Ropes Course: Leading Students to Face Fears & Build Bonds

School Culture

Every year at BSSM, over 2,000 students take a one-day trip with their revival groups to The Course: a full day of activities both on the ground and high in the air on a rope-suspended challenge course. Students are led by a trained team of staff at The Course in Weaverville, California, solving physical and mental puzzles in pairs and in groups. This day is designed for team-building, and is highly reviewed by students as one of their best days of school. We wanted to share some insights about The Course and the reasons BSSM prioritizes it, as it’s such a unique and valuable part of our year!

Up In the Air

The day is split into three parts for students: the high course, the ground course, and an end-of-day group time. The high course requires harnesses, helmets and safety equipment, and a trained staff facilitator to guide groups of students through. Groups attempt challenges such as: “Get your entire team to walk across this log while holding hands. But your facilitator will be laying on the log as you cross.” Facilitators make challenges that will push each team to work together and experiment with their own leadership style and strengths.

The high course is the most unique element of this day, and usually the most highly-anticipated. The high course activity is completely safe, but still unsettling for a lot of students. Some deal with a fear of failure leading a group, some with their fear of heights. Many students realize somewhere in the middle that they are dealing with a fear they didn’t know they had: looking silly, needing to rely on others, needing to trust the opposite sex, etc. Groups are led through each stage of the high course with care, and encouraged to think about what God might be saying to them.

“People learn to trust others and trust themselves.” Shawna Schlenker, staff facilitator says. “People learn about others, ‘We’re not leaving anyone behind’. It reinforces that belief, as they experience teamwork.”

The high course is the first and main element of this day designed for BSSM students. Director of The Course, Tim Parr says, “We wanted to set up something that helped with communication, how [students] respond when they’re afraid; overcoming fear. Fear is the opposite of love. If we can see how that affects us in a lab-style environment, we can see it for what it is. None of the fear on the Course is real; it’s all very safe. But if we can see how that operates in a controlled environment, then we can start to recognize how we deal with fear.” It’s a huge source of bonding and breakthrough, and overall a lot of fun!

On the Ground

The ground course focuses on students working together on activities that challenge them in ways they may not expect. One of these activities is usually a blindfolded walk. One student leads another who’s blindfolded around the lawn, up and down stairs, etc. for several minutes before switching places.

Tim had great insight on this simple exercise: “People learn they can hear God in unexpected ways. Especially the blindfolded exercise. It’s such a simple and even silly little program, but it gets just as many testimonies as the rest of the day. It’s so much more about trusting God in the middle of not knowing what’s going on, regardless of the person that’s leading them. And the person that’s leading them takes such good care of them, [students realize] how much more does God take care of them.”

Ground course activities challenge students to switch up the way they lead and to rely on unusual communication styles (like blinking or one-word answers). They have to learn to rely on each other’s judgment and timing, and many students learn about their own perceptions of their and others’ ability to lead. Tim says, “People can’t hide behind their spiritual gifts or their knowledge of God [during these activities]. Because it doesn’t really come into play.” Reflecting on the value of The Course program, Parr says, “You’re setting them up not to just have a healthy team, but you’re setting them up for when they’re finished – beyond the school. You’re teaching them that being spiritual doesn’t just look one way. It needs to work in your everyday life.”

Evaluating and Sharing

At the end of the afternoon, students share a meal together and have a time to say what stood out to them during the day. Students volunteer to share what they got breakthrough in, and what they experienced. This is an intentional part of the program that lets them open up and share with their revival group what they are learning and overcoming. It’s a beautiful and more intimate part of the day that lets students be vulnerable with their group and let others in.

You may not have the resources or the school time to incorporate an entire day away for your students, but there are still things you can do! Organizing team-building activities that need alternate forms of leadership and communication helps to get people out of their comfort zones and work with each other. These challenges don’t have to be scary; in fact it’s better if they focus on fun! Tim says, “Anything that’s gonna get [students] out of their comfort zone and vulnerable and transparent. So long as it’s briefed at the end so nobody’s left vulnerable or exposed. It helps bring down the masks and students thinking ‘This is what I’d like people to think of me’. When we get ourselves our of our comfort zones is when we’re able to love each other for who we are rather than who we’re projecting. That’s where relationship goes deep.”

You can organize anything from a silly game like the blindfolded walk to physical group activities and trust exercises. You can find a lot of great ideas on sites like or that list numerous activities for groups to get out of their comfort zones and interact with each other in a new way. As silly as these activities can be, they help different people overcome fears and trust one another – which ultimately leads them to going deeper with each other and with God. Try some of these out with your students this year, and tell us your testimonies!

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