Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was billed as the “Greatest Show On Earth.”
It was founded in 1919 when the Barnum & Bailey’s Greatest Show on Earth, a circus created by P. T. Barnum and James Anthony Bailey, was merged with the Ringling Bros. World’s Greatest Shows.
The show traveled across the country and became a staple of family entertainment. It was a huge draw for millions of families. I remember, as a child in the early 70’s, going to see it. I was mesmerized by all the exotic animals’ performances, flashy costumes, funny clowns, death-defying acrobats and incredible jugglers.
But as time passed, kids became less and less enthralled by the “Greatest Show on Earth.” Kids became more interested in movies, television, video games and the internet. More and more kids preferred to engage in online entertainment and technology rather than going to see a circus.
Kids’ shrinking attention spans also became a factor.
In 1967, the show lasted just under three hours. By 2017, the show had been cut back to two hours and seven minutes – with the longest segment being a tiger act that lasted 12 minutes. Even with a live tiger show, it was hard to hold a child’s attention for 12 minutes.
The greatest show on earth also became a target for animal activists
. Activists said that forcing animals to perform was cruel and unnecessary. Continued pressure caused the company to remove the elephants from the shows in 2016. The elephants had been a big draw for families and removing them caused the downward attendance spiral to continue.
Ringling Bros. tried to remain relevant.
They tried to reflect the diversity of the country by hiring an African American ringmaster and a female ringmaster as well. They brought in motorbike daredevils and ice skaters. They even launched an interactive app.
But their efforts were too little, too late.
The “greatest show on earth” was still not a draw for a generation of kids who have apps like Pokémon Go, games like Xbox One, access to 100s of shows on demand, spend hours watching YouTube and live online.
And so on May 19, 2017, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus held its last show at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.
There are some important takeaways from this for children’s ministry. Let’s look at a few of them…
- Past success doesn’t guarantee future success.
- What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow.
- Changes made too late may not be effective. When it comes to change, you must stay ahead of the curve.
- Today’s kids are not yesterday’s kids. By default, we teach kids the way we were taught as kids. The problem comes when we don’t realize there is a difference and we don’t adjust.
- Kids’ (and adults’) attention spans continue to shrink. We must honor kids’ attention spans if we want to engage them.
- Technology is an integral part of kids’ lives. If you want to connect with them, technology is a key way to do so.
We must be aware of the changing culture around us and adjust as needed.
- Constant evaluation is necessary to avoid elimination.
This doesn’t mean we compromise the truth, but it does mean adjusting the methods we use to present it when needed.
Don’t get comfortable. Even the “greatest children’s ministry on earth” can become irrelevant if necessary changes are not made in a timely manner.