, and you'd wonder why you were there. Here, you're not gonna get in and out without somebody hugging you."

Vee Miller agrees. She was initially suspicious of the church when her son joined, but King quickly put her fears to rest. "I was really impressed with the sincerity of the men that went there, how they worshiped," Ms. Miller says. "You have these men who come from very rough backgrounds, and I watch these tough-looking men praying, raising their hands in worship, and singing, and I know it's sincere."

She thinks that King is uniquely fitted to understand the needs of his congregation because he has walked in their shoes – and that empathy has worked a miracle in her family.

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That, in fact, may be the biggest value of "niche" churches like Hope Fellowship: They can take the Gospel to segments of society that traditional churches often eschew. "If we look at the ministry of Jesus, he associated with those the religious establishment had no time for," says Eddie Gibbs, a senior professor at the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. "He was at ease with the outcasts of society."

Yet in catering to special groups – there are now cowboy churches, Goth churches, even NASCAR churches – ministers need to avoid adopting the same exclusivity they fled. "We all feel most comfortable with our own," says David Wells, a theologian at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass. "But what the church is about is giving us something in Christ that is greater than any of the things that typically, and naturally, divide us."

Church is over at The Pigeon Hole for the day, but the ministry continues. As the men tromp down the wooden steps, slinging on denim jackets with patches proclaiming "Real Men Love Jesus," they stop to fashion a game plan.

The mission for the day is to visit a sick parishioner, part of the group's weekly "Ridin' 'n Prayn' " ministry. Sometimes their visits are routine, sometimes not. King recalls one house call where they'd driven away and were scarcely a mile down the road before they received a phone call – the woman they'd just seen had passed away peacefully right after they left.

One by one, the motorcycles file out of the parking lot, chrome flashing in the afternoon sun as they head down West Irving Boulevard. Outlaws. Sinners. Believers.

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