You’ll hear lots of country music, and the floors won’t have any fancy carpet or tile – usually just dirt or concrete.
The flavor of the cowboy church in Battleford – located in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan – is a little different than most, said Jeff Smith, a North Carolina pastor and cowboy missionary for the Cowboy Church Network of North America. And since cowboys are usually out on the trails on Sundays, cowboy churches meet on weeknights.
“Cowboy churches that reach people are those that are flexible,” Smith said. “We do what works. If it doesn’t work, we change plans and do something better.
“We want people to come as they are,” he added.
Earlier this month, Smith preached during the official launch of Battleford. Two people prayed to receive Christ at that service.
One woman accepted Christ at an earlier service before the cowboy church officially launched. The church is the first of its kind in the province – and only the third in the country.
“We are more outward thinking than inward thinking,” Smith said. “We’re reaching lost people. We are thinking about what it will take to reach that lost person.”
Cowboy Church Network of North America photo
One of the ways cowboy churches are planted or grown is through outreach events like rodeos.
Smith is helping lead the way for North Carolina Baptists to plant 10 cowboy churches in Canada.
Church planting is the focus of the partnership that began last year between the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) and the Canadian National Baptist Convention. North Carolina Baptists are committed to helping plant 40 churches in Southern Ontario, 10 biker churches, and 10 cowboy churches throughout Canada by 2021.
“Planting 10 cowboy churches is a key component in the goal North Carolina Baptists have set to facilitate planting these 60 new churches over the next 10 years,” said Chuck Register, BSC executive leader for church planting and missions development. “This new congregation in Battleford is the first step in fulfilling that Kingdom-minded goal.”
“Our prayer is that for generations to come, lives will be transformed by the gospel through the Great Commission ministries of this new congregation.”
Michael Sowers leads the BSC Office of Great Commission Partnerships and is working to help connect North Carolina Baptists with strategic church-to-church partnerships in Canada.
“I’m excited to see all types of North Carolina churches getting connected in Canada for Kingdom impact,” Sowers said.
“We pray that the cowboy church in Battleford is a springboard to many more cowboy churches in Canada.”
Thirty-four people attended the launch of the Battleford cowboy church. Though this may seem small to some people, Smith considered it a good turnout for Canada.
“In Canada, there is a lot of terrain and areas with no churches,” Smith said. “We need points of light all over Canada so that people can get to these churches.”
“We’re not worried about building super big buildings,” he added. “We want to plant a lot of smaller churches.”
In the Greater Toronto Area, where the BSC is focused on planting 40 churches, there is one church for nearly every 275,000 people. In that area there are only about 40 Southern Baptist churches.
About 43 percent of Canadians did not attend any religious worship service last year. Baptists statistically, at 2.4 percent, are the largest evangelical group in Canada. Two-thirds of them, though, never attend church.
“We have towns with up to 2,000 people and no evangelical witness,” said Maurice Tenkink, prairie/rural lead church planting catalyst for the Canadian National Baptist Convention. The word “missionary” is often perceived in Canada as a negative term. Some Canadians are two or three generations removed from any Christian witness at all.
“The church culture is just not here like it is in America,” Tenkink said.
Fewer believers means fewer people to share the work. In North Carolina, Smith can start a cowboy church and then invite pastors from the area to help out.
“You can’t do that in Canada,” he said. “We have to raise up indigenous leaders. We’ve got to reach them, disciple them and train them to be leaders.”
For the next several months, Smith plans to preach once a month during the cowboy church worship service in the city of Battleford. Discipleship groups will meet in the weeks between worship services.
Although the cowboy culture is prominent, Tenkink said cowboy churches are a new idea for the area, primarily due to a lack of leaders. Still, the Battleford church has been well received, and Tenkink expects attendance and interest to increase.
A cowboy culture
About five years ago Smith helped start a cowboy church in Alberta. His first cowboy church was in North Carolina in 2003. He wanted to reach out to the cowboys he met when he began riding horses with his daughter. Cowboys weren’t interested in going to church, but they’d talk with him on the trail about Jesus.
“I was burdened for their soul,” Smith said.
Planting a cowboy church is the same as planting any other church. The theology is the same – the gospel of Jesus Christ is central.
North Carolina Baptists are encouraged to join the cowboy church planting effort in Canada.
“We’re not building on someone else’s foundation,” Smith said. “It’s pioneer work for the churches that want to partner with us.”
To learn how to get involved in cowboy church planting in Canada, visit ncbaptist.org/gcp.