MOUNT CRAWFORD, Va. (AP) — A horse and buggy clogged by on U.S. 11, as the Cowboy Church gathered in Mount Crawford's Ruritan Club for the Sunday service.
Usually there are about a dozen or so congregants, but this Sunday there were about 10.
Each worship song had a twang and kick as people's boots tapped the floor to the beat.
Jeans and flannel along with hats can be seen on the congregation, as well as the Rev. Raymond Bell.
The service starts with a "Yeehaw!"
"Cowboy Church is a unique approach in that it's nontraditional and it's nondenominational," he said. "It's designed to bring the Gospel of Christ into rural settings and attract people who, historically, do not attend worship."
Bell, who devoted his life to ministry in 2000, has planted nine cowboy churches in Virginia and helped plant three others.
Bell and his team do services four times a week in Roanoke, Blacksburg, Moneta and Harrisonburg, which is the Mount Crawford location.
"There's no membership, you can't join Cowboy Church," Bell said, you just go and you're always welcome.
"You're never solicited for money, there's no offering collected. People are allowed to give to the ministry of course, but we never ask them for money."
Demian Pace is the associate pastor for the Cowboy Church of Virginia and has been involved for almost five years.
"I was saved when I was young, but never clicked with a church," he said.
When he attended Cowboy Church, he said it felt like home.
"Everybody's welcoming and there's no agenda," Pace said. "It's just come and see what the Bible has to say about you."
The attendance fluctuates, Bell said, because there's no obligation to come every Sunday.
"We don't want you to feel like you need to come," he said. "We want people to go to church when they want to."
Cowboy Church has been around since 1972.
According to the website, in 1972 Glenn Smith, a professional rodeo clown, was called to God. Selling everything, he entered full-time ministry along with his wife.
The second year of Smith's journey, he was returning to previous towns and cities and he discovered local pastors and residents kept up what he had started.
"There's five elements that you have to have for Cowboy Church," Bell said.
"The reason we qualify that, because there are cowboy churches all over the world now in every denomination is doing and that's a great testament of how successful it is, because everybody jumps on a bandwagon when it's going really well."
The first element of a Cowboy Church is that it is nondenominational and not tied to any group in any shape of form, Bell said.
The second, it is nontraditional, meaning the congregants meet anywhere but a church.
"So we meet in barns, livestock arenas, campgrounds, you name it," Bell said.
There's no membership, no offerings collected and no dress code.
Bell said the reason behind the no dress code is to let go of any notion of ownership to the church.
"We've been saying in our churches for years . come as you are. But when people do, everybody looks at them," Bell said.
"And that's a byproduct of the membership issue. Because when you have membership, you have a preconceived issue of ownership and so that's why we don't have membership. Why create a barrier that says you don't belong here?"
Information from: The News Leader, http://www.newsleader.com
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
A family dealing with health problems and a bad economy won't have to worry about pinching pennies to pay their mortgage for an entire year.
While the State of Kansas sees more infant deaths than most of the country, Geary County is already successfully decreasing its infant mortality rate.
Officials at a Colorado school where a 6-year-old boy was suspended for kissing a girl have dropped the term "sexual harassment" from the boy's record, instead calling the behavior misconduct.