TR Spirit of Jacksonville June 2016READ ONLINE
Cowboy church growing in new homePublished April 24, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
Some 75 people gathered at 6:45 Easter morning for a sunrise service on U.S. 70 in rural Saline County.
The gathering looked like a combination of a tailgate party and a posse being organized. That’s the way they like it at the Cross Bar C Cowboy Church.
Pastor Greg Spann gave his sermon from horseback outside the congregation’s new church house that was built to resemble a barn.
“When the wood gets a little weathered, then we are going to stain it barn red and paint the trim white so it will look like a nice, but typical, barn,” Spann said the day after the church’s two Easter services, attended by almost 200 people. “At the entrance, there will be a gate with a sign like you would expect to see outside a big ranch. Maybe we will get some people who stop and come in just to see what it is.”
Inside the church, the walls are corrugated metal and rough wood on a bare concrete slab. The rough look fits the cowboy way of the church, and it is good for the times when horses, mules and other animals are brought in through a large door to help make a point in the service.
The look is nontraditional, but so is the atmosphere of the cowboy church, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
“Most of our members are rural people — farmers and workers — people with respect for the rural life and our Western heritage,” Spann said. “Most are here because they were unhappy at the church they attended and are looking for something else. I tell them we are still a church and keep our focus on Christ, so they might not like it here, either, but all are welcome.”
While the church offers activities that attract cowboys, it is not just for people whose lives include a horse.
In a 2012 interview, church member Hal Baker said he enjoys the people and that he is not a cowboy.
“If a key doesn’t start it, I don’t ride it,” he said in the interview, after the announcement that the church would build its new home. “But we have a ball here. You come in, and people know you enough that they can tell when you are not feeling good, and they care.”
Asked what makes a cowboy church different from more-traditional churches, beyond the obvious Western theme, horseback sermons and a youth program built around rodeo, Spann said it is simplicity.
“The world is so complex,” he said. “We try to be nonstructured, and people like a place that accepts people as they are.”
An average of 110 people attend services each week, Spann said.
“We have seen steady growth, especially since January.
At about 80 percent of our services, we will add new members,” he said. “Our members come from Alexander, Malvern, Hot Springs, Maumelle and El Paso, as well as Saline County. That’s good for a church that had eight members seven years ago.”
Spann said the church is also looking at sponsoring two new churches in Prattsville and Sheridan.
“We are throwing out some seed, and we’ll see if it takes,” he said.
The church first met at the Saline County Fairgrounds in Benton but purchased 22 acres on U.S. 70 a few miles from the Hot Springs exit off Interstate 30. The church building, which also includes a day care center, a kitchen and offices, opened for its first services in October. The church is still not finished, but church leaders are looking to build the first of what will be two arenas.
“We will put the small arena here,” Spann said, pointing to an area to the left as he walked out of the church. “We will be able to start our rodeo youth activities.”
A bronco-riding practice device — an oil drum suspended by ropes between trees — that can made to bounce and sway, is already there.
Plans include the small arena and a larger covered arena behind the church with chutes and other equipment for larger rodeo events. There will be a barn for horses and a large corral. It will not only hold horses for the youth ministry events but will be available to others.
“We want people who are traveling with horses to be able to come by and let their horses out to rest for a while,” Spann said. “We won’t be making money off of that; it’s just part of our ministry.”
The Cross Bar C is Spann’s first church. He was a mechanic and, in addition, was in the National Guard. While serving as a lieutenant colonel with a civic affairs unit based on Allied Forces Headquarters in Baghdad during the Iraq War, he was wounded by an artillery blast, and he retired.
“I was around when they held the meetings about starting
a cowboy church,” he said. “I spoke up about some things, and later, an official of the Arkansas Fellowship of Cowboy churches asked if I wanted to pastor the church. I told him I wasn’t prepared and had a lot of bad habits.”
Before telling the man no, Spann said he would pray about it. And during his reflection, he said he believed that God could use him at the church, and Spann answered the call.
The 9:45 a.m. Sunday service actually starts earlier than that, the pastor said. As members gather, there is lots of coffee, as well as conversation. Young people get roping instructions in the children’s corner, where bales of hay with plastic lamb and calf heads are the targets of the kids’ lariats.
“And by the time the service starts, Frances (the pastor’s wife) has hugged everybody,” one member said.
“We don’t have a lot of ceremony. The band starts playing, and everybody sits,” Spann said. “I make some announcements, we have prayer and sing a few songs, and I preach.”
It’s the cowboy way.
Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or at email@example.com.
Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or firstname.lastname@example.org.