When Wes Brown planted a church on 16 acres of farmland, there wasn’t much nearby but wide-open space.
Fifteen years later houses are going up everywhere and the rapid growth, just north of Dallas, has arrived at — or is at least nearing — the Cowboy Church of Collin County, Texas.
The congregation, in a pastoral setting a couple of miles south of Princeton, continues to thrive — proving to Brown that what’s important isn’t so much the style but the message.
“People ask me, ‘What is a cowboy church?’” Brown said. “I just tell ’em, ‘We’re a church that worships Jesus.’”
Cowboy Church of Collin County offers a laid back, Western heritage cultural vibe and an intentionally rural aesthetic, including worship music with country and western flair. Many wear hats, jeans and boots, and beyond Sunday services and other familiar church activities, the congregation offers opportunities to rope and ride.
For people who may not have been to church in many years they offer a new beginning.
Above all, they’re offering Jesus.
“The draw,” according to James “Mac” McLeod, Western heritage consultant for Texas Baptists, “is lowering the barriers. It’s a more relaxed atmosphere. It’s a ‘come as you are’ deal.”
According to McLeod there are nearly 200 cowboy churches in Texas affiliated with Texas Baptists.
While the roots of the concept are difficult to pinpoint, McLeod said it really took root and sprouted in the late 1990s, and the churches share a common mission:
“Reaching people in the Western culture with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and providing a church home where they can grow.”
“Most cowboy churches are growing,” Brown noted. “I think it’s the culture. Don’t get me wrong, there’s certainly a place for traditional church, absolutely. … But the cowboy church really extends its arms to those who’ve been detached from the church, for whatever reason. The cowboy church is almost a rebirth to them. It’s a new beginning, a new start for them. And people like that.”
McLeod sees a growing challenge in contexts like Collin County, with its rapid population growth and the corresponding shift from rural to suburban life. Like their urban and suburban cousins, some cowboy churches might soon need to consider revitalization to connect with their changing community, he said.
“How are cowboy churches going to reach the communities they’re in, especially when the communities are becoming more suburban America?
You look at Collin County, and people are flooding in there like crazy — and they’re not cowboys! So we have that same challenge of trying to stay on mission with why we started.”
Brown’s formula for growing Cowboy Church has always revolved around being an active part of the community. He and other members go out rather than waiting for people to come to them. They’re serving and showing Christ’s love to others.
‘Come as you are, and invite people’
Brown believes as long as the church is connecting with people, it will continue to grow, regardless of how the community may change.
“It has to be personal,” he said. “You can’t just put a sign out there that says, ‘Y’all come’ — which we do too! We say, ‘Come as you are, and invite people’ — but it has to be personal. You’re out meeting people, shaking hands, getting them to know you and trust you.”
Church members also are involved in civic events and organizations. Brown serves as chaplain for the Princeton Police Department, and regularly makes the rounds at local feed stores and coffee shops.
“A pastor in today’s world and ministry, you have to get out of your box, out of your office,” Brown said. “You have to get out where the people are. I think that’s what Jesus did. He went to lunch with them. He was out among them.”