A look at Benton’s Cross bar C Cowboy Church
January 21-27, 2019
By Cody Berry
Dwain Hebda’s entry in the “Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture” says that the Cowboy Church movement was inspired by radio programs in 1940s Texas. In the 1970s, professional rodeo stars and some evangelists got involved and the trend grew. The first stationary Cowboy Church sprang up in 1985 in a nightclub called Billy Bob’s Texas. Cowboy Churches, as the name suggests, don’t meet in cathedrals or small steeple crowned buildings. Instead, worship services are more plain-spoken, and the congregation meets in rodeo-esque arenas, complete with horses and even a stock tank baptismal.
Cowboy Churches favor a western inspired aesthetic. Most of them began in rodeo arenas, feed stores, and large barns. The same is true of Benton’s Crossbar C Cowboy Church which began its ministry on the grounds of the Saline County Fair and Rodeo in 2007. Wayne Bryan of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported on April 24, 2014 that Crossbar had purchased 22 acres on Historic Highway 70, a few miles from the Hot Springs exit, for the church to grow on.
There, Crossbar built a large church house made of corrugated metal and rough wood on a bare concrete slab. Mostly, the congregation is made up of farmers and blue-collar workers who come as they are. Crossbar, like other rural churches, offers its members a way to learn about God in a very laid-back and informal manner. Sermons are plain-spoken and often done on horseback in the giant church house which was painted to reassemble a large red barn. The “barn” acts as a sanctuary, but it also features a day care center for children, a kitchen for fellowship, and church offices.
Sometimes, horses, mules, and other live animals are brought in during services and the church participates in Saline County parades every year. In this year’s Christmas parade, my father, sister, and cousin rode quarter horses from the fairgrounds to the Courthouse and back with other members of Crossbar C Cowboy Church. They, along with other members of the church, flanked a large pioneer-style covered wagon. Crossbar’s western cowboy look and feel help make it stand out to people who may not be the average church goer. It attracts a wide range of people from the devout believers and their children to people who are just looking for something new.
Per Hebda’s entry, Cowboy Churches tend to be very protestant. Most of them claim some form of Baptist affiliation but there have been Methodists and Assemblies of God who have gone the “Cowboy way,” so to speak. Crossbar C Cowboy Church is affiliated with the Central Baptist Association. Their core beliefs are traditional Southern Baptist, but the western aesthetic allows for a unique fusion between modern Christianity and the long history of rural America. It harkens back to a supposedly simpler time before computers took over every aspect of life. Crossbar hosts Sunday and Wednesday services.
An average service in the Cowboy Church starts with greetings, hugs, hot coffee, and live music followed by announcements with Pastor Greg Spann’s message at the end. In addition to the teachings of Jesus Christ, the church also teaches various techniques with its youth rodeo program. Members and their children can learn to ride a horse, how to use a lasso, and ride a bucking bronco from experienced rodeo participants. As of 2015, the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches estimated that there were more than 200 Cowboy Churches in the U.S., with 25 of them residing in Arkansas. At Crossbar, services begin every Sunday at 9:30 a.m. Everyone is welcome.
Sources: Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
(Photos by Lorance Ray Berry)