A wake-up call of sorts
So, the LDS Church is dropping their participation in Varsity Scouting and Venturing, the older youth programs of BSA. Some may be quick to say this has to do with fractures between the Mormons and the Scouts over sexuality issues. Those issues don't help, but there's more to this than just gay or transgender people.
The LDS Church has used BSA programs as their official -- and required -- youth programs for boys and young men for many, many years. They have adapted those programs to suit their unique needs. Mormon Scouting is, in some ways, a different kind of animal from the Scouting that most of us know. Not so different that you wouldn't recognize the activities and ethos of Scouting, but still, it has some special attributes other Scouting programs don't have. Most Mormon boys are in LDS Packs and Troops, and few non-Mormons (at least here, where LDS is a minority religion) participate in LDS-chartered units.
The LDS point out that older boys' interest in Scouting -- including and especially Varsity and Venturing -- declines rapidly after age 14. The older boys -- young men, really -- have other interests. The LDS Church wants to create a youth program that will meet their needs. In doing so, they will only be doing what all the rest of us religious charter partners do. I mean, we United Methodists emphasize that Scouting is only one doorway into the church, along with UMYF and Sunday school and choirs and youth sports and so on. Some youth will do more than one program you offer, but none of them will do every program you offer. Some will only make a connection with you over one particular program or event. Which is why you need an assortment of entry points for people -- of all ages.
The loss of LDS participation in Varsity Scouting will probably doom that program. It was created largely to meet LDS needs, and has never been popular outside LDS circles. And the loss of LDS participation in Venturing will put further stresses on that program, which suffers from an identity crisis that has been part of it since before it was Venturing. The old Explorer program wrestled with the same issues. What is this program? Who is it for? How do we find the youth who want what we're offering?
I have witnessed Venturing morph into something I call Boy-Scouting-in-a-forest-green-shirt. This is because most people don't "get" Venturing, so they keep trying to do it as an example of something they do know, which is Boy Scouting. Indeed, there are very few Venturing Crews that operate successful independent programs in our Council. Crew 119 has been a very successful example of the program, and Crew 699, which Deanne and I led for eight years at Tanner Valley, was another such.
But if BSA doesn't know what to do with Venturing, neither do the churches which charter the Crews. I have spent years teaching Church Growth and Missiology models that illustrate how to use Scouting as ministry, with (I'm afraid) limited success. That doesn't mean that I haven't had ministry success with Venturing (and other forms of Scouting); it just means that it's very hard to get people -- both in the church and in Scouting -- to replicate the approach.
In September, I will be on the staff of the Indiana Conference UM Scouting Retreat at Camp Indicoso. Mostly, my job will be cooking for the expected one hundred participants, but I'll also do a workshop. We continue to explore how to meet the spiritual needs of youth through United Methodist Scouting, which for us includes the programs of the Boy Scouts of America, the Girl Scouts of the USA, Camp Fire, 4-H, the Amachi program of Big Brothers/Big Sisters, American Heritage Girls, Trail Life, and anything else that quacks like a duck. We understand Scouting to be one of many programs and groups that we use to disciple children, youth, and their families -- along with Chrysalis/Walk to Emmaus, Sunday School, UMYF, mission trips and projects, music programs, sports programs, Covenant Discipleship groups, Bible studies, after-school programs, and so on.