With pickup trucks and cowboy hats, campfires, and gospel sing-alongs, Cowboy Church has become an integral part of the Christian community while retaining plenty of unique qualities.
We’ve all seen them – at red lights or in parking lots, vehicles sporting the decal with black silhouette graphics, variations of a cowboy kneeling at a cross, hat in hand, saddled horse in the background. A few variations may appear, but the message is always the same: Cowboys for Christ.
The concept is nothing new, but the popularity has exploded in recent years. Cowboys for Christianity was originally developed by Glenn Smith in 1972; Smith founded Rodeo Cowboy Ministries (International Western World Outreach).
A graduate of Baylor University Medical Center, Radiology, Smith served his country in the United States Navy as well as the U.S. Army. Also a PRCA rodeo clown, Glenn Smith decided to dedicate his life to God and Christianity and in the ’70s was ordained as a minister. Within a couple of years of declaring his dedication, Cowboys for Christ began to spread throughout the west. At first following PRCA rodeos, Glenn and his wife Ann traveled throughout the United States and Europe, spreading the message of Christianity. Their venues included ranches and rodeos, farms, camp meetings, and spaces where anyone willing to listen like chuck wagon cooking competitions and poetry gatherings.
The smell of wood in campfires, a horse’s whinny in the background, a feeling of peace that only nature can provide: I cannot think of better settings for spiritual enlightenment! Cowboy churches are unique in five principals:
They are non-denominational
No offerings are solicited or received
There is no membership status
There is no set dress code
They are always held in venues not considered traditional
You attend a cowboy church to hear God’s word and for the fellowship of like-minded people – no other reason.
Glenn Smith wrote Apostle Cowboy Style in 1988, detailing his decision in taking a different path, and all that followed.
While one of the principles of the Cowboy Church is to be non-denominational, the Baptist Church has embraced the style of Glenn Smith’s ministry but combined with their policy and leadership methods. While cowboy churches were established in the wild, wild west, they continue to expand across the globe.
The truth is that there aren’t many true cowboys or cowgirls anymore, even in the movies, but that hasn’t stopped the desire to live the lifestyle. The number of pickup trucks with the cowboy and cross decals continues to increase.
I have attended several cowboy churches, and I have to admit that I understand their popularity. The congregations often mirror the neighborhoods they are held in, meaning you get strong evidence of what the community represents. For instance, one of the venues I attended was held in what once was a horse barn with a baptism taking place in a stock tank. Those present were rural residents who reflected a rural lifestyle.
Another church I attended was in a neighborhood close to a retirement development and a good number of those attending showed no evidence of a cowboy way of life or even a rural community. While the venue was indeed a farm with cattle and horses, most of those attending were lucky if they had grass in their local neighborhood.
Yet they were drawn to the principles and lifestyle that cowboy churches represent. Perhaps the gospel singers and country-western bands added to the attraction. it could have been the peace and tranquility they found in residence. While the band sang and the preacher preached, a peacock took issue with his reflection in the barn window, and a mare and foal could be seen in a nearby paddock.
A breeze lifted the oak leaves and chickens scratched the earth looking for breakfast.
A neighbor’s dog sat in one of the many chairs lined up in rows, listening to the band play gospel music.
It’s easy to understand the increasing popularity of the Cowboy Church. With an accepting, inclusive outlook in the most beautiful settings imaginable, what’s not to love?
If you are interested in attending one of these “churches” check out this directory for a location near you, and tell them HRL sent you!