January 31st, 2012 at 11:13 am
IRVING – Sunday mornings are a bustling place at Western Heritage Church in Irving. The band prepares for worship in the sanctuary as other people start pots of coffee, lay out breakfast pastries and greet each other in a fellowship hall full of smiles, hugs and handshakes.
It’s a place where people come because they want to be there, want to feel loved. Here, people are family –whether it’s their first time to visit or the latest in a long relationship with the congregation.
Taking in the scene, it’s hard to believe there wasn’t such a demand to be in a place so warm.
But it’s true.
Roughly 18 months ago in these buildings, Faith Temple Baptist Church in Irving clung to life with about 18 aging members. It had baptized only “a handful” of people in three years, according to Pastor Jody Nichols. Families with young children occasionally visited, but they didn’t return after they discovered the church offered nothing for their children. The congregation faced a crossroads many churches face: change in an effort to reach people for Christ or count down the days until the last person closed the doors.
For people who have attempted to live their lives faithfully for decades, the decision was simple. They decided to do whatever it took to share the hope of Christ with a community it felt called to reach. Quickly they discovered God was calling them to do more than change. They were to re-brand as a cowboy church in the heart of urban Irving. Thus, Western Heritage Church of Irving was born.
Almost as soon as the sign changed, people started coming. The community was intrigued by a cowboy church in the city. It was a place where they felt comfortable coming, an environment where they could connect with the newly-formed cowboy band and relaxed worship.
“It just surprised us,” said long-time member Jere Ward. “People we’d never seen before started coming. There’d be four or five visitors in this service and four or five different ones in the next service. Then people began signing up.”
From that point forward, growth came naturally. Members easily share information about the church with people in grocery stores, courthouses and other places during their daily routines. Irving residents want to know more about it.
“You tell people ‘I go to the cowboy church in Irving,’ Ward said. “Immediately they stop. They say, ‘Where is it? Tell me about it.’ There’s interest in it.”
Many of the people who ask questions have come to visit the congregation. A large portion of those who check out the church have either fallen away from church or never attended one before. In the past 15 months, the congregation has baptized 20 people. More than 100 people came for the one year anniversary of the church’s rebranding.
“It’s just thrilling the way it’s growing,” said Chuck Campbell, one of the initial core members of the church.
The congregation now averages about 80 people who participate in Sunday service. A group of children can be found moving to the worship music. People of all ages are genuinely glad to each other each week. The congregation regularly refers to itself as a family where people are accepted.
For Bing Money, a member who has seen the highs and lows of the congregation, the hustle and bustle of the growing Sunday morning crowd is a beautiful site.
“I’m on cloud nine seeing all these good things happen, all these people coming in,” he said. “Some of them haven’t been in church in years. Some of them are looking for a church they feel comfortable in and loved in. We’ve got that to offer. I’m so glad things are going the way they are. I’m just looking for better things to happen. I believe they will.”
Pastor Jody Nichols prays Money is correct. He credits the congregation’s impact for God’s kingdom to God’s wisdom and glory as well as church members’ willingness to follow wherever God calls them. When times were tough for the church, they had the “spirit of Caleb,” referring to the Old Testament Israelite who saw the promised land and believed God would take His people there.
“It’s been an awesome experience as a pastor to see a small group of about 18-20 people, primarily senior citizens, and how in a real sense they were renewed with a spirit of Caleb even in their serving the Lord these many years. This whole transition, rebranding so to speak, re-invigorated them and renewed them.”