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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
GROWING TO THE
FUTURE: 1971 - 1995
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
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
BRIGADE STORY taken from "BUILDING MEN - SERVING CHRIST
published by Christian Service Brigade - Wheaton, Illinois