Cars honked enthusiastically as Pastor Wes Brown, of Cowboy Church of Collin County, delivered the Easter Sunday sermon. He stood on a truck bed in the church’s parking lot, and his congregants sat in their cars, listening to the radio broadcast of him speaking. Whenever Brown said something the congregation agreed with, attendees would honk their horns as an “amen” to emphasize his point.
For Brown, having that interaction with the congregation is what makes hosting a drive-in worship service worthwhile. The Cowboy Church of Collin County held its first drive-in service on Palm Sunday, which was met with enthusiasm from church members. They were able to maintain a sense of community and gather together, all while continuing to practice safe social distancing in the age of the COVID-19 outbreak. So, it felt natural that the church would continue offering these gatherings into Easter weekend, a time that is often marked by higher-than-average church attendance as people celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Maintaining a cowboy culture
The church’s motto for their drive-in services is “come as you are, stay in your car.” The come-as-you-are culture is an important aspect of Cowboy Church that encourage people who would otherwise be intimidated by church to attend.
“The cowboy church intentionally tries to remove religious barriers, whether it is the brick building or passing an offering plate,” Brown explained. “We really emphasize that people can come as you are. Not everyone comes in cowboy hats and boots, although some do.”
It was important to maintain that aspect of their church culture as they switched to drive-in services. Another important church tradition they wanted to preserve was enjoying food together.
As people drove into the parking lot, church staff in masks and gloves passed out donut holes through the car window. Brown joked that the services are “BYOC—bring your own coffee,” and said that handing out the donuts also helped foster a sense of community as church members engaged in a classic coffee and donuts fellowship - even if it is from the safety of their vehicles. Brown explained that the church is careful to comply with the safety standards outlined by the state of Texas, and are trying to think creatively about ways to engage with the people in their cars.
For Easter, bags filled with eggs, candy, and prizes were handed out to children as they arrived. In true cowboy church spirit, five volunteers on horseback rode around with signs telling people which radio frequency to tune their cars. One hundred fifteen cars attended the Easter service, with a total of 287 people in the parking lot. Those who were unable to attend in-person could stream the sermon on YouTube.
Finding good amidst the bad
Brown has seen great success come from drive-in services. Shortly before the Easter service began, a woman approached him in her car. She told Brown that she had attended the church for a few weeks, but that week, she wanted to learn how to be saved. Brown walked her through the salvation process, the church is looking forward to baptizing her as soon as possible.
Brown is excited to reopen his church doors and greeting his congregation face-to-face, but he sees the good that has come from this time of upheaval. Cowboy Church of Collin County has seen an increase in attendance, both online and in person. Brown believes that people are now seeking spiritual answers as they come face-to-face with hardship and have the time to reflect on their spirituality.
Until the church is able to meet in the building again, Brown plans to continue hosting drive-in worship services. He hopes that the congregation will continue to benefit from the fellowship and unity that comes from being able to assemble together, even if it is not in a traditional sense.
“We really believe there is a spiritual awareness coming from this pandemic,” Brown said. “We’ve had a lot of people that we’ve not seen before coming to church, or members who haven’t been here in a while. What Satan meant for harm, God used for good.”