Cowboy Church is a breed apart
Listen for the sound of the cowbell -- it means church is beginning.
That would be at the Northwoods Harvest Barn, also known as the Cowboy Church.
Located along Highway 34 about 15 miles east of Detroit Lakes, the Cowboy Church opened for services four years ago this June.
Walking into the building, anyone can see where the cowboy theme comes from, but Pastor Brian Erickson assures, it's not just a church for cowboys.
"The setting sets it off right away. It's more laid back," he said of the relaxed atmosphere.
The Cowboy Church building was purchased six years ago and country gospel concerts were held the first two years before a church was organized.
Erickson was serving as an assistant pastor at a Perham church, so he started the Cowboy Church by opening the doors for a Sunday evening service.
Of the 6 p.m. meeting time, Erickson explains that half of his congregation goes to another church Sunday morning and attends the Cowboy Church Sunday evening, and part of the congregation attends his church as their sole church.
While one day the Cowboy Church might have both morning and evening services, for now, it's the right fit to only have an evening service, he said.
And the services are anything but typical. They may be God-centered and the gospel spoken, but Erickson makes sure everyone leaves thinking it was a fun service.
"I always start with a joke," he said. "The Bible says to make a joyful noise, and laughter is the best medicine."
There's a prayer and then the Pledge of Allegiance. The worship team includes those who play a mandolin and spoons.
Downstairs, there's the Kids Korral for Sunday School and the Little Buckaroos Bunkhouse for the nursery.
Each service includes a "cowboy poem and scripture that pertains to that and how it pertains to our life," he said.
At the end of each service, the congregation sings "Happy Trails." Then comes the food.
After each service, everyone is welcome to the lower level, or the loafing area, for food and fellowship.
On the second Sunday of each month at 5 p.m., there is service and supper, with anything from pork chops to brisket on the menu.
"People feel loved and accepted," he said. "I don't see anything wrong with having fun. That's the way it should be."
The congregation started with 18 people four years ago and has grown to 70.
"We're heading in the right direction," Erickson said. "Whatever God wants, but it's heading in His direction."
Cowboy churches are big in the south and west in Montana and North Dakota, he said. As an offshoot of this Cowboy Church, another has started in Twin Valley.
The first two years, when Erickson was just hosting the gospel concerts, "we hit a stall and wondered what to do next."
Thus the Cowboy Church was started.
"It's a work in progress. Just like we are."
It may be called the Cowboy Church, but that doesn't mean only cowboys are welcome. It fact, Erickson said, there are only a few farmers or cowboys who attend. It's more country folk. But that's not to say there aren't a few suits in the audience as well.
"We give people a peace here," he said. "There are 50 million unchurched people (in the nation). We're shooting for them."
No offering plate is passed around each service, but instead people have the opportunity to drop money in the blessing box in the entryway.
"The lord doesn't look at the outside -- dress up your heart."
Erickson said he's been told that people look forward to coming to his church each Sunday evening, and that is one of the greatest things a pastor can hear, he said.
Anyone is welcome to saddle up and ride on over for a Sunday evening service.
"No horse required, no hat required," he said.