PARKER – After Southfork Baptist Church dwindled to 15 members, Pastor David LeFlore realized something needed to change in order to continue to reach the community.
"Through lots of prayer and wondering how we're going to grow, Connie asked if we ever thought about a country church," LeFlore said, referring to his wife. He realized that the area was a piece of country near the city, and therefore would not be conducive to a city church.
This is part of a growing trend in Baptist church life. A combination of a traditional church and a cowboy church, country churches are for those who enjoy the relaxed, "come as you are" lifestyle. Since the change, the body has more than quadrupled in size over a three year period.
It was not necessary for a new building to be built, but the change would come from the inside rather than the outside. Sunday School occurs every Sunday before church, and all are welcome. There is also a children's church during the main service. There are events for both children and adults, such as movie days for the kids and skeet-shooting afternoons for adults.
While cowboy churches center around the rodeo, country churches appeal to the skeet-shooters, hunters and fishermen. The church provides a close-knit, family atmosphere which welcomes visitors and friends with the same level of warmth.
"Our church doesn't rewrite country songs to center around Jesus. We do mostly hymns centered around a country sound," Pastor LeFlore said of the worship differences between cowboy and country churches.
The worship style of the country church is one of its most distinctive features. Southfork's stage has a piano, drums, a bass, two guitars and a banjo. Old hymns are sang with country sounding accompaniment, as are more modern songs. The lyrics are unchanged, but rather than traditional organs or contemporary electric guitars, banjos and acoustics ring out.
"We're here because we really enjoy the music and the fellowship. We like the old hymns," said Jan Parker, whose husband is the bassist for the church.
While maintaining the traditional Baptist service structure, the music and laid-back lifestyle is unique to many churches not just in the area, but in the state. It reaches the people who do not enjoy modern services but are uncomfortable in traditional churches.
LeFlore said the biggest challenge was transitioning the music and realizing that people would leave because of the switch. But being able to reach a new group of people has been worth minor setbacks.
"If you like watching Duck Dynasty, you'll like our church," LeFlore said about his congregation.
"We've recently adopted a mobile home park, and we've already reached 5 families who have joined the church," LeFlore said.
They have thrown festivals and other events for the community in order to share the Gospel and care for them, putting on events such as fall festivals and Christmas parties. A focus on doing events for kids brings in the families and opens doors for evangelism. There have been several visitors to the church from the mobile home park, and LeFlore plans on investing in the community on a deeper level.
By combining traditional to cowboy, Southfork Country Church and others like it have been able to reach the country folk of Texas who would have a difficult time finding a church home anywhere else.
Linley McCord, a student at Texas A&M University, is currently serving as a joint Communications Intern for both the Baptist Standard and the Texas Baptists.