Cowboy Megachurches Rustle Up Religion ~ Praxis Habitus - On Race Religion & Culture

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cowboy Megachurches Rustle Up Religion

My friend Kevin Dougherty at Baylor University has been telling me about the phenomenon of "Cowboy Churches." They are not only growing in Texas, but also in several places in the Midwest and the South. I found a great article from the Associated Press on Cowboy Churches with some background on these growing congregations.

Church for the Cowboy "Tribe"

Having growing from 300 to 2,200 members in nine years, the Cowboy Church of Ellis County just south of Dallas may be the largest Cowboy church in the world. Larger cowboy churches like the Ellis County church feature dirt-paved arenas and well-planned rodeo events intended to attract new members.

These churches play their cowboy theme to the hilt. Although they may include brief messages, they wear western gear, play country music hymns, and even baptize in outdoor "troughs."

One website where people looking for Cowboy Churches says to "click on the 'Get Hitched Up' as it welcomes with a splashpage of "Malboro Man" images and "Welcome Pardner!" The website of the Cowboy Church Network boldly solicits "Help Start A Cowboy Church in Your Area! Click Here!"

They even hold rodeos. According to Rev. Charles Higgs quoted in the Associated Press article, "What a family life center is to a traditional church, an arena is to a cowboy church." The pastor is part of Texas' Western heritage ministries.

The Seeker Church, Cowboy Style

Operating within a missionary mindset, the Cowboy church treats their attenders as a particular people group. Their culture requires the message and rituals of Christianity to be applied in ways that accentuate symbols and metaphors important to them.

Cowboy Churches are one of the latest examples of targeted ministry that re-frame church for a specific group. It's a seeker church, but not for the suburban middle-class.

Although I've never been to a Cowboy Church, I can appreciate yet another example of how religion is always local, is always embedded in social processes, and is always accomodating to popular forms of entertainment that appeal to certain identity groups.

Institutionalizing a New Style of Church

The group is now networked and becoming institutionalized. The Texas Fellowship of Cowboy Churches and the Cowboy Church Network of North America have "schools" to teach church planters how to start cowboy churches.

The "Cowboy Church Institute" is also available on a DVD, titled, "Seven Key Components in Planting a Cowboy Church."

According to the Associated Press article:

The movement is about 40 years old.

Cowboy churches have grown rapidly in recent years, especially among Baptists. Some Baptist leaders say their cowboy churches have grown quickly because they offer an alternative for those who associate churches with long sermons and pressure to donate or accept Jesus as their savior.

Churchgoers wear cowboy hats and jeans, sing hymns accompanied by a country band and get baptized in horse troughs.

Some have Western-theme sanctuaries; others meet in barns or on rodeo grounds, some on weeknights -- one even meets in a nightclub called The Whiskey after the bar is closed for business.

Larger cowboy churches have arenas and offer rodeo events, mainly to attract new members.

The Cowboy Church Network of North America, supported by the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Missions Board, has started dozens of churches in 12 states and Canada since 2003.

For more on Cowboy Churches, mosey on over to the source:
* Cowboy Church Network of North America
* Texas Fellowship of Cowboy Churches

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