CODY, WY (BP) – Cody Cowboy Church brings the "Wild Wild West" into the 21st century with its video recording ministry at each summer night's rodeo in the famed Wyoming town.
It's a ministry that started as a result of the discerning eye of church planting pastor Pat Alphin's wife, Renee.
"We started out [recording] behind the bucking chutes," said Alphin, a former bull rider. "One of the contestants asked me to video his ride one night, so he could watch himself to see how he could improve.
"Renee told me later that night, 'If we had a camera, what a ministry that would be.'"
Athletic skill improves when riders watch video of their performance and see what they did wrong, Alphin said, which is as true for rodeo contestants as for football players.
"When we first got up here [in 2016] we could see the multifaceted ministry we could do here, in the community, with ranchers, at the rodeos and with tourists," Alphin told Baptist Press. "We get opportunities to share the Gospel with people from all over the world."
Cody, an hour from the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park, claims its moniker -- Rodeo Capital of the World -- because it has one of the world's longest-running rodeos and is the only place in the nation that hosts a rodeo every night of the summer, from June 1 through Aug. 31.
In addition to its nightly video ministry, the church plant hosts rodeo riders in its all-male, 10-bed bunkhouse, and ministers in various ways to the community, tourists and ranch hands.
The Alphins were given a video camera by East Mountain Baptist Church in Gilmer, Texas, and bought a 32-inch television they set up where the contestants congregate under the bleachers.
"We started videoing the rough stock riders, the bull riders, bronc and bareback riders," Alphin said. "Started coaching them. Then someone [from the bleachers above] spilled a beer on the TV."
Now Cody Cowboy Church has a 65-inch television screen and computers in a big blue tent behind the bucking chutes. Two video cameras positioned around the rodeo grounds log each contestant, who can view replays, slow motion and multiple views for on-the-spot analysis as well as next-day coaching.
At 9 a.m. each day, contestants gather in the church's bunkhouse to watch the previous night's rides. Alphin was providing some coaching, but "the PRCA [Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association] caught wind of this, this year, and they've been coming up through the season and helping us coach," the pastor said.
Alphin's ministry roots date to high school when he rode bulls in Mesquite, Texas, and then competed on the professional -- PRCA -- circuit from 1974-1980.
"I was raised Southern Baptist but just had the religion part of it," Alphin said. "When I got into a relationship with Jesus, all my bull riding friends fled."
The Alphins, who had planted two cowboy churches in Texas, arrived in Cody in May 2016 and began building relationships with townspeople, officials and participants in the nightly rodeo. Four people were present for the first worship service in January 2017, including the Alphins, but soon there were 20, and by summer 2017 there were as many as 50.
"When winter hit we stayed at 40 to 50 and one Sunday this summer we had three baptisms and 103 people in service," Alphin said. "We average 60 to 70, though."
Financial stats tell of similar growth. In 2017, Cody Cowboy Church received $23,534 in undesignated offerings, and gave $807 -- 3.4 percent -- to missions through the Cooperative Program, the way Southern Baptists work together in state conventions and throughout the world. In 2018, the church received $41,530 and gave $2,696 -- 6.5 percent -- through CP.
"We believe in the Cooperative Program," Alphin said. "It is an opportunity to be a part of the greater global plan even though we are a mission church with limited resources."
Church members park cars during the weeklong Cody Stampede Rodeo June 30 through July 4, assisted this year by mission teams from First Baptist Church in Atlanta and Mobberly Baptist Church in Longview, Texas.
Cody Cowboy Church and the two mission teams also fed breakfast to participants at each of three parades -- July 2, 3 and 4 -– and served three meals a day to all the contestants and workers at the rodeo between June 30 and July 4.
Cody Cowboy Church also ministers to area ranches, recently baptizing five people from the Moon Crest Ranch near Cody. Last spring the church hosted an appreciation dinner for teachers at Cody's junior and senior high schools.
"We came to Cody with no preconceived ideas on what this ministry would look like and let God define the ministry and mission field," Alphin said.
"He does an amazing job at that when we let Him have the control. We have been so surprised and in our wildest thoughts could not have come up with or implemented this plan we have seen unfold."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent with Baptist Press.