What the Church Can Learn from Harley-Davidson

A five-part series about successful churches by David Cole.

A Thriving Community

Communities of Harley-Davidson riders are often more welcoming than church communities.

Dave E. Cole’s book, What the Church Can Learn from Harley-Davidson: Connecting with Today’s Culture, suggests ways the Church can improve in recruiting passionate followers by drawing from his experience riding in the Harley-Davidson community. One of those ways is to restore the original focus, which is Jesus in the case of the Church. Another is to create a healthy, thriving community.

The Need for Community

People are meant to live in community. God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Life is much more fulfilling and exciting when we share it with others.

As Christians, we have God’s Spirit inside us. We should be the most loving, welcoming people in the world. Our communities should be full of warmth, acceptance, and joy.  

So why is it that Christians excel at pushing others away? Perhaps it is because we are quick to judge.  

No Right to Judge

Christians are experts at judging. We stay as far away from “sinners” as we can. We avoid them when they come into our churches, and we keep them out of our social circles. We conveniently forget the sins we regularly commit, yet we exclude and condemn others for their sins.

We may have God’s Spirit inside us, but He’s still working on us. We’re certainly not perfect: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Fortunately, the apostle Paul continues by saying that we “are justified by [God’s] grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). Anyone can be justified by God’s grace. That includes those “sinners” we’re judging.  

Besides, Jesus came to call sinners, not the righteous (Matthew 9:12).  

So, who are we to judge? Judgment not only destroys the bonds between people, but it also is a luxury we don’t have because we’re imperfect. Let’s put aside our prideful judgment and instead learn to accept people.


Harley-Davidson does a great job of creating a culture of acceptance. They make sure they know their customers’ names; they “welcome individuality and diversity” (p. 21); they strive to build lifelong relationships with their customers; and they invite people into a family. They not only have a passion for their product but also for “serving and caring for all customers—of any subculture—who desire to be part of Harley-Davidson” (p. 21).

Why aren’t our churches like that? Instead of pushing others away with our judgment, let’s show that everyone is welcome in our churches. Some people who start coming through the doors might be very different than the current church members, but that’s okay. We are all beloved to God. 

As Cole said, “We express our acceptance and love and allow the Holy Spirit to be the agent of change” (p. 22).

Now, acceptance doesn’t mean condoning others’ sin. Jesus made His views on sin very clear in scripture. But many churches send the message that people must change before they can be accepted. That’s not what Jesus did. He ate with “sinners” (Mark 2:13-17; Luke 19:1-10) and sought out the broken and the forgotten (Mark 1:21-28; Mark 5:1-20, 25-34; John 4:1-29; John 5:1-9; John 7:53-8:11; John 9:1-7; John 11:21-44).

Imagine a world where “the Church looked for positive attributes rather than automatically rejecting subcultures that don’t agree with all their values and actions” (p. 18). Maybe more people would want to be a part of the Church.

Acceptance is a key first step to a thriving community. However, acceptance without love is mere tolerance. We must love others with unconditional love, even if they believe differently than we do.  

Unconditional Love  

People crave love, and they should find it at church. Instead of ignoring newcomers, pay attention to the people walking through the doors of the church. Try to build relationships with them. Show genuine interest in their lives. All church members should be acting this way, but church leaders should take special care to do so because the congregants will notice the leaders’ love for the congregation or lack thereof.  

It’s okay if people are different. That doesn’t mean we can’t love them. Our judgment only pushes others away.

Jesus loved people without compromising His convictions or condoning their actions. So can we.

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