By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist
When Ronnie Hall was growing up, he had a lot of pent-up anger — and a lot of it was aimed at his dad.
“I did not have the best role model growing up,” said Hall, a member of First Baptist Church, Robertsdale. “When that happens, you can go astray, which I very much did in my early years.”
That’s why a certain booth at a men’s conference in Mobile caught his eye a few months ago — a booth for Kids Outdoor Zone (KOZ), a ministry aimed at helping Christian men invest in fatherless boys.
It was manned by T.J. Greaney, an outdoor journalist from Texas who had started KOZ almost by accident through a boys’ Sunday School class years ago.
“Back then, teaching third through fifth grade boys, I would take the Scripture passage and the virtue for the week and develop hunting and fishing stories to go with it,” Greaney said. “We would walk around outside on the grounds and I would tell them the stories. They loved it.”
And the class grew. The boys kept bringing more friends who all needed a man’s influence.
“Our group grew so big that I had to get my buddies who were not really doing anything at church to come help me,” Greaney said.
Over time, the men started organizing Saturday activities for the boys like fishing and learning survival skills. They caught fish. They took nature hikes. And boys kept showing up.
“We loved hanging out with them and we began to find out that some of the single moms really relied on it,” Greaney said. “They wanted their boys exposed to some good godly men and outdoor activities.”
Soon after, he started writing curriculum so that other churches could use it. And over time KOZ was born. The concept was so impactful that early on Greaney was considered for his own reality show — a spot he lost to the Duck Dynasty folks.
But God had plans to expand his reach in a different way.
Now Greaney travels around training churches to start their own KOZ ministry, a layman-run outreach to young boys that takes place one Saturday a month. Seventy churches — some as far away as Canada — have started a KOZ ministry of their own.
First Baptist, Robertsdale, will be Alabama’s first.
And Hall is excited about it — he said he feels it’s something they are compelled to do.
“Mentoring a young man is very important,” Hall said. “We’ve got a great need for this here.”
Eight men at the church recently trained to be KOZ leaders, with plans to kick off the ministry in June.
The men will start by inviting boys in their own church and boys who come to a Friday night basketball ministry that the church runs at its old campus. They will use the abilities and resources the men already have — acres of hunting land with ponds.
From there, the men at First, Robertsdale, can expand as God leads, Greaney said. He noted that in many cases, people in the community hear about what’s happening and start approaching them to be a part.
“Many organizations and foster care parents are desperate for male mentors for kids,” he said. “When they hear you are doing it they want to be involved.”
For Greaney, this whole ministry is personal, much like it is for Hall.
“I was raised in a broken home and spent a lot of time on the streets as a kid making a lot of really bad decisions,” he said.
He wants to break that cycle for the next generations, if he can. And not just that — he wants to get men plugged in to meet that need in a way that fits them.
‘A real need’
“There’s a real need for this kind of outdoor ministry in churches,” Greaney said. “There are so many men who are desperately seeking something tangible they can do that has a real impact on the community.”
Josh Lilly, pastor to families at First, Robertsdale, said KOZ is a ministry that brings men together for a purpose.
“It’s easy to get started,” he said. “Ronnie had the vision and T.J.’s ministry has a good plan that church members — not pastors — can run. We are excited to see what God is going to do.”