Cool Water Cowboy Church near Sanford is growing.
Drive by Hunt Springs Baptist Church’s building south of downtown Sanford and it looks pretty normal.
It’s a medium-size brick building with a neatly-trimmed lawn. The church reports having about 155 members — a solid number, but not a megachurch.
There’s no sign this church is a missions powerhouse.
But it is.
Pastor Wesley Thomas, a native of Pittsboro, preaches the gospel every Sunday, and the church has done well since he became pastor in 2010. But there’s more.
This average-size congregation has supported planting a new church in Angier. They have also welcomed a new Hispanic church to meet in their building. And most years members have made missions trips to other areas.
And then there’s the latest missions project.
Tuesday nights Thomas pulls on his boots, grabs his cowboy hat and drives out in the country to a horse farm belonging to Joe and Lisa Morgan. They have loaned out their barn for meetings of the newly planted Cool Water Cowboy Church.
Rousing services center on strong Bible preaching and gospel music that’s theologically sound. People from up to 35 miles away have been drawn to the barn.
Discussions and prayer meetings about planting a new church started in 2018, and the church was launched on April 28. Thomas hoped for maybe 12 people at that first service, but 34 came. Within months the services were drawing upwards of 120 people, and they had to move to a bigger room of the barn.
Rousing services center on strong Bible preaching and gospel music that’s theologically sound.
Thomas says the cowboy church is all about sharing the gospel and reaching lost people.
“People from other churches attend on Tuesday nights just so they can bring their friends and family members,” Thomas says. “They know their friends will hear the gospel.”
Cowboy churches have popped up across North Carolina. Like many of these, Cool Water is being supported financially by and with coaching from the Baptist state convention’s Church Planting team. North Carolina Baptists support planting more than 100 new churches all over the state each year as they give through the Cooperative Program and the North Carolina Missions Offering.
Why cowboy churches?
“It’s the simplicity that people like,” Thomas says. “A lot of people around here either have horses or used to have them. A lot of people know about horses and enjoy trail riding and such. But it’s not just horses. Cowboy churches also attract people who are used to a country way of life — horses, cows, hunting.”
But members do not object to cars. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck earlier this year, Cool Water continued services by having members drive in and stay in their cars to hear Thomas preach by loudspeaker.
Round-up type gatherings have also helped attract new members. Hundreds of people come to enjoy horseback riding, music, food prepared at chuck wagons, and gospel preaching. Some even rode the mechanical bull that was brought in.
Thomas is confident Cool Water will continue to grow as the pandemic fades into the sunset.
An early test came the first year. After meeting all summer, Thomas was not sure the people would want to continue meeting in a barn during cold weather. But they voted unanimously to continue. Since then the barn has been spruced up and is now heated.
Members have provided funds to build a new building for ministering to children.
Thomas and his wife, Mona, are confident Cool Water Cowboy Church will thrive. After all, the church is associated with Hunt Springs Baptist Church, a missions powerhouse church over in Sanford.