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Cowboy churches are local Christian churches within the cowboy culture that are distinctively Western heritage in character. A typical cowboy church may meet in a rural setting in a barn, metal building, arena, sale barn, or old western building, have its own rodeo arena, and a country gospel band. Baptisms are generally done in a stock tank. The sermons are usually short and simple. Some cowboy churches have covered arenas where rodeo events such as bull riding, team roping, ranch sorting, team penning and equestrian events are held on weeknights. Many cowboy churches have existed throughout the western states for the past forty or fifty years, however just in the past fifteen or so years has there been an explosion of growth within the “movement”. In 1972 Cowboy Church was birthed at the hands of Glenn Smith as chronicled in his book "Apostle Cowboy Style" published in 1988. Many cowboy churches today are actually denominational attempts to re-frame the setting of their theology. There are some cowboy churches that are an outgrowth of ministries to professional rodeo or team roping events, while the roots of many can be traced back to ministry events associated with ranch rodeos, ranch horse competitions, chuck wagon cooking competitions, cowboy poetry gatherings and other “cowboy culture” events. But to be a cowboy church it has been alleged that a church must have 5 characteristics: 1. Non-denominational 2. No offerings collected or solicited 3. No membership 4. No dress code 5. Held in non-traditional settings
But as claimed below, cowboy churches also exist in the denominational context of baptist churches.
The "no barriers" cowboy church model pioneered by Ron Nolen of the Baptist General Convention of Texas has been used by the AFCC (American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches) to plant more than two hundred denominational motivated cowboy churches in sixteen states. This model mimics the worship service first designed by Glenn Smith while focusing on the absence of the traditions that are believed to have no biblical basis, such as the "altar call" and passing of the collection plate. Tithes and offerings are simply placed in a boot, hat, or wooden bird house at the rear of the meeting room. The model, copied from Glenn Smith, also utilizes a specialized leadership structure that empowers volunteers and teams to execute most of the functions of the church. This model was copied and then used at the Cowboy Church of Ellis County in Waxahachie, Texas, currently (alleged) the largest cowboy church in North America.
The Southern Baptist Convention have started cowboy churches using their own polity and leadership structure. Even though most of these churches are located in Texas and Oklahoma, the number of cowboy churches is expanding rapidly throughout the United States aided by a growing group of formal and informal cowboy church networks including the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches, the Cowboy Church Network of North America, the International Cowboy Church Alliance Network, and others. Today these groups are closing more cowboy churches than it is opening as it shuns and excommunicates those who revert to the original model first begun by Glenn Smith in 1972. The only group with operations extending over 10 consecutive years is Cowboy Church of Virginia www.cowboychurchofvirginia.org.
There are also cowboy ministries that hold cowboy church services at rodeos and other western events. A cowboy ministry may also hold rodeo schools, clinics, or camps. These are not "churches" as they do not have repeating services at repeating locations.
- Sid Miller, Republican member of the Texas House of Representatives from 2001 to 2013; operates a plant nursery in Stephenville, candidate for Texas Commissioner of Agriculture in the March 4, 2014 primary election
- Molly S. White, Republican member of the Texas House from District 55, effective 2015, from Bell County
- Cowboy churches rope in new Christians: Ministry attracts those looking for an alternative to traditional worship, Associated Press, 2008
- Cowboy Church in Payson Arizona, Payson Arizona News, 2013