There’s a new church in town, but it might be a little hard to recognize.
Riders on horseback greet people entering the church; a saddle is perched where you would expect a pulpit; cowboy boots and tin buckets are used to collect donations; instead of a pastor, there’s a “trail boss”; and charter members are “pioneers” who blaze a trail for others to follow.
Open Range Cowboy Church held its first worship service in January with about 100 people. It was a cold morning, so the horses weren’t present, but these days on most Sunday mornings, horses are in attendance as well.
There is still music and preaching, but it’s all done cowboy style.
“We saw a need to provide worship for people not going to traditional churches for one reason or another. We’ve hit a niche,” said Mike Reeves, pastor of the new church. “We reach a group of people that would shy away from church or not even consider going to any church.”
That’s true for Jennifer Sharman and her two children. Sharman, who hasn’t been involved in a church for about five years, saw a Facebook announcement about the new cowboy church and decided to try it out.
“We’ve always had horses and a friend of mine went to a cowboy church in Texas, so we wanted to try it,” Sharman said. “The atmosphere is great. You come here twice and you know everybody. It fit us and we’re tired of going from church to church.”
The goal at the church is to provide a relaxed, stress-free worship environment, Reeves said.
“We don’t ask anyone to do anything. We don’t even ask visitors to raise their hands,” said Reeves, who formerly was pastor of Teaver Road Baptist Church for 16 years. Newcomers can, however, sign a “holler back” card if they want to talk to someone about the church.
Reeve’s has had to change a few of his habits to adapt to the new way of church.
“I went from preaching 35 minutes to a 15-minute sermon. Cowboys are not known for long talking,” he said. “After 30 years of preaching and hearing people say, ‘I enjoyed that message,’ now people say ‘I got that.’ That’s what I want - not for people to enjoy a sermon, but to get it.”
Cowboy churches are not unique to LaGrange. It’s a concept that has been embraced across the country, although primarily in the southeast. The Southern Baptist Convention, of which Open Range Cowboy Church is a part, has a national network of cowboy churches that numbers more than 500 churches, many that meet in barns or horse arenas. In Georgia, there are about a half dozen of the cowboy-style congregations.
Open Range Cowboy Church meets in the former Western Baptist Church on Mooty Bridge Road. With a large, wide yard, it’s got room for plenty of cars and horses.
It’s an atmosphere that suits David Rider.
“Sometimes in traditional churches it’s hard to be yourself. At this church you can be yourself,” Rider said.
Easter Sunday, the cowboy church will meet at 6:30 a.m. and again at 10:30 a.m. at the Pyne Road Park equine arena. Horse riders are invited to bring their horses to join in a “grand entry” before each service.
Easter sunrise services
Open Range Cowboy Church will hold a sunrise service at 6:30 a.m. at Pyne Road park equine arena. Horse riders are welcome to join a “grand entry” before the service begins.Springfield Baptist Church in Hogansville will hold its service at 6 a.m. followed by breakfast.
Grace Baptist Church, 3731 West Point Road, will hold a sunrise service at 7 a.m. Breakfast to follow.
Callaway Baptist Church, 310 John Lovelace Road, will have a service at 7 a.m.
Teaver Road Baptist Church, 215 Teaver Road, will hold a service at 7 a.m. at the cross in the church prayer garden. Breakfast will follow.
Explorations in Antiquity, 130 Gordon Commercial Drive, will have a Easter sunrise celebration at 7:15 a.m. The service will include a message by Dr. Jim Fleming and an Easter reenactment. It will be about an hour long.
The Callaway Gardens annual Easter sunrise service will be at 7:30 a.m. on the lawn between the Gardens restaurant and the boat dock. The Rev. Max McCord will lead the service. Admission is free prior to 8 a.m. Guests should enter through the original Gardens gate on U. S. Hwy. 27.