Sacred Space: Cowboys and Niche Churches

I have a friend who moved to Texas to become the pastor of a Cowboy Church. At the time, I had never heard of a Cowboy Church. I was also, as far as I can remember, completely unaware that there were Hip Hop Churches, Heavy Metal Churches, and other such sub-culture specific churches. I asked him what Cowboy Church was about, and he said that the intent was to reach cowboys for Jesus. I  like the idea of reaching cowboys for Jesus, but something about having a “Cowboy Church” unsettled me. It still does.

Imagine if a church wanted to be a “Mostly Middle Class White People Church.” They could easily look around their mostly white people town, realize that many middle-class white folks aren’t ‘churched’, and they could market to them. They could make up a mail out that said, “Are you uncomfortable with a lot of jumping around in the church? Do you get nervous lifting your hand to praise and worship music? Do you want an organized nursery that is very sanitized and clean? Do you prefer to dress business casual? Would you like to worship God to music that you hear on K-Love? If so, Mostly Middle Class White People Church could be for you!”

I know that sounds absurd, but how is that any different than taking a look at demographics and then marketing a church to appeal to that niche? I’m not saying that no research should be done regarding the community a church is in; I’m trying to argue that the “market” for the gospel is every tongue, tribe, and nation. Shouldn’t we be active in making the church ‘marketable’ to everyone?

I think marketing church to sub-cultures is a bad, unbiblical idea. How can a Cowboy Church go and plant a church on the Reservation? I fear individuals risk spiritual stagnation by only being around people who look like them, sing the same songs as them, and live the same life as them. Imagine this: What if, in Alabama, Mostly White Middle-Class Churches decided to try and incorporate more Hispanics instead of planting Hispanic Churches as separate entities? That would have meant work. They’d need translators, English classes, bigger nurseries, and a more diverse Sunday liturgy with regards to their worship music. But imagine the awesome pot lucks! And imagine an Alabama filled with middle class white Christians who had grown attached to their Hispanic neighbor. Not simply in a “that’s my neighbor” kind of way, but in a, “that’s my brother and I love him” kind of way. Imagine them, as brothers and sisters,  working together to figure out a way to get a legitimate green card. Would we be in the mess we are in today? Wouldn’t that combination of cultures reflect more accurately what the church is supposed to look like?

About Brad Williams

Brad is the pastor of a Baptist church in a small town in Alabama. Brad has a lovely wife, two children, two dogs, a cat, a turtle, and five bee hives. Besides the incredible fact that he managed to persuade his wife to marry him, he is proud that he served six years in the Army National Guard, managed to graduate college with an English Lit. degree, graduate seminary, and finish the original Bard's Tale as a youngster by making maps on graph paper.

  • http://twitter.com/hymndescants dschram

    I do remember reading something about “every nation, kindred, tribe, tongue and people.”

  • http://generationalgamer.com/ Generational Gamer

    I live in Texas, never saw a “Cowboy Church” but I think whats most important is the message. We know Christ said we are “salt & light” and if where you are, you find yourself surrounded by cowboys and you know how to relate to them cowboys then by all means- start a cowboy church. Welcome those who are not cowboys, don’t exclude anyone but if your not a cowboy and you feel more comfortable in a church where they lift their hands instead of doing the two-step; more power to ya. I think a “Cowboy Church” is “every, tribe, tongue and nation” in action. Lets be more concerned with whats being taught and less occupied with how the message is delivered.

  • Chris Todd

    Brad,

    When the Apostle Paul said “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some ” he was commenting directly on this issue.

    I’ve been involved with the Cowboy Church here in Marshall County and they are a solid, Gospel-sharing, community-impacting, Kingdom-building Church. What makes them a “Cowboy Church” is that they pass ten gallon hats to collect money, ride horses a lot, and baptize people in a watering trough.

    All Churches have cultures, it cannot be avoided. What matters is the truth of the Gospel. By being casual and country, they’ve appealed to a segment of our culture that never felt like it fit into the suit-wearing hymnal-and-organ crowd.

  • Rich Guy

    I think that many churches, especially suburban churches, are intentionally or otherwise “Mostly Mostly Middle Class White People” Churches. Whether marketed as such or not, they are effectively that, so to single out “Cowboy Churches” for critcism seems uncharitable. Churches market themselves with far more than just their names: What does your church choose to display on its website? What sort of dress will people be comfortable wearing? What cultural touchstones do you choose to engage when you plan church activities? What does the style of music tell the visitor about your church? All of these things powerfully signal to the community what sort of person will feel comfortable at a given church.

  • Alan Noble

    Rich makes an important point, but I wonder if we can nuance this discussion a bit.

    Church is a part of culture and to be a member of a church is to allow your culture to change, to adapt. If nothing else, communion and worship are practices that reshape the person. So church is as much about cultural formation.

    Culture is also about identity, which is why church should change our cultural being. We identify with Christ and one another through the practices of the local church and the changes that naturally take place might make us uncomfortable (public singing) at first, but soon webcam be formed by them so that we appreciate them.

    What is problematic is when a church makes us uncomfortable by asking us to adopt practices and aesthetics that are not defined by the Word or tradition, that are not rooted in our acts of love, but are instead merely rearticulations of consumer communities or subcultures. Because the practices and aesthetic that are derived from them ask us to redefine our identity for the wrong reasons and pointlessly exclude others.

    I think ultimately that there are many examples of this problem outside the cowboy church model, but it is a good example.

  • http://twitter.com/hymndescants dschram

    Christianity needs to be above and beyond culture – inclusive and not exclusive. Not defined by the culture around it but by the hearts of the people in it.

  • Rich Guy

    I do think I understand what you are saying Alan, but I challenge the assumptions implicit in this statement: “What is problematic is when a church makes us uncomfortable by asking us to adopt practices and aesthetics that are not defined by the Word or tradition”

    Churches *all* do this. All of them. Without exception. It is the nature of being human. We can see this clearly when the particular church culture is foreign to us (in this case the “Cowboy Church”) but when the culture is our own, when the assumptions are our own, stepping outside of that to see that we are creating this non-Word based culture is very difficult. My question is whether it is profitable to point out the problems in the “other” when we also do the same thing. The church I attend now for example requires a certain set of American standards of dress and comportment (for example certain ways of greeting, certain ways of entering and behaving once in church) that would make many members of churches that I have attended as a child in Asia entirely uncomfortable.These standards are not biblical in nature, but cultural. We don’t explcitly advertise these things, which is yet another expression of a particular cultural expectations of manners or civility. One has to attend the church first to understand whether you do or don’t share enough cultural touchstones to feel comfortable. Given that, I struggle to see why Cowboy Churches should deserve any particular criticism for explicitly stating those cultural affinities. If the remainder of the US evangelical scene was somehow determining church affinities in a meaningfully different way, I would suppose that a singling out would be appropriate, but I don’t see that.

  • Alan Noble

    Fair enough, it would have been better for me to have said, “rooted in the Word and tradition.”

    So the cultural expressions are particular and unique out workings of the Faith, rather than the Faith shaped to a particular culture.

    Specifically, our identity as a community is defined by our love for one another, the sacraments, and the Word. The problem with the cowboy church is not that it is a church with a particular culture or aesthetics, which as you point out is unavoidable; the problem is that it is that it elevates that culture on par with the sacraments, our love, and the Word.

    The name itself gives this away, or the iconic car sticker of the cross, the kneeling cowboy, and his horse.

    In both cases what is equally communicated is the cowboy culture and the Faith. They both equally constitute the community. That’s the problem.

    Now, certainly other churches have similar problems. So we should expand this critique, but it doesn’t lessen the seriousness or weight of the criticism of Cowboy Churches.

  • Rich Guy

    Right, and the charitable reading of that iconography and name would be “Cowboys, even though you may have been to churches that looked down on you for your manner of dress, your style of talk, or your interests, we love you as you are. Horse and all, and you are welcome here.” No need to jump to the conclusion that “it elevates that culture on par with the sacraments, our love, and the Word. ”

    Brad Williams asks “How can a Cowboy Church plant a church on a reservation?” I dunno, but this:

    http://stagecoachdays.net/cowboychurch.html

    Is kind of interesting, don’t you think? Look who the guest speakers are. Maybe there is something going on in the Cowboy Church that doesn’t fit your ideas about what goes on in Cowboy Churches?

    I ask both of you in all sincerity, is it possible that you are uncomfortable with Western rural culture, and that discomfort is leading you to judge things unfairly?

  • Alan Noble

    Sure, it is certainly possible that my problem with cowboy churches stems from some childhood horse trauma, or the fact that my broken hands will never let me lassoe. But I don’t think that’s what’s going on.

    I’m sure that these churches were designed with good intentions, but ultimately they do communicate in their name and their symbol that there are two identifying characteristics: they are Christians and they are cowboys. While that is certainly a welcoming message to cowboys who have been and are looked down on as “hicks,” it suggests that church communities should be defined by something other than the faith. Now, certainly all churches necessarily to some extent define themselves and/are defined by something other than the faith, but cowboy churches are a particularly clear example of this problem. And I do believe it is a problem.

    One practical outcome of this is that it excludes others and would make them feel uncomfortable, and for the wrong reasons.

    And if we grant that it is appropriate and good to define churches by subcultures, will that produce a healthier Body?

    It seems to me that the task of every individual church is to constantly guard against marketing themselves to a certain demographic, excluding the elderly or the young or immigrants or cowboys or blacks or whites or children or the poor or the rich. Isnt the very idea of the Body of Christ that our differences allow us to bless one another and further the kingdom? And while it is certainly true that like minds and like aesthetics will naturally congregate, it strikes me as particularly counterproductive to knowingly encourage divisions and communities defined by subcultures.

  • http://www.alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    Chris Todd,

    Hey brother! I hate to disagree, because that makes me seem disagreeable…or it reveals that I am disagreeable; one or the other. Either way, Paul did say that he became all things to all people, but he did not make a niche market church anywhere he went. Quite the opposite! He rebuked Peter to his face because he was dividing the church over ethnic/cultural boundaries at Antioch.

    Before I say anything else, let me say that I do believe that Cowboy Churches are probably full of people who love Jesus, and I will even confess that they all probably have a better pastor than my current church. ;) However, the fact is that “Cowboy Church” is a church for cowboys, and that is not what church is supposed to be. We all, well most of us, like cowboys, and so it is hard to see my point. But if you look at Heavy Metal Church…does that look good to you? Yes, I want Heavy Metal lovers to be saved! But the church is more than a sub-culture niche of any kind. We should not have Redneck Church, Cowboy Church, or even Contemporary Church. We should just have…church, where everyone is welcome and everyone contributes.

    If our churches are dressed/acting/being any sort of way that puts a barrier to the gospel, we ought to change that. For example, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention has started an exploratory committee whose function is to investigate changing the name of the convention. If being “Southern” Baptist is too narrow for the world, how much more so being a “Cowboy” Church? Or “Whatever Other Cultural Name” Church?

  • Rich

    Brad, I think I get your point, and I don’t actually disagree with the sentiment.

    The core of my disagreement with this article is that I believe that you have identified a church that has arisen as a response to the exclusionary culture of the church as the problem itself. In essence I think you may be pointing at the bruise and calling it ugly and ignoring the punch that caused it.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    @Rich Guy,

    I appreciate your comment. In fact my wife more or less made the same point to me when we discussed this article.

    Would you agree with these two sentences from Brad’s article?

    “I’m trying to argue that the “market” for the gospel is every tongue, tribe, and nation. Shouldn’t we be active in making the church ‘marketable’ to everyone?”

    If you would agree–then it seems unwise to willingly adopt a title that communicates preference for a particular subculture.

    Where I think your comments are helpful is in recognizing that all implicitly do what niche churches do explicitly. I would just argue that doing so explicitly embraces and encourages what we would like to overcome in our churches.

    In fact I think Brad used the “Mostly Middle Class White” Church as example because he was trying to bring to the fore that that is what many of our churches are and we would like to see that change. I know I would. I know that is a hefty task but I would like to see it change.

    Was it fair to single out Cowboy Churches? I don’t know–maybe not. But I think the overall point was to use these Niche churches to expose how we all do this implicitly and we should seek to promote a culture forming church rather than a merely culture embracing church (though the church should be that as well).

  • http://www.alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    In my defense, I did bring up Heavy Metal Church and Hip Hop Church. Why is no one defending them?

  • http://friarsfires.blogspot.com Brett

    “In my defense, I did bring up Heavy Metal Church and Hip Hop Church. Why is no one defending them?”

    Because they’re not referenced in the headline and the article spends much more time talking about the Cowboy Churches.

    As long as neither niche nor denominational label prevents us from working together for the kingdom nor is used as a license to shut the doors to different kinds of people I have no problem with it and in fact, I celebrate the difference. Some folk are not reached by robed pastors and pipe organs, some are not reached by acoustic guitars, soul patches and skinny glasses and some are not reached by pedal steel and “The Lord be with y’all.” So each of us has a place where we can worship the Lord and not force our culture onto people with whom it doesn’t connect.

    In the same way, those of us who accept, say, women as pastors and infant baptism can worship together in our spaces without imposing those things on Christians for whom they would be stumbling blocks, since they have their spaces of worship as well. As long as we recognize that such things give us leave to be apart only in that time when they are practiced and no other, I feel OK with it. I can pray with them, serve the poor with them, visit the sick with them, share a meal with them and look forward to the day when the presence of Christ washes those differences away, whether it comes in this life or not until the new heaven and the new earth.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    @Brett

    Brad never said he couldn’t have fellowship with them or serve along side them, pray with them, or work together with them. That is an entirely different discussion.

  • Michael Thorne Jarrett

    Me thinks there are two things to draw from Revelation 7:9 & 14:6:

    A) Every nation, tribe, language and people will be recognizable as such in the new creation (therefore niche expressions and missionary focus are good and right and should seek to preserve the gospel elements of the culture).

    2) It is the throne and the Lamb that is the focus of life in the new creation and the gospel that draws all people to this life (therefore having a consumer focussed expression of church is a direct assault on the proclamation that we are God’s people)

    Whether it’s cowboy church, high tech church, smells and bells church, intellectual church, simple church, house church whatever, when the expression (and marketing thereof) begins to become a part of the proclamation there is an issue.

  • http://friarsfires.blogspot.com Brett

    Drew — I understood that and didn’t mean to suggest that he said so, but I may not have been clear.

    I was more in the vein of offering where the line might be where niche churches become problematic and warrant discomfort. When they promote isolation and use their niche to insulate against groups unlike themselves, rather than use it to reach out to an unreached or under-reached group, it’s a problem. Until then, it’s not.

  • Rich Guy

    @Drew re: “I’m trying to argue that the “market” for the gospel is every tongue, tribe, and nation. Shouldn’t we be active in making the church ‘marketable’ to everyone?”

    Yes, I agree with that statement. And I think that is what the cowboy church may be accomplishing more than it isn’t. We have direct testimony above that at least one cowboy church in Marshall is “a solid, Gospel-sharing, community-impacting, Kingdom-building Church.” Might it not be that one of the reasons for this success is that the Cowboys feel that they are permitted to come as they are, and that this is explicitly signaled by the church?

    I think we disagree about a few key things:

    1) The particular harm of this explicit identity making vs. other implicit identity making. How exclusionary is this Cowboyishness in fact, especially within the communities within which these churches tend to be planted? And how exclusionary do other churches tend to be? When Keller talks repeatedly about, and holds conferences about the importance of “The City” does this exclude “The Country”? Is that a problem or not?

    2) The charitableness of Christ and Pop Culture in particular by making this argument. You have a talented writer that did a piece on Charity recently. His first point is that Charity “is a desire to listen before speaking. To actually listen. To listen with the intent to understand as well as we can. Not to listen in order to find a weakness or flaw to exploit.” Did Brad or Alan or you *actually* listen to what the Cowboy Church is saying first? Have you really tried to understand what is going on there? As far as I can tell, Cowboy Churches are pretty distant culturally from everyone on the CaPC list of Writers. I think a practical application of the suggested ethic of charity that Alan proposed would be:

    “The more distant you are culturally from a group or an individual, the more benefit of the doubt you should give them in criticism.”

    @Michael, I think you have it about right. So the question is whether the proclamation has become confused. I don’t know the answer to that, but in my opinion no evidence for that has been given here.

  • Alan Noble

    Rich,

    No, you’re right. We could have been more charitable, or at least I could have been more precise with my language, which would have been also more charitable.

    I’m not saying that Cowboy churches have the wrong intentions, are in sin, or are even necessarily unhealthy churches. In fact, I don’t think I can goes as far as Brad and say they are “unbiblical.” However, I do believe that the way they are marketed, the way they publicly define themselves in their name and image, wrongly elevates cultural tastes to the level of the Faith as a constitutive element.

    I do acknowledge that I should have more clearly stated that my critique is with the way they are presented, not necessarily the way they actual are. But I’m not sure what I could have given them the benefit of the doubt on, since I wasn’t judging their intentions or results.

    Let me also say that I did not single out Cowboy churches here, although they are a pet peeve of mine. In fact, I wrote about Christian culture in very similar ways a few years ago: Christian Culture as a Stumbling Block.

    Here’s what I said: “Finally, this awareness should mean that we are willing to lay down our preferences in order to love others. Seek out those in your church who are outside the culture, who might feel like aliens for having different tastes in home decor and paintings. Make a conscious effort to never allow your hobbies or interests to prevent you from entertaining, ministering to, or spending time with a neighbor. Our prayer here should be that we might be “all things to all people, that by all means [we] might win some.”

    May we, by God’s grace, learn to be sensitive to our neighbor’s conscience, not only in our engagement with popular culture, but also our engagement of what is sold to us as our own culture.”

    I think many of the points I made there are just as true here as well. Part of my vision is that we need to continually guard ourselves against conflating our cultural preferences with our community. No church gets this right, and all churches need to continually work on this, but the idea of designing and proclaiming a church for any one subculture strikes me as particularly fraught with inclusion/exclusion dangers.

  • Alan Noble

    Here’s another approach:

    James 2 strictly forbids favoritism of all sorts. What it doesn’t suggest is that we should start separate churches for the rich and the poor so that both feel welcomed.

    It’s true that the existence of Cowboy, Hip-Hop, Metal, Skater, Biker, etc churches are a testament to the traditional church’s refusal to follow the command in James 2 to not show favoritism. In retrospect, it would have been better to address some of the causes of Cowboy churches instead of only discussing why they are problematic.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    @Rich Guy,

    I wrote:

    In fact I think Brad used the “Mostly Middle Class White” Church as example because he was trying to bring to the fore that that is what many of our churches are and we would like to see that change. I know I would. I know that is a hefty task but I would like to see it change.

    Was it fair to single out Cowboy Churches? I don’t know–maybe not. But I think the overall point was to use these Niche churches to expose how we all do this implicitly and we should seek to promote a culture forming church rather than a merely culture embracing church (though the church should be that as well).

    I was trying to say that the main take away I got from this article is to consider how my own church might be shutting others out due to its implicit cultural expectations. That is a valuable take away. That is what I was trying to highlight–and I think we would agree there.

    In other words I said very little in my comment about actual Cowboy Churches–in the rest of the comment, I was honestly asking a questions to try and see where you disagree with what had been said. Asking questions like the ones I ask seems a charitable thing to do when seeking to understand someone else’s position–which is what I was seeking to do with you.

    Truth be told, I grew up in West Texas going to Rodeos as a kid. Every summer I went to a summer camp where we were taught to ride horses and do various cowboy activities. I even participated in the camp Rodeo doing barrel racing. It may be a culture pretty far from the rest of our writers but you might want to hear them out on that one first too before making that assumption.

    All that said–I asked you the questions I did because I was sincerely trying to understand your position. Thanks for sharing–you bring up some helpful points.

  • Alan Noble

    I should also say that we didn’t take in to consideration the fact that most of these churches appear to be motivated by genuine desire to reach a relatively unreached group, which is a good thing.

  • Chris Todd

    Brad,

    Your Church has an excellent Pastor, my brother! It pains me to disagree with him, mostly because he is a fellow language geek. :)

    There seems to be an idea that a Church can just have “Church culture” and not reflect any local culture. That’s a nice idea, but it’s neither scriptural nor practical. There are areas of Christian practice where the Bible does not speak of a way that it “must” be done.

    Scripturally, the Council at Jerusalem laid out a different set of requirements *based entirely on cultural background* for gentile and Jewish believers. They even sent a letter to the Gentile believers outlining their specific requirements. Why did Paul have himself ritually cleansed after returning from living among the Gentiles? It was his culture.

    Practically, your Church is going to collect offerings from members. Will you pass a silver plate? Put a box in the back? Put envelopes in the chairs? Pass a ten-gallon hat? You’re going to (praise God!) be baptizing people. Will you dunk them in a plastic booth behind a set of folding doors? Immerse them in a lake? Submerge them in the ocean? Soak them in a cattle trough? Those are all cultural choices and none of them is specified in the scriptures as *THE* Church cultural practice.

    To say “You must wear slacks and a jacket, pass silver plates, dunk in a plastic booth, and use those stale little white crackers for communion” is in itself imposing a culture that is not THE Church culture. We just think it is because it’s our version of it.

  • Joel Kirkendall

    Great points left and right
    Here are my 2 cents.
    1. I’ve heard a case presented where it is likely that there may be different cultures inside Heaven, so yes, specific culture might be intrinsic in every church, and yes the Gospel and worship is multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, and yes we can also be less like ourselves as Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 9 “becoming all things to all people” whereas this has much to do with evangelism (you know, going to the people) we should have no shame.
    2. Another example saw recently, was a church on Route 66 with a sign that deliberately welcomed (Harley) Bikers… I hope all non-bikers didn’t feel unwelcomed.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    @Chris Todd,

    I think you are arguing against something that no one is arguing for. In other words no one is saying that the church doesn’t naturally adopt some of the culture it finds itself in. I would agree with you that all churches do that and its not necessarily a bad thing.

    What I think could potentially be a poor action would be to willingly adopt a title that is on the face limiting. When someone who isn’t a cowboy (which honestly is most people in our area) sees “Cowboy Church” what do they think? They think its a church for cowboys. The church is called to reach every tribe, tongue, and nation–I realize that is a very broad group but I think that is our call.

    To quote you:

    To say “You must wear slacks and a jacket, pass silver plates, dunk in a plastic booth, and use those stale little white crackers for communion” is in itself imposing a culture that is not THE Church culture. We just think it is because it’s our version of it.

    –No one is making the argument that the church should do that. The church is called to celebrate the sacriments, preach the word, read Scripture and pray the exact manner in which those occur is up for discussion but no one is arguing that you can’t take up an offering in a 10 gallon hat. I have no problem with that.

    I think the church should to some extent, embrace those things about the culture it finds itself in which are honorable and tranform those elements that are not. The church is its own thing altogether and if it really is the bride of Christ its always in the process of tranforming (I am thinking of church as the body of Christ) more into the image of Christ–and apparently there is something multi-ethnic and transcultural about that.

  • http://www.alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    Everyone is beginning to say pretty much the same thing, but I want to address a number of thoughts that have popped up:

    1) The marketing of the church to a niche group is not the same thing as separating over theology. I would divide a church over theological matters; I believe to divide over cultural matters is short-sighted at best and sinful at worst.

    2) The argument that “all churches segregate by culture” lacks bite for me. Even if every church is doing it wrong, that is no excuse to continue wrong-doing.

    3) Some say that the “church” has created these niche churches because some folks don’t feel welcome in “regular” churches. (Whatever a regular church is). So then, the answer is to create a niche church to reach those who don’t feel welcome in other places. That’s a pretty bad answer because it winds up creating the same problem: That is, by creating a niche church you are automatically creating a church where others don’t feel welcome.

    I am glad that some people want to reach cowboys and hip hop people. However, the answer to reaching these folks, and these folks are hardly a “culture”, they are a sub-culture at best, is to make them welcome at a church where they do not look the same as their neighbor, not create a church to further separate them.

    Chris, the reason the Jerusalem Council met was to keep the Jews and Gentiles together in the same church! They did not meet and form the First Gentile Church of Jerusalem. They met to keep it together, not separate it.

    I’m glad for everyone’s responses. Truly. I hope that it will lead us all to think a little bit more carefully about the things we are doing that might inadvertently be putting off people in our community. But instead of creating another niche church, I think we ought to create an atmosphere where cultures can flourish together. That would be nice.

  • Rich Guy

    @Drew

    First regarding my charity comment, my comment as directed at you and Alan was uncharitable. I apologize.

    And I accept your cowboy culture bona fides, I should not have imputed Alan’s lack of cowboyosity to CaPC as a whole.

    Re: In fact I think Brad used the “Mostly Middle Class White” Church as example because he was trying to bring to the fore that that is what many of our churches are and we would like to see that change. I know I would. I know that is a hefty task but I would like to see it change.

    If that is what he was trying to do, I totally missed it and still miss it when re-reading the article.

    @Brad

    Re: 1) I think in more cases than we care to admit theology and culture are so deeply entwined that they are hard to distinguish, but that is another discussion.

    Re: 2) OK, so the argument lacks bite. But I still struggle to understand what you believe that the CCs are doing that are different enough to warrant a singling out.

    Re: 3) So your solution is what? You say “make them welcome at a church where they do not look the same as their neighbor, not create a church to further separate them.” On who (Whom? I need a copy editor.) then is the burden for change and action, those that are in the Cowboy Church?

    All this being said, and still disagreeing strongly with what I see as the original argument of the article, I will say that the article has prompted a couple of lengthy and really valuable offline discussions about the nature of church formation in 2011 in the United States. The particular questions raised that are of interest to me are:

    How do we, in reality, choose the church we attend? And how do those churches choose us?

    How does this essentially free-market choosing affect community building, theology, church discipline and other issues?

    What effect does the physical location and environment of a church have on this process?

    Would it ever be appropriate to tell a churchgoer to go to a different church?

    So sincerely, thanks for starting that discussion.

  • http://electexiles.wordpress.com/ Drew Dixon

    @Rich Guy

    Its cool–no harm done. I am not much of a cowboy today–but there was a time when I was very much interested in that subculture.

    I will let Brad speak to why he singled out cowboy churches if he would like but to be fair to him, in the article he does mention having a friend who is a Cowboy Church pastor–so perhaps CCs were the one niche church he felt comfortable speaking about since he had some experience with them and a personal friend who pastored one.

    Would the article have been more appropriate if it had appealed more broadly in the title to all niche churches?

    Anyway–I am glad this article produced discussion on those issues. As an editor that is ultimately what we hoped this particular weekly column would do–promote discussion on the church, what it is and how it should function to most faithfully glorify Christ and how pop culture has become a part of it and when and if that is a good thing.

    I think the answers to your questions (at the end of your comment) are difficult but in the “church culture” in which I live in the South, I would discourage people from choosing which church they will attend based upon the subculture it represents. I realize that is a hard sell and most people are going to be influenced by that no matter how hard we try to encourage them not to be.

    That said, however, I do think that people in my particular local church have a different vision of what constitutes a local church than they did 3.5 years ago when we first planted the church. That encourages me greatly. I think that for most of the members of my church, if and when they leave, they will have an entirely different set of criteria for choosing new church than they had when they started attending here.

    For instance, you mentioned church discipline. I would guess that the average church goer in our area, if you asked them if their church practices church discipline, they wouldn’t know the answer to that question. I say that as someone who regularly talks to people in our community about church and regularly meets with other pastors in our area. All that to say, there are tons of churches in our area but I wonder if the various offerings, marketing strategies, etc. have actually helped us in our mission or distracted churches from some of its most basic duties? I am honestly asking that question–not answering it myself–I think that question needs careful investigation and I am pretending to have anything more than guesses to throw at it.

    Anyway–I do sincerely thank you for your thoughtful comments and I really appreciate your questions–those are the types of questions we hoped this column would produce.

  • http://www.alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    Rich Guy,

    I singled out Cowboy Churches because I know some cowboy church guys, they are the most “acceptable” of the niche churches, and I know that they can take the heat. If I had singled out Hip-Hop church, then I seriously doubt any discussion would be had at all.

    The difference between a “mostly middle class white church” and “Cowboy Church” is in the advertising. Even though most churches are the former, they have names like “First Baptist Church” or “Fellowship Church” or “Beulah Road Church.” They are not marketing themselves as a church for white folk. Hopefully, they would be upset if they realized that’s all they were strategically trying to reach. The difference between them and every other niche church, including Cowboy Church, is that they are doing it on purpose.

    That’s the point. They should not be doing that. They should be “Dusty Road Church” which also happens to be populated by a bunch of guys who like Western Stuff. (I highly doubt that all of the Cowboys have ever owned a cow or been to a sale barn.) The goal, then, should be for them to figure out how to get the indians to come and make them feel welcome, not alienated. That ought to be everyone’s goal. It would make the church better, and it would demonstrate that the gospel is a culture maker, not a culture conformer.

    I am glad that my article started so much discussion. Keep it going!

  • Galvanised Cattle Feeding Barrier

    I’m happy platforms are back because at least I can get a little height without the pain! LOVE Laduree’s!!Their windows are knock-dead gorgeous, always!!!

  • chris norwood

    God is love be the light… cowboy up

    Jesus called the fishermen and Im sure he can call a cowboy. Is his word being taught? Go ye into the world and preach the Gospel. Dont be the frozen chosen.


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