Battleford cowboy church is ‘point of light’ in darknessby BSCNC Communications
Jeff Smith flew into Saskatchewan, Canada, on a Tuesday last November and two days later was helping lead a worship service for what would become the first cowboy church in the province and only the third in the country.
During the service a woman prayed to receive Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior. Earlier this month, when Smith was back in Canada to preach during the official launch service for the Battleford cowboy church, two people prayed to receive Christ.
Smith, a North Carolina pastor and cowboy missionary for the Cowboy Church Network of North America, is helping lead the way for North Carolina Baptists to plant 10 cowboy churches in Canada.
Church planting is the focus of the partnership begun last year between the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC) and the Canadian National Baptist Convention (CNBC). North Carolina Baptists are committed to helping plant 40 churches in Southern Ontario and 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. This new congregation in Battleford is the first step in fulfilling that Kingdom-minded goal,” said Chuck Register, BSCNC executive leader for church planting and missions development. “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 BSCNC 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,” he said. “We pray that the cowboy church in Battleford is a springboard to many more cowboy churches in Canada.”
Thirty-four people in attendance for a launch service may seem small to some people, but for Canada, Smith considered it a good turnout. “In Canada, there is a lot of terrain and areas with no churches. We need points of light all over Canada so that people can get to these churches,” Smith said. “We’re not worried about building super big buildings. We want to plant a lot of smaller churches.”
In the Greater Toronto Area, where the BSCNC is focused on planting 40 churches, one church exists for about every 275,000 people and there are only about 40 Southern Baptist churches. About 43 percent of Canadians did not attend any religious worship service last year. Although Baptists statistically, at 2.4 percent, are the largest evangelical group in Canada, two-thirds of them 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 CNBC. The word “missionary” is often perceived as a negative term and some people 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 laborers. 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 fly into Saskatchewan once a month to preach 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 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. The first cowboy church he ever helped start 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 in that the theology is the same – the Gospel of Jesus Christ is central.
The difference is the flavor, Smith said. Country/western music is common and the service is often held in an “agricultural center” where dirt or concrete floors are also common. Since cowboys are usually out on the trails on Sundays, cowboy churches meet on a weeknight.
“We want people to come as they are. 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 churches that reach people are those that are flexible. “We do what works. If it doesn’t work, we change plans and do something better,” Smith said.
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 www.ncbaptist.org/gcp.