When cowboy church members say “Sunday clothes,” they are just as likely to be talking about jeans, boots, and a cowboy hat as a nice suit.
The first cowboy churches came about in 1972, when a man named Glenn Smith left life as a cowboy and rodeo clown to become a minister with his wife. He started following the rodeo circuit and preaching at rodeos, where there were always a lot of people, attendees and workers, who were interested in the gospel. Never in a church, though; he preached in barns, arenas, and ranches.
The cowboy church movement has grown on the strength of its informality. Cowboy churches are often non-denominational, there is no expectation of fancy dress, they embrace western culture and country music, the sermons are easy to understand, and there is no altar call or collection plate (though some have collection boots or hats in the back). Baptisms occur in a horse trough.
Many people who did not previously go to church have been attracted to cowboy churches because the atmosphere is considered less judgmental than traditional churches. Not all members are cowboys or cowgirls, or steeped in western culture. Folks who are unaffiliated with cowboy culture just come for the simplicity.
The Cowboy Church of Ellis County is known as the largest cowboy church in the world, with more than 1,700 members. Yes, world: Cowboy churches are not restricted to the borders of the United States and can be found in Canada, Australia, and even Russia. There is no way to know for sure how many cowboy churches there are in the country or the world, since so many of them are, by nature, off the beaten track.
Know Before You Go
After every sermon at the Cowboy Church of Ellis County there are rodeo activities for people of all ages at the arena on the church grounds (a feature many cowboy churches have). This includes riding and roping events, and they also have such events on certain nights of the week.