Dynamic cowboy church plant is the talk of Cape Girardeau
By Allen Palmeri
February 3, 2004
FRUITLAND – Mike Parry, pastor of Fruitland Community Church, Jackson, is helping to plant a new church that is meeting in the Fruitland livestock auction barn. He cautioned his partner, Jim Matthews, pastor of Red Star Baptist Church, Cape Girardeau, not to get too excited about their opening night number of 204 in attendance.
“It usually goes down the second week," Parry said.
But Cape County Cowboy Church is an unusual church plant. Attendance Jan. 15 nearly doubled; a total of 398 packed an amphitheater to near capacity. Parry and Matthews are already thinking about two services.
“Jim has got one foot in heaven, I think," Parry said.
For Matthews, serving as pastor of the new church is the fulfillment of a longtime desire to minister to horse people. That was his prayer back in 1977 during his studies at Southwest Baptist University.
“To see it come to fruition with such a God-anointed sense about it is fabulous," Matthews said. “It’s the buzz among men and women, saved and unsaved, in Cape Girardeau and Cape County. They’re excited for it, and that’s good for the kingdom of God. And I think God wants to raise-up other cowboy churches. I’d love to be involved in that."
Ben Hess, Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) catalytic missionary based in St. Louis, put on his blue jeans and went to the barn to preach a commissioning sermon Jan. 4. He considers the work of Parry and Matthews to be on the cutting edge of what the MBC is seeking to do all over Missouri as it tries for 100 church starts in 2004.
“I think they are developing some models that are reproducible in other parts of the state," Hess said.
“When I first talked with them, I said it doesn’t matter if you have 15 or 50. To have that many, it shows that those people groups are out there."
By identifying another people group in his sphere of influence, Matthews on Jan. 25 planted Bread of Life Fellowship in his church’s activities center. Red Star Baptist Church conducts the largest food pantry in the city, with anywhere from 160-200 people showing up once a month to get food. Matthews capitalized on that by serving breakfast at 8 a.m. followed by a worship service led by a Red Star member. The goal in this church plant is to try to nurture a core of believers from within.
“Our goal is to plant five churches in 10 years," Matthews said.
Both Fruitland and Red Star run about 200 in worship. Parry and Matthews are friends who have shared ownership in Cape County Cowboy Church.
“We’re sharing equally the responsibility financially, and we agreed to celebrate the results equally," said Parry, who said his church is considering planting another church in 2005.
“Some folks would say we should be a little bigger before we start a church, but we think it’s just as important to go wide as it is tall. We wanted to start a church right away. I think it takes faith, a vision to see beyond your church, a commitment to fulfill the Great Commission and a willingness to say not everybody has to come to my church. It takes a kingdom mindset to say we can celebrate starting a new church down the road that’s going to be 200 people."
Matthews said that starting a new church does not have to be complicated. “First of all, hear God and what He says to do," he said. “That’s the first and last rule."
Cape County Cowboy Church has quickly become a magnet for the unchurched. The livestock auction barn on Thursday night is what one would expect from a place designed for animals. Carpeted church it’s not.
“All the smells are there," Parry said. “It’s a place where you can bring your cowboy boots and cowboy hat and feel right at home. It’s a come-as-you-are kind of church. You can come in your muddy boots and your blue jeans and fit right in.
“Many of these folks are unchurched. We chose Thursday nights because these horse folks have chosen to build their lives around their horses on the weekends. They ride them and show them, and they travel, so frankly for that reason they have not made God a priority on the weekends. So we decided to plant this church to meet their needs. We’ve got folks who haven’t been to church in a long time coming to church."
Matthews said he would like to see a hunger for worship and the preached Word of God develop from within the fledgling congregation. The number in attendance at the third meeting, 328, indicates that the new church is off to a good start.
“What’s ahead of us is we’ve got to find a group of people who God’s called out to be a church and help them to be faithful, committed disciples to Him and to one another and to this culture and to other cultures," he said. “The first weeks have been fabulous. The real tough part will have to go on behind the scenes as we develop believers and actually become a church in action as well as in name. I feel like we’ll always do a week night service. In time I think God will add a Sunday service and other training times."
What sets apart Parry and Matthews from many other MBC pastors is their ability to reach the unchurched, Hess said. This comes from their common desire to structure church plants in such a way as to enable the unchurched to come to a service. This is intentional with both of them, and it is a must if the convention is to break out of the disturbing reality where most Missouri Baptist churches are either plateaued or declining, Hess said.
Hess likes to explain it by detailing bridges to church planting movements and barriers to church planting movements. Some of the bridges are prayer, abundant Gospel sowing and intentional church planting. Some of the barriers are imposing extra-biblical requirements for being a church, non-reproducible church models and extra-biblical leadership requirements.
“They’re going across the bridges instead of keeping the barriers up," Hess said. “Unintentionally, many of our churches in Missouri have created barriers to the unchurched."
Parry said the key to the immediate health of the cowboy church will be the biblical preaching of Matthews, who is living out a dream.
“This has been Jim’s passion for over 20 years," Parry said. “He’s been praying for this for over 20 years. The timing’s right, and God has created him to do this, I think."