BOLLINGER COUNTY, MO (KFVS) - Where were you on Sunday morning? Church? Fewer and fewer Americans can answer "yes" to that question.
Over the last decade, nearly every church, no matter the denomination, has steadily lost members.
To reverse that trend, many churches feel that they can no longer operate "business as usual," but rather "business unusual."
Gospel music. Hot coffee. Fellowship. Illustration out of the book How to Hold a Church Service. But hold your horses. Is that a cowboy hat? Stirrups? And, gasp, a dog?
Things just got weird. Or did they just get right?
You've moseyed into the Cowboy Church's Gravel Hill location in Bollinger County where every Tuesday night, a herd of about 150 people gathers to worship with Preacher Jim Matthews.
"You could call us a redneck church just as soon as call us a cowboy church," Matthews said.
"Rednecks" because these are country folk, the salt of the earth types who prefer a simpler way of life. "Rednecks" also because of what lies over yonder, on the other side of the windows.
A 44,000 square foot, dirt filled, horse riding, cow roping arena.
People from as far away as Sikeston and Ste. Genevieve trailer their horses in weekly to share the sport with others who live it; and when the dust settles, to get a little religion.
"We sought to find something that brings us together," Matthews said.
For this congregation, that commonality is God and horses.
Matthews knows his audience and knows that to keep growing the membership, the Cowboy Church must continue to evolve.
"There are some things we cannot negotiate and stay true to the gospel we preach, but how we preach and the way we preach can evolve," he said. "The worst thing someone could say 10 years from now is, 'You guys are just like you always were.' That would be an insult to me."
In a time when many church congregations are in decline, the Cowboy Church is growing.
However, that's not because of the arena. Sure, that ropes them in, but what keeps them coming back week after week is much bigger. It's strong enough to bring a tough cowboy to tears.
"It's more about relationships than religion," Stephen Daume said. "If you have your relationship with God right, then everything is a lot better."
The Cowboy Church is a Baptist church, but all are welcome. The church hosts barrel racing and other events at its Oak Ridge location. You've probably seen that church if you've driven I-55, it's right off the highway.