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Book Review of “What the Church Can Learn from Harley-Davidson.”

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The title is a good title. It grabs your attention from the first instant and intrigues the reader enough to want to know the answer.

Just what can the church learn from the famous motorcycle company Harley-Davidson?

The two things seem like oil and water. How could they have anything in common, let alone the church have something it can learn from a company who seemingly caters to tattoo and leather-covered rough and tumble types. The title does what it should. Entice you to pick up the book and read it.

It’s an easy read and doesn’t disappoint. The author, who is both a former pastor of a Christian church in the Pacific Northwest and a Harley enthusiast, provides a unique perspective of the clash and overlap of those two worlds.

The part the church can learn from Harley-Davidson revolves around the fact that H-D nearly went under after years of neglect in the late Seventies culminating in more than $50 million in losses in 1982. Their reputation was tarnished and they were known for leaking engines and violent gangs.

The church is hemorrhaging on many levels. Young people are staying away in droves and the days of passionate Christian growth seem to be a thing of the past. The church is not connecting with the current culture. The reputation of the Christian church in America is tarnished and seemingly about to go bankrupt.

What did Harley-Davidson do that has entrenched a swelling faithful to shell out millions of dollars to hear that roar rolling down the highway? How did they turn it around and can the church do the same?

The book lays out a great case for what to do. The CEO of H-D in 1981 was Vaughn Beals and he decided to go back to the future. He pulled together 12 company officers and even enlisted the help of Willie G. Davidson, grandson of one of the founders who at 64 years of age began to design new bikes that resembled what made H-D great in the first place.

The “Big Idea” as Cole calls it was to go back to their roots. The church needs to do the same. The foundation that caused Christianity to explode through the ages, was not a great coffee shop or awesome graphics. Those things are nice, but what causes the church to rumble like a Harley on the open road is the fact that Jesus Christ was real and the Son of the Living God.

Sounds pretty powerful, why doesn’t the church build on that? It might be time for the church to go back to its roots. Cole goes on to explain how to the church needs to embrace the loud roar that comes from being a Christian church in America. Embrace what made Christianity rock from the beginning and shed the things that have tarnished the church and keep people away. Cole says, “Jesus successfully loved people while disapproving of their sinful actions.”

When people first get a Harley, they join a family. Each new Harley rider is different with a ton of ways to personalize their own bike, but the differences are welcomed into the Harley family. Most Harley's are custom built and there are no two alike that are on the road. Each has its own journey. Harley has successfully sent out an invite to all…come and join us on a great journey. People all long to be a part of something. Harley riders are from all walks of life and every demographic. They symbolize the freedom of the open road. Non-Harley riders are forced to take notice as they rumble down the road and many feel a desire to join.

“On the other hand, the church is an antagonistic symbol to the unchurched. The purpose of evangelism seems to be winning a soul rather than a friend. It feels like a high-pressure sales pitch-with a religious argument that intends to close the deal”

The church should learn to invite outsiders into a life of faith that is ongoing and exhilarating. It should be a soft sell. Harley Davidson, a motorcycle company, has successfully embodied itself as “(a company) that represents to America the adventurous pioneer spirit, the wild west, having your own horse, and going where you want to go…it suggests personal freedom and independence.”

What can the church, who actually has the Son of the Living God as a centerpiece and offers a journey of excitement culminating in everlasting life, be known as? Certainly, more than judgment and boredom.

The church can learn a lot from Harley Davidson. Harley Davidson knows who and what it is. The church currently does not.

Buy this book for yourself. Buy a copy to give to your pastor. If a message like this got around, the world would be a better place.

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