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What Is a Cowboy Church / Church Service?

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Once you start diving into cowboy culture, you begin to discover some interesting aspects of cowboy life. For example, one of the most interesting things about cowboys is that some of them go to what’s called cowboy church.

Cowboy churches and church services have been around since the 70s. The movement ties many of the aspects and values of cowboy life to Christianity. Some of them vary on points of doctrine or the way churches run, but almost all of them are grounded in a belief in God, Jesus Christ, and the bible.

When cowboy Christians get together, you’ll see many of the same things you would in a formal church. They sing songs, pray, listen to sermons, etc. However, you’ll also see a lot of boots, hats, big belt buckles, and other cowboy adornments.

Let’s explore cowboy church services and what makes them a unique part of American cowboy culture.

A young boy with his horse staring into the distance

What Cowboy Churches Believe

Many cowboy congregations follow the teachings of Christ and the Bible. They often closely resemble what you would find at a Southern Baptist church. The main difference is that things have a Western theme. There is a bluegrass band, lively music, and baptisms in horse troughs or a river.

Many cowboy churches are non-denominational, focus on uplifting worship, and are centered on general Christian principles. They’ll often incorporate things like rodeo and horse riding as part of their services. The beginning of the cowboy church service will be a sermon or a lesson, but then the group or followers engage in typical cowboy activities.

Most of the sermons are simple. They talk about accepting God, following the example of Jesus Chris, and applying bible teachings to modern-day living. Sermons are offered in basic language compared to the flowery or anachronistic speech you’d hear in other churches.

What Denomination Are They?

Cowboy churches usually don’t declare any specific denomination. Instead, most of them declare as non-denominational, so all believers in Christ are welcome to join.

They follow general tenets of Christianity, like accepting the Lord as your savior, baptism, and the Bible as the word of God. They believe that redemption comes through Christ and that the end of days is coming.

What bible do cowboy churches use? Typically, cowboy churches will accept any mainstream bible. Because many congregations are loosely affiliated, there is no standard bible like the King James version of the Bible. You’re likely to see different bibles in use at various services.

A white Christian cross at the entrance of a church

What You Might See at a Cowboy Church Service

Typically, a cowboy church service is much more relaxed than your regular church service. Instead of walking into a chapel, you’ll usually find the service in a tent or an open-air arena on a ranch.

The ushers are often on horseback, directing cars and people as they find their places.

Everyone is dressed in jeans, boots, bolo ties, and all wear beautiful cowboy hats.

Whoever is giving the sermon will address the congregation, talking about something like loving your neighbor, having charity, or some thoughts on the life of Jesus Christ.

After the sermon is over, participants can engage in or watch amateur rodeo events like barrel racing or roping. In general, it’s a fun, welcoming atmosphere without much of the rigidity in some old-fashioned churches.

Background on Cowboy Churches

Cowboy churches started in the early 20th century when open-air churches and a celebration of cowboy culture melded into church services. Many people credit the formation of cowboy congregations to Stuart Hamblen, who was a Methodist preacher’s son.

Hamblen was a popular recording artist in Los Angeles in 1929. Due to money and fame, Hamblen fell into gambling and other habits but found God at one of Billy Graham’s services in LA.

In the 50s, he launched a new radio show focused on Christ and cowboy principles. However, it wasn’t until the 70s that actual cowboy churches started showing up in the United States. As expected, these cowboy churches started appearing in Texas as small groups of people coming together for worship.

Formalizing Cowboy Church Services

In the past few decades, cowboy church services have become more organized. However, if you live in a small Texas community, you can still find loosely affiliated cowboy church services focused on people who live in the area.

However, groups like the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches bring cowboy church leaders and their congregations together and try to organize better. They help establish affiliates across the country built on common beliefs and cowboy practices.

How to Find a Cowboy Church

Going to a cowboy church service is a wonderful experience, especially if you love Western culture and want to participate in a unique religious service.

If the town you’re in is small enough, you can ask around about cowboy churches and where to find them. Almost all of them are extremely welcoming, and if you ask the right person, you’ll likely receive a cheery invitation.

You can also look online at different cowboy church affiliations or groups that list locations and times of services near you. You may want to call ahead or email to let the group know you’re coming. In almost every case, visitors are very welcome.

Cowboy Church in the park with wooden benches

Why Do People Like Cowboy Churches?

Some people struggle with the formality of the usual church settings. However, cowboy churches do an excellent job of keeping things casual and using a format that helps people feel relaxed while they learn about religion and fellowship with other believers.

People love cowboy culture, and cowboy church services give them a chance to celebrate Christianity with a unique perspective that resonates with them. It’s part fun and part worship, and many congregations make a day of services with a sermon followed by hours of good, old-fashioned cowboy fun.

Give a cowboy church service a try if you can find one in your area and see what all the fuss is about. It’s a fantastic way to see a church that runs outside the mainstream, and you’ll get a chance to experience part of real cowboy living.