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cowboy church
The Plain Dealer, John Kuntz/AP
On horseback or in the grandstand, the congregation listens to Royce Gregory's sermon in
this 2006 file photo. (AP)

Cowboy Congregants Flock to Churches on the Range

August 11, 2008 06:59 AM
by Shannon Firth
Part of the American tradition for years, cowboy churches are now growing in number as more congregants flock to the laid-back, stylized services.

A Preacher in the Saddle

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They meet in barns and in bars, and sit on saddles, hay bales or stools. They don’t  remove their hats at the door—only during prayer. They are congregants in a growing movement: the cowboy church. Dress is casual, the music is country, and the sermons are short.

In the days before the automobile, bible-toting pastors would come to a ranch, preach, hop in the saddle, and ride on to the next county. In the 1960s, evangelical preachers began piggybacking on rodeo tours, and in the 1990s, Dr. Joanne Cash Yates, sister of Johnny Cash, began one of the first “cowboy churches” when she and her husband held a service at a bar in Nashville, Tenn. Today, the Chicago Tribune reports there are at least 600 cowboy churches in the United States; Texas alone boasts 100.
Arizona has more recently begun accepting cowboy churches. Rev. Coy Huffman and his wife Donna began Cowboy Church International 12 years ago and, like the preachers in frontier days, have traveled from town to town. But instead of a horse, they drive a motor home. The Huffmans are helping develop seed cowboy churches across the country.

Chris Harris, a 31 year-old bareback bronco rider, says he isn’t religious but he believes in God. He feels some preachers can be condescending, but has become friends with Rev. Huffman. He explains, “You can’t just walk into a group of guys like us and expect us to respect you. Coy is one of us.”

Opinions & Analysis: Gimmick, or the real thing?

According to the Chicago Tribune, some evangelical Christians wonder if cowboy churches are merely a gimmick, and whether they deliver “a meaningful spiritual experience.” In a piece for Christian Communicators Worldwide, the Rev. Jim Eliff argues that cowboy churches are divisive: “We are forfeiting something of the glory of the church by not seeking to blend all kinds of people together.”
Yet proponents of cowboy churches believe firmly in their appeal and authenticity, particularly for those who don’t connect with the pomp and politics sometimes found in traditional churches. Jeff Goodwin, music director of the Cowboy Church Network,  says, “We’re here to worship God and that’s it. There’s no phoniness. It’s just real.”

Related Topics: Cowboy churches coping with the declining economy; a Cowboy’s prayer

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