The Brigade Story:
Men reaching boys









     The beginnings of Christian Service Brigade were indeed humble.  A college student teaching a Sunday School class of boys in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, started a weekly club program in order to challenge  his restless pupils.  It was not an unusual idea, for many Sunday School teachers, past and present, have wondered what to do with a gang of energetic boys in a small classroom on a Sunday morning.
     But Joseph Coughlin was not an ordinary Sunday School teacher.  he was a young man with a vivid imagination and a burning zeal to serve Christ.  Raised by his mother and grandfather, he entertained a romanticized view of boyhood which enabled him to create captivating activities for boys.  As a virtual pied piper of boys, Coughlin was not hesitant to think on a grand scale, his Sunday School class of boys could become the nucleus of an army of Christian young men marching for the cause of Christ.
     In 1937, Coughlin was a sophomore at Wheaton College.  The Sunday School class at the Methodist church in nearby Glen Ellyn had been his Christian service assignment.  Coughlin called his boys' group the Christian Service Squad (later he changed the name to Brigade when he formed two squads of boys).  At first, they met for games and Bible study, but the young collegian soon added crafts, marching and eventually a set of achievement tests based on a knighthood theme.  He took the boys on hikes and cut notches on their walking sticks to indicate their particular accomplishments.  More boys kept coming and Coughlin recruited his friend, Warren Wigand, to help him.  In the summer of 1938, Coughlin wrote a small handbook that outlined the ranks boys could achieve.  Step by step he constructed the lore of being a Brigadier.
A second group began in the fall of 1938, led by Coughlin's fellow student, Chuck McNeil, and the name Battalion was introduced to identify each Unit.  A year later, there were five more, and by the winter of 1940, Coughlin and collegians like Joe Bayly and Bob Mostrom were running 18 groups in the Chicago area.  They even ran a five-day summer camp at Lake Geneva for 56 boys.  Coughlin became notorious on the college campus for buttonholing prospective leaders (the fact that he was one of the few students to own a car solved the transportation problems).  By the time he graduated, boys' work was no longer a project, but a passion.
     The fledgling Brigade organization was officially established in 1940.  The first board members were all students.  Living on a meager income, Coughlin took a room at the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago and coordinated a growing network of Brigade units.  He continued to revise his achievement manuals and expand his summer camp program.  A parallel girls' program, eventually to be called Pioneer Girls, took root among Wheaton College coeds and became a partner in Coughlin's mission.

FORMATIVE YEARS:  1942 - 1954
     But the student-run ministry might have been a passing phenomenon if it had not been for the intervention of the Christian Workers Foundation.  Established in 1939 by cookware manufacturer, Herbert Taylor, the Foundation was designed to invest funds in promising evangelistic programs for youth.  Taylor was already assisting Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship's Stacey Woods and Young Life's Jim Rayburn.  When his associate, Robert Walker, introduced Coughlin to him, Taylor was immediately attracted to the Brigade work.  At first, the Foundation gave scholarships to Wheaton College students willing to lead Brigade Units, but in 1943 Taylor took a more aggressive roe.  He revamped the Brigade board of directors, becoming its chairman, adding several Chicago-area businessmen and assigning Walker to function as the general secretary.  The Foundation also underwrote half the organization's expenses for the next year.
     During this same period, Taylor encouraged the merger of Coughlin's Brigade movement with similar evangelical boys' organizations in Detroit and New England.  By 1944, 52 Brigade units were in operation across the country, including seven in Canada.  Recognizing the need for strong management and a stable financial base, Taylor and Walker recruited a young Chicago pastor, Kenneth Hansen, to become the first full-time general secretary for Christian Service Brigade.
     Hansen's contribution to Brigade's organizational viability was as significant as Taylor's.  From 1943 to 1948, Hansen established the Brigade work on a permanent foundation.  He emphasized local church sponsorship, with full-time Brigade staff servicing the churches.  Although finances were always tight, Hansen was successful in getting those who used the Brigade program to share in its support.  Coughlin, meanwhile, continued to develop the literature and program resources and laid the groundwork for a dozen future Brigade camps with his traveling team of teenage boys called Frontiersmen.  This elite corps of Christian males conducted rugged outdoor camps across the Midwest and Northeast which not only spurred the organization's growth, but also enhanced its image as the church's best antidote to juvenile delinquency.  Hansen capitalized n the widespread worry about boys in trouble with the law to promote the Brigade work; an early brochure he developed urged readers to "keep these boys out of the headlines."
     Hansen was succeeded in 1948 by Werner Graendorf, a quiet but steady individual who kept the organization moving along the tracks set by Hansen.  The same year, Coughlin took a leave of absence to launch boys' work in Costa Rica under the auspices of the Latin America Mission.  Intense with missionary fervor, Coughlin's vision for boys' work had burst out of its North American confines.  The Escuadron program that he developed in the following years never achieved the success of Christian Service Brigade; nevertheless, it began a fruitful period of dialog between CSB staff and international Christian youth workers that lasted many years.  With the exception of a few summer camp experiences, Coughlin did not return to the organization he pioneered until 1960.

MAJOR EXPANSION:  1955 - 1970
     In the mid-50s, the Brigade movement began to spread rapidly throughout the United States and Canada.  New England Baptist pastor, Joseph Bubar (the grandfather of #3698's leader Matt Bubar), accepted the leadership of the Brigade organization in 1955.  Bubar had been active in the New England Fellowship, and was an ardent Brigade supporter who personally directed the Brigade camp in Maine.  He proved to be a capable leader, warmly regarded by evangelical church leaders and admired deeply by his Brigade staff.
     During his tenure, Bubar greatly enlarged the size of the staff, adding several experienced pastors and a contingent of eager college and seminary graduates.  Equipped with revised program literature that sparkled with contemporary graphics, these men carried the Brigade message to 45 states and nine Canadian provinces.  They were aided by several denominational endorsements and a healthy relationship with the Pioneer Girls organization.  In addition to launching Brigade units, the staff provided program leadership for 22 Brigade camps, and conducted Christmas-break conferences for teenage leaders and fall training conferences for men.
     By the 1960s, the Brigade organization enjoyed the benefit of several strong regional Brigade centers.  For example, such areas as Metropolitan New York, northern Ohio, eastern Michigan, the Delaware Valley, the Twin Cities and southern California, each revolved around a Brigade camp operated by the churches of the region and a core of dedicated men who worked tirelessly to build up the Brigade work in their region.  Each had area committees of veteran Brigade leaders from various churches who sustained numerous activities for boys and men.  In most cases, these men eventually passed the torch to younger leaders and thereby built regional Brigade traditions that have continued to this day.  One consequence of this regionalism was its tendency to preserve the existing Brigade units and slow down the usual turnover in local church programs.
     An even larger regional development was the emergence of a separate Canadian Brigade organization.  Because of rapidly growing interest in Brigade among Canadian churches (and the problem of shipping Brigade supplies across the border), the CSB staff opened an office in Burlington, Ontario, in 1963.  By then, over 100 churches were using the program and a dramatic surge of additional units followed as the CSB staff extended its contacts into western and eastern Canada.  In 1967, the Canadian staff stepped out on their own under a license agreement worked out with the U.S. board.  They represented, at that time, one-fourth of the total Brigade constituency.
     Even as the organization's staff was struggling to keep up with expansion, they accepted the challenge of building and operating a national training center in northern Michigan.  The impetus came from Herbert Taylor who donated 1800 acres of property near his boyhood home for the specific purpose of establishing a leadership training center.  The site was only a few miles away from a similar camp he provided for Inter-Varsity.  Bubar and his colleagues took up the initial challenge of raising $60,000 to erect buildings and developing a unique program that was to be the West Point of Brigade camping.  Beginning in 1960, the Northwoods staff operated an innovative camp which included flight training, wilderness survival, shortwave radio and sailing instruction for older teenage boys.  They also began conducting advanced leadership training for men and added missions seminars and family camp in later years.  The immediate effect of the Northwoods adventure was to boost the prestige of those who attended and enhance the reputation of the organization among Christian educators.
     In 1960, Joe Coughlin rejoined the Brigade staff in the newly-designed post of missions secretary.  His agenda was to apply the principles of boys' work learned in North America and Latin America to other cultures and assist missionaries, in particular, in establishing indigenous boys' work around the world.  In several cases, missions agencies like the Africa Inland Mission, had assigned one of their staff to develop youth work in a particular country.  Working with Coughlin, these individuals created several Brigade-like organizations.  Coughlin maintained working relationships with church leaders in 14 foreign countries during the 1960s.  He also ran missions seminars, missions career conferences and published a journal.  When Coughlin left the organization again in 1970 (this time to complete a doctorate with a view toward teaching), he had spawned innumerable ideas about cross-cultural youth ministry that continued to impact the development of Brigade materials for years to come.

     Sam Gray was appointed executive director in 1970.  A member of Coughlin's Frontiermen team when he was only 15 years old, Gray had worked in the CSB office since 1954.  He had edited the popular boys' achievement manuals that appeared in the 1950s and was respected by the CSB board and staff for his steady temperament and his dedication to conservative fiscal management.
     While the staff renewed its commitment to maintaining Battalion and Stockade programs, they also developed new programs in order to discover other areas of potential ministry.  In 1977, a new program for primary-age boys and their dads, called Tree Climbers, was launched.  By 1986, Tree Climbers had grown substantially and CSB staff were running successful father/son events, including father/son weeks at camp.
     CSB got dads involved with their preschool kids, as well.  Tadpoles proved to be a popular ministry in which preschool kids and their dads play games, hear a Bible story and do projects together.  At the end of every meeting, the dads meet briefly to encourage each other and learn how to grow as parents.
     Brigade launched a newsletter for fathers called On the Father Front.  It offers advice and encouragement to be the father God wants them to be.
     In addition, CSB updated all of its materials, including the entire Stockade program and program materials.  The new, easy-to-use materials include four new Stockade story books and a new game book.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE:  Moving into the 21st Century
     As Brigade moves into the 21st century as CSB Ministries, its vision keeps growing.  Updating the Battalion achievement program, CSB Ministries turns the spotlight on mentoring.  The new books, Adventure Trails and Leadership Trails, facilitate relationships between teenage boys and mature Christian men.  The men help the boys navigate their way into Christian manhood.
     CSB Ministries also launched a new girls' program.  Now, women can guide girls the way men disciple boys.  The ministry is specifically designed with girls in mind.

     The story of Brigade is a parable of the kingdom of God.  The mustard seed of one man's burden for boys grew into a huge tree of ministry involving thousands of men and boys.  Without question, God richly blessed the faithful work of pioneers like Joe Coughlin.  He multiplied the impact of those early Brigade units over and over, producing several generations of Christian men whose lives were distinctly shaped by their Brigade experience.
     What are the unique contributions of Christian Service Brigade during the past decades?  What differences has it made for the cause of Christ?  The most obvious answer is the thousands of boys who professed faith in Christ around a campfire or in a church basement.  Beyond them, the thousands of Christian men active in church today because of the influence of a concerned Christian man when they were boys, now men, form the real story of Brigade.

In Memory of Our Founder - Joe Coughlin (May 23, 1919 - October 2, 2005)
To read more on the life and the vision of Joe Coughlin, please
click here.

   published by Christian Service Brigade - Wheaton, Illinois
   copyright, 1984

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