Portland, Oregon is one of the major hubs of North American bike culture, spinning out cargo bikes, bike clothing, a major bike blog, custom frame builders, and all manner of things bike. Into this fertile bike landscape Sean Benesh is sowing the seeds of the gospel while simultaneously learning the cultural lessons that the city offers the observant coffee-sipper. From the intersection of Benesh’s experience as a bike tour guide and missionary comes this slim but full volume, The Bikeable Church.
In the book, Benesh makes the case that in the urban setting, bike riders are an increasingly important demographic – one that church organizations have largely failed to accommodate. One goal of the book is to open the eyes of church leaders to help them identify simple things they can do to better welcome bicyclists, like adding bike parking. Another goal is to help church leaders reconsider what the church might look like in a localized context – a place where people come by foot and bike rather than a cross-town car commute.
This is definitely a timely book. Transportation culture and the urban landscape are changing. People are more interested in living locally. Face-to-face relationships trump how big or shiny a thing is. These are all good trends, in my opinion, and The Bikeable Church does a good job of introducing them and giving them attention.
In writing this book, Benesh is to be commended. I picture him as the first guy going into the cave with flashlight in hand as he begins mapping out the interface between bike culture and the church. As the rest of us pile in, the light will get brighter and I think we’ll see more clearly the issues that underlie the role transportation culture has in the church, both in its effect and its usefulness as a barometer of health.
My perspective is that of an organic church proponent, transportation nerd, professional engineer, bike shop owner, cargo bike enthusiast, cycling instructor, wanna be amateur sociologist, and struggling-to-advance disciple-maker. I see bikes as an excellent vehicle for understanding what a lively and healthy church looks like, especially when contrasted with other kinds of vehicles.
Bicycling strikes me as being strongly congruent with the Kingdom of God. Not just bicycling – walking and skateboarding and other similar modes fit, too. But my background inclines me to highlight bikes.
Bicycles are an everyman vehicle. They are slow compared to cars, but fast compared to walking. They allow you to interact with your surroundings, starting or stopping as desired, always accessible to others. Bikes are a social vehicle.
But even more important, I think, is that bicycles are a vulnerable vehicle. In a culture that has championed biggest as best, bicycles are a choice to embrace small. Is the Kingdom of God more like an Expedition – huge and demanding and isolated with it’s height and tinted glass, or like a bike – small and quiet and low-impact and accessible. I don’t mean to push the connections too far, or paint drivers of big vehicles (I’m one, myself!) as un-Christian. I do mean to encourage us all to think about how we relate to one another, and whether our choices – including transportation choices – incline us more toward community and connection and others-thinking, or away from those things. It might be that a big car is just the right vehicle for the mission. Or, it might be that bike gathering dust in the garage.
Regardless, read the book (especially if you have some leadership role in the church) and let’s think together about the ways the church can meet the culture where it’s at.