Is Your Church “Bikeable?”

By Sean Benesh

Bikeable ChurchPortland, Oregon is a city known for its hipsters, coffee shops, swank bohemian urban neighborhoods, craft breweries, burgeoning artisan economy, and bicycles. Call it the Amsterdam of the United States … Portland has been dubbed “America’s Bicycle Capital.” The city certainly lives up to this title and wears it proudly. Every city has some kind of bicycling scene whether tattooed skinny jeans wearing singlespeed fixie riders in San Francisco or middle-aged me in lycra in Phoenix. However, Portland is a unique city among all others. While we certainly have our hipsters riding singlespeed fixies and our middle-aged men in lycra, what makes Portland stand out is that more than any other city, Portlanders use their bicycles as their “MoDo” (mode of transportation).

I live on the fourth floor of a mixed-use apartment building and right below me is a main bicycle thoroughfare. I see groups of cycling children commuting to school. There are scores of cyclists who cruise by on their way downtown or back the other way after work. Oftentimes, throughout the day and evening, I can be sitting in my living room or out on the patio, and below me I hear the sounds of cyclists. I hear people chatting away with one another, the familiar sound of the bike bell dinging, the sound of shifting gears, and the occasional “pop” sound when a chain skips during shifting.

I have my bike repair stand on our outside patio. When it isn’t raining, I enjoy tossing my bike up on the stand to work on it. As I’m working on my bike, I notice and watch the vast array of cyclists pedaling around the neighborhood. It is a beautiful sight to behold with their colorful rainproof jackets and all kinds of bikes. I watch as well the numerous cross streets where cyclists are also merging onto the main bike route. Many times I stand there leaning against the railing where I can watch what is taking place at the Velo Cult bike shop across the road. At 10:00 PM in the evening, I see them turn off the lights in the shop and head home. More than simply a mode of transportation to get from Point A to Point B, the bicycle matters.

Does the bicycle matter to the church?

That haunting question sent me on a quest to begin finding answers as that question hangs low and heavy like the rain-drenched clouds in Portland. Here locally, business after business is eschewing the car in favor of the bicycle. We have coffee roasters delivering their beans by bikes, every now and then I see the “bicycle plumber” lug by on his bicycle pulling a trailer loaded down with supplies and tools, I see the SoupCycle rider delivering soup to local business by bicycle, and scores of coffee shops, breweries, restaurants, and stores are foregoing auto-oriented street parking in favor of installing bicycle parking corrals. But does the bicycle matter to the church?

I set out to research and find out how bikeable our churches are. How many people ride their bikes to worship gatherings or other church-related things like missional communities? If Portland (along with many other cities) is creating more bike-friendly streets, what kind of impact is this having on our churches … or is it? I released my findings in The Bikeable Church: A Bicyclist’s Guide to Church Planting. But wait no further. If you’re curious or interested in some different ways that you can make your church more bikeable then here a few ideas. This is taken from the chapter, “The DIY Bikeable Church,” which offers some fun ways you can make your church more bikeable. Recently I got word from a church in Texas who, through reading the book, is raising money to purchase bicycle parking at their church!

1. Educate people about the joys and benefits of bicycling.
2. Add or ensure ample bike parking.
3. Do bike-related activities as a church.
4. Become a bike advocate for your neighborhood.
5. Provide bike maps to your gatherings.
6. Bicycle safety clinics for kids and families.
7. Support a bike salvage/repair co-op.
8. Install showers and make them available to your people.
9. It will take modeling by the leadership.
10. Appoint a bike coordinator.

Give it a whirl!

Sean Benesh

Sean Benesh (DMin, Bakke Graduate University) lives in the Pacific Northwest and is the author of View From the Urban Loft: Developing a Theological Framework for Understanding the City (2011) and Metrospiritual: The Geography of Church Planting (2011). He is involved in urban ministry in the capacity of professor, researcher, consultant, Director of the Epoch Center for Urban Renewal, and church planter. He blogs regularly on various urban themes and topics at The Urban Loft.