Cowboy church appeals to nontraditional worshippers
by Jesse Campbell
While its style of service may differ compared to traditional Protestant churches, the message it is trying to convey remains unchanged, said Pastor Roger Blevins.
Officials of the local congregation of the greater cowboy church movement said they have found a receptive audience in Ashe County since spring 2008.
After meeting for almost five years at the Blue Ridge Dinner Theater in Glendale Springs, the group moved to a new location in downtown Jefferson, located on East Main Street next to Rep. Jonathan Jordan's offices.
Church deacon John Lisk said their goal is find people who are "unchurched" or unfamiliar with God and connect with them on a relatable spiritual level.
"We are not trying to take members from established churches," Lisk said. "Our goal is find people who (do not go to church), witness to them and have a place for them to come (to worship). When you have good news, it's really not hard to talk to people. We are not much different than a traditional hurch, but it's a different way of going about it."
The church primarily appeals to what Lisk and other congregation members call the "cowboy culture."
Lisk said this includes those who like to trail ride and participate in rodeos, but is not exclusively for outdoorsy or rustic-minded churchgoers.
"Many people are intimidated by the trappings of a traditional church and that's not for us to criticize," Lisk said. "We are just trying to create an opportunity for people who in their minds are not (interested) in going there."
"Many of our members don't own horses, but like the culture," he said.
Lisk said the local cowboy church in Jefferson promotes a laid-back and casual environment.
"We come to church straight from work," he said. "Some us have manure on our boots. ... We are a come-as-you-are church. There is no pretentiousness."
"Some of us like to wear cowboy attire and hats to church," Blevins said. "We are not very judgmental at all. It doesn't matter who comes in. We just want to share Christ with them and let them know we are concerned about them. There is no dress code or legalism of the church in that aspect."
As with the atmosphere, the church's sermon and worship service is also a change of pace compared to what other southern Baptist churches offer.
"Our pastor (Blevins) is very low-key," Lisk said. "He doesn't stomp his feet or point his finger, it is a very comfortable service. Now, we preach right out of the book. There is no question of basic theology. But if we could have a campfire in there we would do that, too."
"You can change the format of how the message is delivered, but you can't change the message," Blevins said.
Currently, the church supports a membership base of 30 to 50 members.
Lisk said a definite membership total is difficult to pinpoint because some of their members have affiliation with other churches, making them "partners" with the cowboy church.
While the community has been receptive of the church in its new location, Blevins said they have battled stereotypes and some criticism from traditional churchgoers.
"We did receive some criticism about preaching in the dance hall when we are out at Blue Ridge Dinner Theater, but I would preach in a bar if I could," Blevins said. "You have to preach wherever the opportunity arises."
Critics or not, the congregation is poised about what they can do for Ashe County. "There is a new excitement about the co