Walking into the makeshift worship center, the familiar beat of honky tonk-style music fills the air. There are about 75 people milling about, greeting one another.
Everyone is dressed, not in a suit and tie or even business casual, but in his or her favorite pair of Wranglers and a button-up shirt. The auditorium does not hold a single pew; straw bales pass for seats here. As the pastor gathers everyone’s attention, the band starts playing “Amazing Grace” in a way that would make George Strait proud.
The pastor says, “This week we will be reaching out at the local rodeo, and inviting people to be a part of a Bible study.”
When the service begins, the congregation stands and sings along to hymns re-fashioned with a country flare. This is church in a way you’ve probably never experienced, and it’s one of the fastest-growing church planting models in Texas: the cowboy church.
“The cowboy church focuses on more than just cowboys,” said Jim Gatliff, shared ministry strategist at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. “Cowboy churches focus on what is called Western Heritage culture; this includes rural life, horses, area events and music.”
In Texas, roughly one in five people hold to the Western Heritage culture. There are roughly 300 cowboy churches in Texas, Gatliff said.
Because of their success rate in reaching rural Texans with the gospel, the SBTC is hosting a one-day event on Jan. 26 called “Cowboy Church Basic Training.”
Gatliff said the training will teach how to plant and grow cowboy churches, and how to develop leadership in a cowboy church. The conference is planned from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at Branded by Christ Cowboy Church, 5592 Highway 110 North, in Rusk.
“Cowboy churches tend to be pretty relaxed, unstructured and simple,” Gatliff said. “They attract a lot of people who would feel uncomfortable in a traditional church.
“Often, Cowboy churches lead their associations with the number of adult baptisms. Texas is a rural state. Baptists have always struggled with rural church planting but cowboy churches are an excellent way to reach unbelievers.”
Music is often one of the greatest factors in a cowboy church, Gatliff noted.
“There are typically three sounds of music in a cowboy church: bluegrass, Southern gospel and country.”
Most of the attendees and members of cowboy church plants are unchurched adults, which is an advantage if a church seeks to build through evangelistic outreach, Gatliff said.
“Cowboy churches are built around reaching lost people for Christ,” he said. “Cowboy churches absorb the neutral elements of Western Heritage culture and use those elements to reach the lost.”
Cowboy Church Basic Training is funded through the Cooperative Program and is free of charge. Lunch will be provided. For more information, contact Jim Gatliff at firstname.lastname@example.org or toll free at 877-953-7282.