Cowboy Church Research: Guest Post by Shannon Vannatter

When I came up with the concept for my newest release, Rodeo Reunion, I created Slade Walker. Slade is a rodeo chaplain, former Texas Ranger baseball pitcher. His major league career ended almost before it began with a shoulder injury.

For the last several years, he’s traveled the Texas rodeo circuit living out of an RV, riding broncs to connect with the traveling cowboys, so he can preach to them, their families, and friends. No place to call home and tired of having nowhere permanent to hang his hat, the only thing he’s certain of, God hasn’t uncalled him to preach.

It’s easy for a writer to write themselves in a corner. I had to work hard and jump through hoops to find a logical reason for Slade to settle down. Yes Slade is tired of the road, but he’s still very invested in his calling. I could have had him find a church he loved and think, Hey, I don’t have to travel the rodeo as a chaplain, I can be a pastor. But I’d shaped him so well, I couldn’t imagine this cowboy wearing a suit or even dress clothes and preaching to people in padded pews.

So how to settle Slade? Give him somewhere he’d fit in, somewhere he’d feel comfortable preaching? It came to me—a cowboy church. But I didn’t know a thing about them—other than there’s one in the same town as the church my husband pastors. We’re even the same faith, Southern Baptist, and belong to the same association of churches. But I’d never been there. Since I’m the pastor’s wife, I want and kind of need to be at my own church.

First, I Googled to see if there’s a cowboy church in Aubrey, Texas—the setting for my rodeo series. There is. I read up on it, but couldn’t find enough detail to write about the church and make it seem real. Besides, I needed to take fictional liberty since my cowboy church is just getting started in my story. I Googled cowboy church.

According to Wikipedia: Cowboy churches are local Christian churches within the cowboy culture that are distinctively Western heritage in character. A typical cowboy church may meet in a rural setting in a barn, metal building, arena, sale barn, or old western building, have its own rodeo arena, and a country gospel band. Baptisms are generally done in a stock tank.

This fit the little I already knew since the church in our town started in a sale barn. Eventually the congregation built a barn like structure and now meets there. I didn’t know about the stock tank part, so that added a bit of flavor. The article went on to say that cowboy churches have been around in western states for forty to fifty years, but have recently exploded across the country.

To be considered a cowboy church according to Wikipedia, there are five requirements: 1. Nondenominational 2. No offerings collected or solicited 3. No membership 4. No dress code 5. Held in non traditional settings. Many cowboy churches today are actually denominational attempts to re-frame the setting of their theology.

I guess the one in our town is a Southern Baptist re-frame. Even with all this, I still felt like I really needed to attend one, so I could get the description and details right. So I told my husband that the next time he had Sunday off, I needed to visit the cowboy church for research. He told me he didn’t need to be off, just go.

But I didn’t feel right about it. The only time I miss church is if I’m contagious or if our son is. I didn’t want to miss and I REALLY didn’t want to miss to attend a different church. I could just hear the rumors that would stir about me being mad at my husband or our church.

My hairdresser goes to the cowboy church, so when I got my hair cut, I pumped her for info. She invited me to come. I explained why I wasn’t comfortable with that. She told me their service starts at nine o’clock. Now that I could do. Our Sunday school starts at ten fifteen. The churches are about ten minutes apart. I could probably make it without even missing any of our morning class. I set it up with her to arrive at 8:30 for coffee and donuts in the fellowship hall.

The only part I forgot, I’m not a morning person. I can get up, I just don’t roll well until noon or so. I made it to the church at 8:45. By then everyone had left the fellowship hall and was in the sanctuary listening to the band. It’s a BIG barn. There was no way I could find my friend. So I sat down in the back and tried to disappear. I saw several people I knew milling around. I took notes on decor—concrete floor, exposed heat and air ductwork, the stock tank, the rustic pulpit with a wagon wheel on the front.

The lady beside me was camping at the lake in our town and lived somewhere else. I told her what I was there for and that I was excited the service would be over at ten and I could make it to my church on time. She looked skeptical and said they come there every year when they camp and the service doesn’t usually end at ten. At least I was in the back so I could sneak out.

Once the service began, it was different than what I’m used to—a lot more casual. We sing hymns with a song leader and a piano player, they have a bluegrass gospel band. The preaching style was different, but the beliefs were the same. I snuck out at ten and got to my church in time for class. But I just knew people had seen me and wondered why I’d been there.

The next day, I put on Facebook: I’m not mad at my husband or my church. Yes, I was at the cowboy church, but I was only there to do research for a book. Several people commented that they hadn’t seen me, if they had, they’d have said hi.

Guess sitting in the back paid off. No rumors swirled that I know of. In the end I got enough facts, details, and flavor to create a cowboy church for my story—a place for Slade Walker to settle down and preach.

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Rodeo Reunion coverAnd Slade Walker’s not a likely candidate. Even if the former major league pitcher just agreed to coach her son’s little league team. The single mom can’t risk everything on a bronc-riding chaplain who’s only passing through Raquel’s small Texas town.

Slade is taking a hiatus from the rodeo circuit to meet the sister he never knew he had. But the pretty widowed nurse next door is making him think twice about hitting the road again. He can’t turn his back on the cowboys who need him, but Raquel and her boy need him, too. Can Slade fulfill his calling and finally find a place to hang his hat?

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Giveaway details: Here’s something special to commemorate the Heartsong Presents line since it’s ending this month. Comment to enter the drawing for a copy of Rodeo Reunion. Ten copies will be split among names drawn during the blog tour from June 1st – July 1st. One winner will receive a baseball themed memory board personally crafted by the author. Winners will be revealed on the author’s blog on July 22nd.


More About Shannon Taylor Vannatter

Shannon Taylor Vannatter Headshot - redCentral Arkansas author, Shannon Taylor Vannatter is a stay-at-home mom/pastor’s wife. She lives in a town with a population of around 100, if you count a few cows and once climbed a mountain wearing gold wedge-heeled sandals which became known as her hiking boots. Vannatter won the Inspirational Readers Choice Award in the short contemporary category, The 18th Annual Heartsong Awards 3rd Favorite New Author and #1 Contemporary Award.

She has ten published titles and is contracted for five more. Her books are available at,,,, and Learn more about Shannon and her books at and check out her real life romance blog at

Connect with her on Facebook:, Goodreads:, Pinterest:, and Twitter: @stvauthor.


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5 Comments on "Cowboy Church Research: Guest Post by Shannon Vannatter"

  1. Loved your story! Just yesterday we had lunch with relatives from west Texas who are now attending a small cowboy church after moving from a giant church in Atlanta. They absolutely could not say enough good things about their new church. Maybe some day I’ll get to visit one. Meanwhile, I hope to read about it in your book.


  2. Shelia Hall | June 9, 2015 at 11:59 am |

    Love to win this!


  3. Pam, cowboy churches fill a need. I saw a lot of people I knew that had never been church attenders.

    Shelia, thanks for following the blog tour.


  4. Joan Arning | June 9, 2015 at 12:42 pm |

    I’ve enjoyed your other books and hope to win this one!


  5. Thanks Joan, I’m so glad you enjoy my books. I have so much fun writing them. Sometimes I pull my hair out, but most of the time it’s fun.


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