Rapid City church revs up attendance with a rumble and a roar

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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN-TV)- Not every church is the same. Not every pastor is the same. And that's probably a good thing because not everybody is looking for the same thing.

Sign for 'Freedom Motorcycle Church' on the wall in the front of the sanctuary.

One Rapid City church has a little more roar than most, and a pastor who's ready to ride.

Freedom Motorcycle Church in Rapid City is a lot like any other church, except for the ways it's not.

"You'll find 87 year old women sitting next to a 35 year old biker and just laughing and talking," says Senior Pastor Brett Hilgemann of Freedom Motorcycle Church.

This church has been here for a long time, but as the congregation aged, there were a lot of empty seats, so the church shifted gears.

"A change happened about 5 years ago where they became focused on motorcycle riders. What can we do to reach the motorcycle community?," says Pastor Brett Hilgemann.

A few months after that change in direction, Senior Pastor Brett Hilgemann and his wife, Associate Pastor Linda Hilgemann, moved from California to Rapid City to lead the church. And as the church reached out, bikers rumbled in and attendance revved up.

"They don't wear masks. They don't watch their tongue or their language. They do what they do and they are who they are. And the great thing about our church and about Christianity is that we love them for who they are. It does not matter and we welcome them for who they are, and it's not my job to change them, that it's the Lord's job to do that internally," Pastor Brett Hilgemann says.

There's no shortage of bikers who love to ride in the beauty of the Black Hills. Here, the music is modern. The congregation, a healthy mix of bikers and non-bikers. Hilgemann is like a lot of other pastors, except he rides a Harley and preaches in a biker vest.

"A lot of the ways that we reach out to bikers is we simply have rides every Sunday that it's nice. And we tell them kickstands up at 11. Meet us in the parking lot. If you're afraid to come onto the church parking lot. Meet us at the first restaurant stop for lunch," he says.

Pastors Brett and Linda are both ordained in the 'Free Methodist Church', both originally from South Dakota, and are now back home. Married for 37 years. And in the summer, when Sturgis rally time rolls around, they meet people from all over the world.

"We open our church basement up to people to come and stay and sleep in our basement for free. And if they want to give a donation at the end of their time here they're welcome to do that , but we don't ask anything of them. We just ask that they don't trash the place," says Pastor Brett Hilgemann.

They don't set up in Sturgis itself, they set up right out front, with a variety of options, a free biker barbecue one night, they also offer a biker blessing.

"We will pray over them and over their motorcycle for safety for the year," he tells us.

The church keeps growing. And while they ride for fun, their motorcycles are also vehicles for ministry and outreach. By the way Pastor Brett is also a 5th degree karate black belt.

"As a martial arts instructor they call me sensei which became my ride name. My wife for example because she's go, go, go, go, go. She's just non stop. They call her Taz because she just spins through life," he explains.

At this church where there's chrome on the front stage, and people that range in age, the point is everybody is different, everybody is welcome, and you don't have to be a biker to saddle up for Christian guidance on your ride through the road of life.

By the way, they found out Monday night, the Free Methodist denomination has suspended all services nationwide until further notice.
So, Sunday morning, like many churches they'll be doing their service via 'Facebook Live'.

If you've met someone cool "Along the Way" please call us, or e-mail Steve Long at stevel@blackhillsfox.com to let us know.