On a Sunday morning drive along Pine Springs Road in Northern Smith County, you might think you've stumbled onto a weekend rodeo. But what you've found is a church.
What began as a small bible study group meeting at a show barn three years ago has grown into the Cross Brand Cowboy Church with a congregation of more than 300 hundred. The reasons people come here are as different as their backgrounds. What they all share is a love of the western culture and a desire to renew a faith. Something that is seems to be sweeping the cowboy society.
"In cowboy culture your seeing a moving of God that no one can explain," says Cross Brand Pastor Mike Morrow. "Twenty years ago they would have laughed you out of a rodeo for kneeling behind a bucking shoot and trying to pray. And now often cowboys are asking for it."
Brett Wells was one of those cowboys who found his way to Cross Brand. Like a lot of the cowboys here, Brett felt abandoned by the traditional church. But once inside Cross Brand his life forever.
"It was like all my friends were there," says Brett Wells, "I mean we walked in and everybody I knew was there. When we come in the doors of this church my life has turned a complete 180 degrees. Everything I do now is for the Lord. I can't stop talking about Him. I'm just so excited. I want other people to find what I've found and what can happen to them...that's happened to me."
Fellowship and Discipleship are two of the priorities at Cross Brand. The rodeos and stock yards of East Texas are their mission field. Plans are underway for the Church to build it's own rodeo arena soon.
If you spend any time here, you'll find their proud of the fact there are no steeples and stain glass. Their also proud of sharing a gospel message, the Cowboy Way.
"We typically see that here as when we open that Book, God's instruction manual," says Pastor Mike, "we're not gonna back up, we're not gonna apologize for what's in it. At the same time "cowboy up" to us at Cross Brand would typically mean our responsibility to our fellow man. If somebody's got a need, in trouble, gotta take a stand, help em out."
Cross Brand has become a center of a community that stretches hundreds of miles across East Texas. A place where kids can come and play and learn while their parents can feel accepted for who they are, and now for what they believe. A picture called "Outsiders" that shows two cowboys on horse back looking into a church service through window hangs just inside the front door. It may best captures the idea why Cross Brand is here today.
"Cowboys typically are your spit and polish type of group," says church member Mike Mallette. "It makes it a lot more relaxed and free to sit down and enjoy the sermons and to understand what's going on in your life."
"And we still have the rough ones," says Pastor Mike. "They are here. This is an outlaw hangout on Sunday morning and that's all right. I can't think of a better place for they need to be. And yelp there is still a stigma of the beer drinkers and the fighters but God is doing a work in them and amongst them."
"Without prayers we wouldn't have this place," says Brett Wells. "Whether I knew it or not I have been praying for a place like this all my life where I could come and worship.
Clint Yeatts, KLTV 7 News. firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor's Note: For more information on Cross Brand Cowboy Church call their office at 903-535-9155. The church will be sponsoring a number of rodeo events across East Texas this summer.