The Duncan Banner

November 25, 2011

Following the Christian cowboy way of life

Toni Hopper
The Duncan Banner

DUNCAN — John Johnson has always been a rancher. It’s just who he is and what he does. It’s kind of been that way in the Johnson family for a hundred years or so.

Yet, John Johnson’s now found an additional calling — sharing his life stories from the pulpit as he takes on the role of preacher. Johnson and his wife, Susan, have assumed the pastoral duties at Corum Assembly of God, and one of the first things on the “to do list” is helping change the appearance of the church.

“My wife decorated the front entryway and we’re just calling it the Corum Cowboy Church. We’re trying to get it built back up,” John Johnson said.

The 55-year-old rancher-turned-minister said the idea was to connect with the people in the rural community, most of whom are ranchers and farmers.

With his background, Johnson realizes, “The cowboy folk like lots of stories in the sermon.”

Sometimes, connecting with a certain crowd means doing away with the name of a denomination. Titles can carry negative connotations, he said.

And the non-denominational approach may be working. The little church has had 25 to 31 people attend in recent weeks, but back in February, there were about 70 people attending. The down cycle in attendance began with the former pastor left, but the trend now appears to be changing.

Johnson preached a couple times and then was to serve in a full-time role. After word spread there was a new preacher at the church, some new faces started showing up at Sunday morning service.

“We had three families come one Sunday and then the next Sunday, three different families,” said Johnson who at one time attended Fair Baptist Church, where he taught Sunday School for 19 years.

In 2004, he began attending Living Waters Church, pastored by Kim and Roxanne Kerley, who are longtime friends of Johnson. He would help preach Wednesday nights and as needed on the occasional Sunday.

As a youngster in Wheatland, Wy., Johnson grew up in the  Memorial Baptist Church. When his parents moved to the Empire area, graduated from Empire High in 1974, then attended Oklahoma State University before going into ranching with his family.

In April, Johnson had a chance to preach at the small Corum church and the people there seemed to welcome his style. Still, he had to take some classes to get his credentials.

Johnson, whose wife helps lead the music worship at the Cowboy Church, admits it’s been a big change to incorporate their new role into their lifestyle, but a welcome one.

“We’re full-time ranchers. But the rodeo crowd, cowboys and trail riding people, we welcome them to come to the church and even ride on our ranch. We have 12,000 acres,” he said.

“Whatever it takes to get people involved in church. If that were their interest and would promote attendance, we’re all for letting them use our ranch and have trail rides.”

Johnson said the couple just want to appeal to the Christian cowboy way of life.

The D Johnson Ranch (D for David, his father), is primarily livestock and wheat. And if someone isn’t convinced of John Johnson’s proper place within the church, his ancestry may tell the tale.

His ancestors settled land in 1905 in the Corum area and one of them bore the name Moses. 

The history of the Corum church dates to the 1940s and some of the older members of the flock are in their 80s, Johnson said. Now the goal is to build up the younger attendance.

“We’re wanting to build up our youth. My son, Derek, is working on that,” he noted. “You know, with youth, feed the kids and they’ll come. If you entertain them, drive them around — like the junior high age — take them to the pizza place, you can get their attention.”

John and Susan Johnson also have a daughter, Stephanie Branstetter.

Corum Cowboy Church has three services a week. At 9 a.m. Sunday, the day starts with donuts, coffee and juice in the fellowship hall.

Sunday school begins at 9:30 a.m. and worship starts at 10:30 a.m. Sunday night service is at 6 p.m.

Youth and adult services are at 7 p.m. Wednesday.