Nobody got a turkey at the last turkey rodeo at Denny McClendon’s church. The weather was terrible, and it just wasn’t a good day to get a bird, he said.
But the day was a success anyway, said McClendon, pastor of Fairview Baptist Church, Selma.
“We had 11 hunters come back for the program after the hunt, and they heard Sammy Gilbreath share the gospel,” he said. “There was a great response to his invitation.”
That was in 2019. Last year, COVID-19 prevented the event from happening.
But this year, McClendon says he’s hoping for better weather and another big turnout at the turkey rodeo, set for March 20. They are following COVID-19 protocols and will move the lunch portion outside if the crowd size necessitates that.
So what is a turkey rodeo anyway?
Gilbreath, event evangelism strategist for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said the first time he heard of one, a horse and lasso were the first thing he thought of.
“I thought, ‘I bet that’s tough,’” he said with a laugh.
But then someone explained the details — hunters gather early in the morning and register, then go out and try to kill the biggest turkey of the day. They have to have their bird back by 11 a.m., and it’s judged based on its length, weight and the length of its spurs (the talons on the back of its legs) using National Wild Turkey Federation rules.
‘Plant a seed’
The hunters get a free lunch, and the grand prize winner gets a noteworthy prize, like a new rifle.
But in the middle — before the winners are announced — the hunters hear a speaker who presents the gospel.
Gilbreath said using a turkey rodeo as an evangelistic event wasn’t his idea, but McClendon said Gilbreath was the one to develop it in Alabama. Over the years, he’s spoken at turkey rodeos around the state.
McClendon said he hopes it can be a tool for his church to “plant a seed and reach somebody who might otherwise not be reached.”
After the message, the church follows up with the hunters, who respond to get them connected and discipled.
Roger White, pastor of First Baptist Church, Arley, said he has seen the model have a lot of success.
Because Winston County’s turkey hunting season opens two weeks later and often collides with Easter, he hasn’t been able to hold one yet at First, Arley.
But when he was serving at Friendship Baptist Church, Springville, they held turkey rodeos and saw men come to faith.
“It’s a great way to break down those barriers and reach people,” White said. “I’ve seen men who wouldn’t darken a door of a church come and have the gospel break their hearts.”
Registration is open March 20 from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. for the turkey rodeo at Fairview Baptist, Selma. Hunters have to be back with their birds by 11 a.m. to be weighed and scored. Gilbreath will be guest speaker. For more information, call 334-874-9446.
Hear more about turkey rodeos in the Stories podcast
Need a little excitement this week? Check out the first season of the Stories podcast, which tells the story of Sammy Gilbreath’s legendary skydive gone wrong, the heart condition that should’ve killed him years ago and the way God has used him to reach hundreds for Christ in a variety of ways including — you guessed it — turkey rodeos. Stories is available now at tabonline.org/stories. (TAB)