Two things I hear talked about a lot are, 1) that religious organizations make more stable charter partners than civic organizations or educational organizations*, but 2) while -- anecdotally -- the 2013 membership change regarding gay youth took a terrible toll on the loyalty of some religious organizations that had been strong supporters of Scouting, still, we found new charter partners for most of the units, so it didn't really make much of a difference.**
Well, I just received the latest membership numbers for BSA, and it compared current membership (April 2015) to the last two years at the same time (April 2014 and April 2015). Here are some of the conclusions I came to from crunching the numbers on my own.
1. Religious Charter Partners increased their percentage share of BSA units and youth members over the last two years. On the whole, religious orgs are becoming ever more important as supporters of Scouting.
In April 2015, Civic Organizations chartered 19.81% of units, with 22.96% of the youth members. Religious Organizations chartered 73.87% of units, with 67.53% of the youth members. Educational Organizations chartered 6.32% of units, with 9.50% of youth members.
In April 2013, Civic Orgs chartered 20.79% of units, with 24.28% of youth members. Religious Orgs chartered 72.29% of units, with 64.81% of youth members. Educational Orgs chartered 6.92% of units, with 10.92% of youth members.
So, Civic and Educational Orgs declined in their percentage of both units and members, while Religious Orgs gained in their percentage of both units and members.
2. However, overall BSA membership declined drastically in the last 2 years, and most Religious CPs declined in actual numbers of units and youth members, too. Overall, BSA declined 6.52% in numbers of units between April 2013 and April 2015. It declined 11.79% in youth members in the same period.
These are terrible numbers. Everyone wants to know how to turn them around. One question nobody wants to revisit, however, is the effect of the membership change on membership. I would suggest that the membership change hit the religious CPs harder than anybody, and probably hit some religious bodies harder than others.
3. So let's frame the question this way: Which Religious CPs are declining faster than the overall BSA average? Which are not? If there is a significant difference in which religious orgs are most affected, then perhaps it was the membership change that is responsible.
So let's say that any of the major Religious CPs which in the last two years declined only 6-7% in units and/or 11-12% in youth membership is doing no better or worse than the average of BSA. They are largely unaffected by changes in BSA; they're just floating along with the tide. But any units which are doing significantly worse than that or signficantly better than that may have a tale to tell.
So, let's look at the numbers for all Religious CPs (except for "Other Churches") which in April 2013 had more than 10,000 youth members. These are the majors, folks. These will show you trends, I think.
a) Those in the middle following overall BSA trends include:
Catholic Church (down 6.41% in units and 9.83% in youth);
Lutheran Church (down 6.79% in units and 11.15% in youth);
Presbyterian Church (down 7.49% in units and 11.15% in youth).
Catholics and Lutherans did somewhat better than the BSA average in youth; Presbyterians did somewhat better than the BSA average in units. Since the categories of "Lutheran Church" and "Presbyterian Church" include both conservative and liberal denominations, no further guesses as to internal trends can be made.
b) Those who improved their position against overall BSA trends include:
Episcopal Church (UP 1.88% in units and only down 4.76 in youth);
LDS (UP 0.88% in units and also UP 4.75% in youth);
UCC/Congregational (down 4.56% in units and 9.76% in youth, both marginally better than BSA);
United Methodist (only down 2.87% in units and only down 8.96% in youth).
The Episcopal Church, UCC, and UMC are all liberal, mainline Protestant bodies. Of the major charter partners, they were less likely to lose over the membership change; likewise, they are probably among the community orgs most sought out by BSA professionals to take over units abandoned by more conservative CPs.
The LDS Church is sui generis. They have always had huge numbers of units compared to their membership, which reflects the small size of their units; still, their growth (actual growth!) is impressive here. As a conservative religious org, one might think that the LDS Church would have been badly impacted by the membership change; however, the LDS Church is the most effective CP in actually operating its units as an extension of its ministry. Membership in an LDS unit is pretty much an all-Mormon affair, unlike, say, a United Methodist unit, which may have few actual UM members (youth OR adult). The LDS Church doubled down on its ministry, as ministry, and grew its program, unaffected by BSA membership changes which could not do much to change LDS Scouting membership. There's a lesson here on the value of "owning your own program," which both BSA and the other Religious Charter Partners would be well advised to take heed of (but probably won't).
c)Those who declined faster than BSA overall include:
Baptist Churches (down 35.01% in units and 37.85% in youth);
Christian Church (Disciples) (down 20.84% in units and 24.63% in youth);
Church of Christ (down 22.54% in units and 28.35% in youth);
Community Churches (down 15.89% in units and 18.75% in youth).
This is a tale of unmitigated disaster. These are all evangelical/conservative bodies. I can think of no other reason for their rapid decline but the refusal of many of them to continue supporting BSA after the membership change. And although none of these groups (except, perhaps, the Baptists) could be considered a large body, yet the losses sustained by these four groups alone account for 26.64% of units lost and 18.01% of youth members lost over the two year period under discussion.
The good news here is that they didn't completely collapse. Perhaps if BSA had invested some real energy in keeping the conversation going and helping these Churches "own their own programs" (as the LDS Church does, and the BSA Charter Partner Concept advertises), then maybe we could have kept more units and members.
*This is commonly said among church Scouters.
**This is the refrain in my Council, which is proud to say it.