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  • Ben Smith

Into the Unknown: Adventure in the Church


Chicken Or The Egg?


In our last newsletter, we talked about the history of church and masculinity. Today, we turn to the Sunday Schools and Children’s Ministry and look into where this problem may be stemming from. Of course, it’s a little bit of the “Chicken and the Egg”, isn’t it? Do the lack of men going to church contribute to the lack of boys in church? Or do the lack of boys in church turn into a lack of men in church? In both situations, the church can do better in the recruitment and retention of MALES.


Oh, The Drama


In the last article, I pulled on other resources and historical records to address the problem. In this article, I would like to share my own insights and experiences on this matter. As I mentioned before, I started my ministry in 1988 as a theatre-arts ministry. Somewhere, early in the process, that morphed more into children’s ministry. There was something about the creativity, drama, storytelling, music and visualization activities that worked with kids and was quickly recognized by church leaders as a tool for teaching Bible stories and Bible characters. So, for many years, I worked with children’s ministry leaders at the national levels of the major Protestant denominations in the U.S. and abroad. I saw a LOT of children’s ministry resources, ideas, spaces, curriculum, etc. It was the good, the bad, and the ugly. Somewhere along the way, I started addressing the boy problem in culture and especially in churches. I was amazed at how leaders resonated with the message. They already understood the problem. Getting and keeping boys in their churches was getting more difficult. That was to say nothing of the problems with dad deprivation in the homes and communities. Boys were/are starving for masculine affirmation in a world gone woke.

I talked about these things in our newsletters. I talked about the problems and solutions (few) and resources available for these leaders. As I consider the knowledge I’ve gained on the subject, I think, in part, what I want to say to them is

“You’ve lost the sense of adventure that goes with the Gospel.”

Jesus called his followers with two simple words: “FOLLOW ME” I don’t know what that conjures up in your mind, but to me, it reeks with adventure. Oooh. Where are we going? What are we going to do? What do I need to pack? Let’s go! I’m ready!!!


Mark Batterson wrote a boo called “Wild Goose Chase: Reclaiming the Adventure of Pursuing God”. I’ve clung to the imagery of the Holy Spirit as the wild goose. I love that. You just never know with God. But you can always count on the sense of adventure. And where has that gone in church? The ‘wild goose’ has literally ‘flown the coop’. When I became a children’s pastor, I was approached by some folks in the church who encouraged me to tell the kids (boys) to stop running around in the church.


THAT is exactly the problem.


Where’s The Risk?


God’s House is apparently a sanctuary for tamed, caged animals that must be kept on leashes. Running in the church? Really? I wonder if they would have told the father of the prodigal son to stop running in the church? It’s a picture of Jesus running after his lost, wayward sheep. When we tell children to be quiet and stop running and to behave in church we are making a statement to them about God. He is NO FUN. We have taken this mindset to infinity and beyond in terms of safety.


Locks. Doors. Sign Ins/Outs. Allergies. Background checks. Safe Spaces.


I could go on. I know it’s a catch -22 and I recognize some necessity. But you can not deny the message that it sends to boys. NO ADVENTURE HERE. BOYS STAY OUT. And it doesn’t stop inside the walls of the church. Go to church camps. VBS. Field Trips. The forms, the chaperones, the security, the CONTROL. There’s just very little room for adventure. Last year, I had a VBS that required kids to go to a mission room. One station required them to go outside to a station. On this particular day it was raining. RAINING. It was a 20-yard dash.

“Oh, we can’t send them out there in the rain.” “Why not?” “They’ll get wet.”

By the way, the VBS was called “Into the Unknown”. It was all about the adventure that awaits those who say YES to the invitation “Follow Me”. And it IS an invitation to adventure.


I opened the door and kicked them out. A few years ago, we did a VBS that required kids to use a metal detector in the woods. Someone got a tick on them. I’m surprised we didn’t get sued. And no one died. It makes me want to scream….and cry.


I do a VBS every year at churches around the country. It’s original and I write it myself. I always have boys in mind when I do because I know the truism, “If you get the boys, you get the girls.” I’ve seen it for 35 years. At one church in Spartanburg, SC, we’ve continued to raise the ceiling on age groups. Do you know why? Because the elementary school boys became middle school boys became high school boys and they keep coming back. OH YES!!! And the girls come because the boys are there.


Go figure.


No Room For Boredom


When I became a children’s pastor at a local church, I went into the children’s wing and realized why I had a boy problem at that church. The walls were pastel colors. They were painted with nature images of deer drinking from a babbling brook and birds flying from tree top to tree top. The first thing was to create my brand and reinforce it throughout the church. ADVENTURE. ADVENTURE. ADVENTURE. Bold colors. There were no deer pictures unless they had horns and a target on their side. My logo was a path into the mountains leading nowhere and everywhere. Mountains. I opened up every classroom space to encourage freedom of movement and play. PLAY. Where in the world has discovery and play gone in the church? Hands on curriculums. I shifted the paradigm in the class room from teaching to storytelling. Modeling and Mentoring with men or at least teenager boys! Music and Movements in Kid’s Church that don’t embarrass a boy, while still teaching how you posture yourself in worship. It can be done, folks. Every curriculum I used fostered tactile, kinesthetic and experiential learning. “I stopped using the word “SCHOOL”. No Sunday SCHOOL. No Vacation Bible SCHOOL. School was OUT. I employed apprentice programs where kids worked alongside adults (male and female) to learn AND build important relationships. I DEFINITELY added competitions to everything. I know you’re cringing. But the unpardonable sin in church should be boredom. There’s just NO ROOM for it where God is. If your kids (in general) are bored, YOU are doing something wrong. You MUST reimagine your ministry. I suggest you do it with vision, intention, and means. Let the nature of adventure drive your thinking.


I remember one series I did in Kid’s Church (Tabernacle), on courage. I taught about men (and women) in the Bible who demonstrated uncommon courage in the face of great adversity. We acted out stories. I used competitions. We did role plays. I challenged the kids to attend each week and at the end of a six-week study, those kids who only missed one class or none got to go to a high ropes course. AND, it wasn’t a mamby-pamby ropes course.

Children cried!


AND…they overcame their fears. They were challenged. We continued to relate it to the men and women we studied in the Bible. They LOVED it. The LEARNED from it in a tangible, experiential way.


As you can see, this newsletter was a little more personal and passionate. I KNOW that change can be affected by people in churches who will take a chance on boys. It’s a mindset that requires intention. It’s a philosophy that must be thought through so that environments, programming, language, and vision are lined up to say ‘BOYS/MEN are welcome here. And by the way…the women will follow. That’s NOT sexist, patriarchal hierarchy blather. It’s true.


No Room For Safe Spaces


One last thing and it may seem tangential but I think it’s relevant to this conversation. My academic background is as a script writer. I learned the power of story as I studied and wrote. I see its universal appeal in its structure. A story is always about a protagonist who is changed because they go on a journey; an adventure. Story is the most powerful form of communication we have. Everyone loves a good story. Why? Because its very structure resonates with the divine. God went on a journey. The Bible is a story about God’s journey. Did you ever think of that? We are swept up in that epic story, but we are NOT the protagonist. God is. This human life is a story that requires we all go on a journey. The hope is that that adventure transforms us into a new person, so that we may live happily ever after. The story always follows the same, divine structure. Its power is in that structure. And it IS powerful. THIS is why you must return adventure to the church.


No one will ever be changed in a safe space.


It is impossible. Let go. Open the doors of the church back up to adventure. Start with your boys. See what happens.

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