Riding Herd for the Lord: Cowboy Church in the DFW Periphery

Cowboy Church Arena
Figure 1. A rodeo arena at a cowboy church.

As part of a project for Dr. Paula Lupkin's Design of Suburbia course, I mapped, visited, and photographed cowboy churches in the Dallas-Fort Worth periphery. Cowboy churches are congregations which identify strongly with a particular historical regionalism ("Western Heritage" or "Texas Heritage"). Their doctrine and order of service generally derive from Southern Baptist and other mainline evangelical traditions, but they share an aesthetic heavily influenced by farming, ranching, and rodeo.

Google Earth Imagery of a Typical DFW Cowboy Church
Figure 2. Siting of a typical DFW cowboy church. Note new housing visible in lower portion of image.

I mapped such churches using data from the American Fellowship of Cowboy Churches website (see Fig. 3). The churches falling within a fifty-mile buffer around the Dallas and Fort Worth metro divisions were triangulated, and these triangles were circumscribed. The smallest circles are included in the map of these churches below, indicating spatial clustering around the edges of the DFW metro areas.

Spatial Clustering of DFW Cowboy Churches
Figure 3. Spatial clustering of cowboy churches about the DFW metro periphery, indicated by smallest empty circles.

Based on conversations with congregants and pastors and observation of buildings, arenas, grounds, and services, I believe these churches are sites of resistance to ongoing (sub)urbanization, moral spaces where cowboy tropes are mobilized to propagate values associated with rural productivism and set against a spreading, dominant (sub)urban culture. The siting, design, and material culture of cowboy churches, with rodeo arenas, metal art, pastoral iconography, and consciously rustic touches featuring prominently, represent gestures toward rural life and livelihoods, even as the spaces about these churches and their congregants' homes undergo rapid and intense development (see Fig. 2).

Service at Cowboy Church
Figure 4. Sanctuary during a service at Denton County Cowboy Church. Cowboy hats are worn during the service and removed only during collective prayer.
Figure 5. Chuckwagon advertisement for cowboy church services at a space in Plano that doubles as a bar, grill, and music venue.