aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

A word about Venturing

The Boy Scouts of America has convened a group to examine the Venturing program. One of the recommendations that has been made to this group is that the Venturing oath, etc., should be replaced with the Scout oath, etc. They are currently taking input on this and other things.

One of the things that I have learned long since is that BSA is not a democracy. It is a corporation. It is highly protective of its brand and its identity (especially since it had to fend off a couple of well-funded competitors back in the day, including William Randolph Hearst's American Boy Scouts). It will listen, but it will do what it will do. If you want to stay involved, you can do it their way -- or leave. So it has always been.

In most cases, I'd say BSA gets it right, but every now and then, they reach into their Stupid Bag and recycle some old idea that has failed many times before and say, "if we just put a new coat of paint on this thing, it'll work this time!" One of their perennial Bad Ideas is to try to get churches to register their existing youth groups as Venturing Crews (or Explorer Posts back in the day). I've fended this one off I don't know how many times. And no matter how many times I display my experiences and credentials as a pastor, a church growth consultant, a Scout leader, and someone who's actually succeeded at Scouting as Ministry, there's always some hot-shot Scout Executive with zero experience in ministry who tries to tell me that this will be just the thing to revitalize my tired, old church.

Well, the other Bad Idea I keep seeing rise from the dead is making Venturing (formerly Exploring) an "older boy" program. BSA held its first conference on the "older boy problem" back in 1915 or so. Some BSA people are so obsessed with the problem of retaining teen-age boys in Boy Scouting (and seeing them get Eagle), they want to remake everything to reach that goal. It doesn't work.

Older boys drop out of Scouting for many reasons. Girls and cars are two oft-cited reasons, and they have a lot of validity. And there's not a whole lot you can do about either. But I also see a lot of older boys drop out short of their Eagle rank because they just lose interest. Their Troop isn't challenging enough to keep their participation any more.

See, that's why they need Venturing, say the guys with the Older Boy fixation. But who's going to do this Venturing program? The same old, tired guys who failed to deliver an exciting enough Boy Scout program to keep them? Using Venturing as an older boy program (even with girls added) often winds up being an add-on to the Troop, and not very challenging to boot. I see a lot of Crews that started with excitement, but with the same old leaders they just sit around and look stunningly cool in their forest green shirts. And after a while, that's just not enough. So they drop out anyway, or just piddle, and it doesn't keep them on the road to Eagle.

Venturing is not just Boy Scouting in a forest green shirt. Venturing is different. The approach is different. We don't spend huge amounts of time on acculturation issues, like we do with 11-12 year old Boy Scouts. We learn our values by living them on the trail or the water or in ministry to others. And how we do things is different. I just got back from a Philmont trek with our crew. We had a sister crew formed from a Tennessee Boy Scout Troop. We did the same itinerary, but we had very different approaches to backpacking. They were all about making time, getting there (shoot the stragglers!); we took our time and waited on people. I'm sure there are some gung-ho co-ed backpackers, but the groups I've seen that are truly co-ed (not just Boy Scouts with a few girls tacked on) relate to each other differently, approach problems differently.

And the target audience for Venturing is different, too. We attract mostly girls (obviously) and NON-SCOUT boys. We get boys who were never in Scouts at all, or maybe just for a year or two of Cubs. A few of our guys are multiple-registered in both Troop and Crew, but they're a minority, and always have been -- the guys who just can't get enough, you could call them. But they adapt to OUR ways; we don't try to make our program Scout Troop Redux. They already have an excellent Scout Troop to belong to, if they want. We're providing something different.

As BSA evaluates what they've got in Venturing, they should be aware of this. And they should handle the Venturing program with care, since we're the part of their organization that has the most growth potential. My message to them is, please don't saddle us with the older boy shtick. If you want to keep older boys in Boy Scouts, concentrate on improving Troop program; just remember, though -- that's not the program we're doing.

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