It’s a place where you worship without worry, where you can be yourself and where you can be in the company of others who need the same kind of service with a touch of cowboy culture.
The Valencia County Cowboy Church isn’t your typical church. It’s a church, in western lingo, a place “where the trail hands meet the Boss.”
The non-denominational Christian church is a part of the Cowboy Up International Ministries, which encourages and supports establishing churches across the nation. To date, there are 250 Cowboy Churches, two of which are in New Mexico — one in Valencia County and another in the east mountains.
Donny MacDougall DVM, the veterinarian at Los Lunas Animal Clinic and the head trustee of the Valencia County Cowboy Church, says the congregation at the church has grown in both size and spirit. The church was established in March 2017 when the congregation started having Sunday services at Bosque Farms Elementary. Today, they’ve moved into their new church at a new location, at 01 AT&T Road, west of Los Lunas.
The 10 acres of land where the new, metal, red-colored “barn-like” church has been built was donated, as was much of the materials and labor. But MacDougall says the new church has been nothing less than a miracle as well as the continued faith of the congregation that made this happen.
“We had a benevolent Christian who gave us 10 acres of land,” MacDougall said. “Most churches struggle, collect tithes and work all they can to acquire land and buildings, and God just dropped 10 acres. So there’s been a lot of God working in the congregation.”
Cowboy Churches use what is called a Silver-Bullet Strategy, which one being “A church for the unchurched.”
“There are people who don’t go to church, or they don’t want to because they were turned off at another church. They were judged, they were criticized,” he said. “Many people have bad experiences at churches. Our church is for people who have never felt comfortable in a church, they don’t know what to do at a church, have not been exposed to the Bible or the Lord.”
Anyone and everyone is invited to attend the Valencia County Cowboy Church, regardless if they’re dirty, bedraggled, drug-addicted, any gender, any race — anybody — they’re welcomed.
Another Silver-Bullet Strategy is that this nondenominational Christian church is non-judgemental. Unlike “traditional” churches, the Valencia County Cowboy Church isn’t concerned about how you dress, how you behave or how you look.
“You can come into church with mud and blood on you and we’ll shake your hand and bring you in because everyone is welcomed,” the head trustee said. “There is no one that isn’t our kind of person.”
While the Cowboy Church welcomes everyone, they cater to people who have an attraction to the western lifestyle. That being said, you don’t have to be a cowboy or even ride horses to attend the church, MacDougall says. It might just be that they like western movies, read western books or enjoy living in a rural atmosphere.
“We have a lot of people who are not anywhere near being a cowboy,” he said. “The people are country, comfortable and casual. So there’s no dress code and there’s no judgement; people can come in terrible condition.”
The church is exercising the truest love of Jesus because He’s not judging anyone — everyone is on even ground. They want people to have a place where they’re comfortable and can find Jesus.
They use the cowboy mantra to attract ranchers, ropers, cowboys of all walks of life, or people who just like to hang out with cowboys. They meet and greet all people with Jesus’ level of equality.
The local church has a congregation made up of people who enjoy the cowboy lifestyle, people who are disabled, people from all races, all creeds and all ages. From the initial 17 people who started the church to a congregation of about 300, they are staying, they are praying and they are growing.
Unlike a lot of churches, the Valencia County Cowboy Church doesn’t pass a basket for donations. MacDougall says they are not about asking for donations, but do welcome them when offered. The idea is there is no pressure and no rules.
Instead of a traditional organ and chorus, the Cowboy Church offers a live band that plays country gospel and traditional hymns together at the Sunday service.
“We have some people who like our band so much that some have told me they come for the band and they stay for the sermon,” MacDougall said laughing.
“The camaraderie and the warmth that I feel here is something I’ve never felt before. I’ve gone to a lot of churches, and they were good or OK, but I never felt like I fit in. Everybody fits in at our church — it’s amazing.”
The pastor who started the church left earlier this year, but MacDougall said God sent them a new cowboy preacher by the name of James Robbins.
“Every time we’ve had a hurdle, Jesus has come in and our problems have been solved,” he said.
Along with its 9:30 a.m. Sunday service, the Cowboy Church also offers a Buckaroo Sunday School for three different age groups, as well as very active youth group for teens ages 13-18 who meet at 6 p.m. every Tuesday.
“The Cowboy Churches in Texas usually meet on Thursday nights because families are usually busy on the weekends, going to rodeos and other events,” MacDougall said. “So when we started this church, we started it with the traditional Sunday service, which we are always going to have. But our new pastor is planning on having another service on Thursday night.”
Part of the Cowboy Church’s story and it’s future, will come by way of a rodeo arena on the 10 acres gifted to the church. The church as been putting on junior rodeos, gymkhanas (an equestrian event consisting of speed-pattern racing and timed games for riders on horses), ropings and play days as an outreach.
While they’ve been able to use the Bosque Farms Rodeo Association arena and other smaller, privately-owned facilities around the county, the proposed arena will be able facilitate all the needed activities.
“We’re wanting to help people grow in their country and Christianity lifestyles,” MacDougall said. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm in our congregation. Our main goal is for people to feel comfortable and to connect with Jesus Christ.”
For more information about Valencia County Cowboy Church, visit valenciacountycowboychurch.com.