Mending Fences Cowboy Church in Lebanon is reaching the harvest field with different methods
By David Dawson
LEBANON — The worship services are held in a barn. The preacher wears a cowboy hat and boots. The worship team includes musicians who formerly played behind legendary country stars George Jones and Charlie Daniels. And the primary form of outreach is a rodeo.
Welcome to Mending Fences Cowboy Church — a vibrant, growing church in Lebanon that embraces the “come as you are” philosophy and is geared toward those who like a little twang in their worship.
Fred Davis, a former church-planting strategist with the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, is the lead pastor at Mending Fences.
“This is the eighth church that I’ve started — and this one has been the most fun,” said Davis. “We do a lot of things that are different from most churches. We are a church for those who have an interest in a country lifestyle.”
The church started three years ago with 12 attendees gathering at the home of one of the founding members. The church has experienced steady growth, and now averages about 70 attendees on Sunday mornings, and has had as many as 150 on certain Sundays.
The church, which conducts baptisms in a watering trough, currently rents the barn where services are held, although that could change in the coming months.
“We’ve run out of room (in the barn),” said Davis. “So, we’re in the process of looking for land in order to build a barn that is designed for a cowboy church. … If we can get another facility, I think we will see a continuation of growth at our church.”
Lewis McMullen, new churches team leader and church planting specialist for the TBMB, said the concept behind Mending Fences — and other such cowboy churches across the nation — is Biblically rooted.
“If you look at the New Testament, the early church used different ways to reach the culture around them with the gospel,” McMullen said. “I believe that being the church means getting outside the walls of the sanctuary and being the hands and feet of Jesus in and around the community.
“I think it is very exciting to see churches use different ways to reach people,” he said.
The worship services at Mending Fences include many staples of the Baptist faith, and Davis said he preaches the gospel in a straight-forward manner. The most noticeable difference, however, comes when the praise team performs. Attendees aren’t likely to hear any Chris Tomlin songs.
“Our format is that we use country-western gospel music,” said Davis. “We have a full band, which includes Charlie Daniels’ drummer and another one that was in George Jones’ band.
“The concept behind that (choice in music) is this: If a person spends his or her time in a bar on Saturday night, we want them to be comfortable coming to church on Sunday without feeling like they are being pointed out,” he said. “We want them to enjoy the music — just like they would on a Saturday night — and then, when I preach, I stick close to the Word. From there, we pray that God will begin to touch the hearts of those people. And many times, He has.”
THIS ISN’T THEIR FIRST RODEO
Mending Fences is preparing to host the Second Annual Mending Fences/FCA Rodeo, which is being held Sept. 13-14 at the Wilson County Fairgrounds in Lebanon. The professional rodeo, produced by Hedrick Rodeo Company, serves as one of the primary forms of outreach and evangelism for Mending Fences Cowboy Church.
The event features a gospel presentation and provides information about the church to those who are interested in learning more.
“Last year, through the rodeo, the church was able to reach several families and see several people come to Christ,” said McMullen. “By giving a gospel presentation during the middle of the rodeo, Mending Fences has seen a number of people come up to their leadership after the rodeo and ask questions about salvation and spiritual things.”
The event drew more than 1,500 attendees last year, and the church is anticipating more than 2,000 this year. Davis said he hopes it will continue to grow larger each year.
“We’re looking for this to become a major event that we do to connect with people,” Davis said. “Every time we’ve hosted something like this, we’ve been able to reach new people. We are seeing lives changed as a result of these events.”
The rodeo includes bareback bronc riding, bull riding, calf roping, cowgirl’s barrel racing, cowgirl’s breakaway roping, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling and team roping.
Davis said being involved with starting a cowboy church is something that had been on his heart for many years.
“When I worked for the Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention (now the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board) as a church planter strategist, I would often work with cowboy churches and would help them get started,” said Davis. “I somewhat have a horse background myself, and I was very intrigued with this concept.”
Davis said his first step was to get connected with the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches, which was started by the General Baptist Convention of Texas.
“I began learning a lot about (cowboy churches) and became close friends with Todd Mitchell, who is the strategist for their organization,” said Davis. “He came to Tennessee on several occasions, and we began looking at what we could do to make this happen.”
Not long after that, things began to fall into place, Davis said, and God started opening doors for other like-minded people to connect with Davis.
“I met with a couple who came to me who have a musical background, and they shared my desire to form a cowboy church,” he said.
“So, we got together and began to develop a strategy for the church, along with the basic setup of the church, including the bylaws and constitution, the vision, the mission and all of that sort of thing. And the church started meeting in their home, and we’ve gone from there.”
McMullen said he believes the growth and success of Mending Fences indicates that people are hungry for the gospel — even if they perhaps don’t realize it. Because of this, he said, there is a strong likelihood that churches that aim to reach a specific people group or profession can make an impact for the Kingdom.
“I believe there is a movement focused on reaching what we call various affinity or lifestyle groups,” said McMullen. “The gospel message is the same, but just like with an ethnic group, it is expressed and explained in a different manner.
“Here in Tennessee, we are seeing more cowboy churches, biker churches, outdoorsman churches and even churches reaching out to “gamers” in the gaming and comic-con world,” he said. “These are unreached people who need to be reached with the gospel. By connecting with them through their affinity or lifestyle, it opens the door to share the gospel to them.” B&R