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Not Your Average Rodeo

Nashville church hosts a bull-riding event in its sanctuary in an effort to minister to non-churchgoers.

A rodeo in Nashville may not seem like a strange occurrence. But put that rodeo in the middle of a church sanctuary, and it’s likely to turn some heads.

From June 29 to July 3, Cornerstone Nashville Assembly of God in Madison, Tennessee, will hold a five-night professional rodeo within the confines of the church’s 3,100-seat auditorium. Along with a full slate of bull-riding action, each night also will feature music from Grammy and Dove award-winning country artists, an indoor fireworks display, a state-of-the-art laser light show, and a presentation of the gospel.

All entertainment will take place in a full-scale bull-riding arena set up on the auditorium floor. Admission is free.

This will be the second such event at the church, which held its first indoor rodeo in 2010 and filled to capacity every night. Pastor Maury Davis says at its core, the event is meant to change the way people think about coming into a church building.

“We use that as a drive to get non-church people to come to church,” says Davis, who accepted Jesus as Savior while imprisoned. “The big-picture goal is to turn people who are outside the church positively toward the church.”

Cornerstone Nashville AG has held large-scale community events before. The church, which has an average Sunday morning attendance of 3,260, is known for illustrated sermons that include wild animals, ballet dancing, and trapeze artists.

The auditorium is also home to an annual Independence Day fireworks show. In addition, the church holds an annual Memorial Day celebration and large productions at Easter and Christmas.

“I believe that every church ought to find a unique way to reach people,” Davis says. “We’ve used big events and illustrated sermons, as well as small groups and television outreach. This is just one event at one point in time to continue to reach people that we’ve not reached at the other events.”

Davis says as a church in the country music capital of America, reaching out to those who enjoy country music and bull riding is an essential aspect of ministry.

“In this city, not to reach the country crowd would leave out a large segment of our population,” the Texas native says. “What would reach a country crowd? There’s nothing that’s more attractive than a rodeo.”

The International Professional Rodeo Association has sanctioned Cornerstone’s extravaganza. Musical acts during the five nights will include the Isaacs, the Gatlin Brothers, an Elvis impersonator, and other professional musicians.

Davis says in 2010, the church auditorium filled to capacity each of the four nights of that outreach. In all, Davis says, 71 people made salvation commitments to Jesus during the earlier event.

“The first night when I gave the altar call, two of the cowboys came and knelt down in the arena,” he says. “It was just very moving to see those tough young guys do that.”

The third night, Davis says, the president of the International Pro Rodeo Association, who had felt compelled to attend because of the uniqueness of the event, knelt at the altar.

While the planning and setup is a tremendous amount of work for all departments of the church, Davis says the church’s staff and volunteers have been working hard to make it happen.   

This year, the church will be adding another night to accommodate the crowds. Davis is expecting about 15,000 people to attend, enough to pack the auditorium every night.

Ian Richardson

Ian Richardson is a 2014 graduate of Evangel University and former intern with the Pentecostal Evangel. He is originally from Afton, Iowa, where he grew up as the son of an Assemblies of God pastor.