Key Number Two: The Crew Should be a Free-standing Unit
One of the great fallacies pushed by several generations of professional Scouters to clergy has been the idea that you can charter your church youth group as a Venturing Crew (once upon a time, it was an Explorer Post) and thus widen your ministry opportunities. This is great for adding numbers to a District Executive's tally, but it doesn't work in practice -- which hasn't stopped professionals, even at Philmont Training Center, from pushing the idea.
A group with two different agendas will always fail one of them. People join groups in order to do certain things -- OR, to be with certain people (who like to do certain things). Going through all the hassle of signing the same people up to belong to a second group operating out of the first group is a pain, and almost always a failure. There is not enough time, not enough energy, and not enough unanimity of interest among the participants to do two programs.
The congregation considering this awful idea would be better advised to start a Venturing Crew for those who want it, while also operating a youth group for those who want that. This doubles the numbers of doors leading into your youth ministry, which means you can involve more people, even while delivering maximum program to match young people's interests. Some few youth might want to do both programs, while most would do only one, but in the end, you'll have more people doing more things that set up the ministry conversations about God, life, mission, call, etc. that you're trying to have with them.
Well, another of the great nostrums pushed by lots of Council and District Scouters over the years is the idea that you can register the older Scouts in your Troop as a Venturing Crew and thus widen the programmatic opportunities available to them. You can offer them more, and keep them involved! This is hokum. Snake oil. I've already pointed out in my last post that Venturing is not about retention, but extension, of Scouting membership. But now, allow me to point out that "offering them more" is precisely what this idea does not do.
First of all, offer them more what? More high adventure? Boy Scouting is already one of the premier high adventure programs on earth. You do not need to be Venturers to go to Philmont, or Sea Base, or even to set up your own Troop high adventure trip. We dangle the possibility of high adventure to boys when they join at age eleven or just before. Many troops try to do a high adventure trip every 2-3 years; Councils organize special contingents to do high adventure (as well as Jamborees and NOACs) as well. Registering the older boys as Venturers offers them precisely nothing they can't do already.
Well, it offers them more advancement possibilities, doesn't it? More available awards? In theory, I suppose it does. But the Venturing advancement system is not well-supported, even among stand-alone Crews (more about that in another post). And in a Troop where the goal of every Scoutmaster is to see as many boys reach Eagle rank as possible, the idea that we are going to divert much energy to promoting Venturing ranks is ludicrous. There is no room for it. So, while the occasional Scout-on-steroids hungry for awards might push to do this, the probability of getting the adults to help make this a realistic possibility is pretty close to Nil.
But it gives the older boys a chance to do something on their own, apart from the younger kids! No, it doesn't, not any more than they always had. Patrol outings have always been emphasized in Boy Scouting, though a program feature more (often) honored in the breach than in the observance. If your leaders have the organizational skill and dedication to support patrol program at that level, then you don't need Venturing to take the older patrol(s) on additional outings. But the reality is that few do, other than the occasional high adventure trip that the younger Scouts don't qualify for.
Not only does Venturing not add anything much to the Troop program that isn't already possible, promising Venturing and then not delivering it has a deleterious effect. You may register your older Scouts as Venturers and they may like wearing their snazzy green shirts, but if you aren't offering anything more than they are already getting, you're "all hat and no cattle," as they say in Texas. AND, if others do want to be Venturers (but not Scouts), they will get frustrated at how little is on offer. You will lose them. Not only that, but if you keep promising those older boys more, and then don't deliver, you will eventually lose them, too.
The plain fact is that there are very, very few people who can run two programs at the same time. Being a Scoutmaster or Assistant Scoutmaster and a Crew Advisor is almost always an exercise in disappointing kids. People just don't have the time and energy to make a go of it. The Council may pad its stats by double-counting the multiply-registered, but no real advantage to the movement is achieved.
Each Unit Should Have its Own Leaders and Committee
Just as a Pack has its own Cubmaster and Pack Committee, separate from the Scoutmaster and Troop Committee it may be related to, so each Venturing Crew should have its own Advisor and Crew Committee. It's as simple as that.
When my wife and I talked our church into chartering an Explorer Post in the fall of 1996, we had no other BSA units chartered to our church. When we moved to another congregation and pitched Venturing to them in 1998, that church had no other BSA units chartered to it (although we later had a Cub Pack for a while). Developing a high adventure program as a ministry of the church with its own raison d'etre freed us from trying to do a lot of Scouty things we otherwise might have thought essential. We were able to see this new program as a thing in itself, worth doing for itself, and develop it for all it was worth. It also enabled us to focus upon attracting those who wanted to do the program, who mostly didn't have a strong Scouting background; if we had been tethered organizationally to a Troop, we might have floundered about trying to work primarily with those few older youth still registered in Scouting.
In my last appointment, the congregation chartered a very successful Troop and a very successful Pack already. We added a successful Crew to that mix. Some few folks wore multiple hats, but the key leadership of each Unit was distinct. We took care not to create too many train wrecks in the schedule, where we might get in each other's way; we also took care to try to support each other's program as we could. But in order to deliver the maximum program to each youth and family involved in our Scouting ministry, each Unit was at liberty to organize itself and schedule itself and call upon the resources available to itself. And so, all three Units throve, even amidst the normal ups and downs of participation.
If the Crew is the step-child of the Troop, it will always suffer the traditional neglect of a step-child. If the Crew is the firstborn apple of someone's eye, then it will be given everything necessary to succeed, if at all possible.
The first key to Venturing success is: concentrate on extension, not retention. The second is, set the Crew up as a free-standing unit and give it the freedom and resources necessary to succeed.