January 29th, 2018

beats working

My blog is a teenager

Welcome to The Daily Mustard.

Today is the 13th anniversary of the launch of my LiveJournal account. Back then, LJ was one of the best blogging platforms there was. It still is, come to that. But the craze for blogging then was really the precursor to social media generally. Few LJ'ers were writing long-form posts. There were a lot a cartoons and pictures and memes and comments simply of the "LOL" variety.

Once Facebook became generally available, lots of people with LJ accounts began drifting over there and quit posting on LJ. New users looking for a place to be noticed and post cat pictures went straight to Facebook. FB is now the 300 lb gorilla of the internet, though younger, hipper kids seem more interested in Snapchat, Instagram, etc. I mean, who wants to use the same social media platform your grandmother does?

So, why am I still here on LJ? Well, because I am of the minority who write long-form posts. I think in whole paragraphs. And I like the LJ interface. (I also have a permanent account, with lots of pictures. I have a lot invested here.) I have a FB account, too, which I check more often than I do my LJ account, but FB really isn't equipped for writing anything more than two or three paragraphs. So I write my long-form posts here and share them there.

Some of my LJ posts are mere whimsy, but others are scholarly and/or professional. LJ allows me to share theological stuff, sermons, Bible study materials, Scouting best practices. It is a vehicle for me to do the ministry to which I was called by God.

I could never have known, thirteen years ago, how much of my ministry would be conducted on the internet. I used my FB account to keep up with parishioners and work for various causes with my colleagues. My LJ account allowed me to explore a lot of things in-depth, which I could then share more widely by posting links on FB. I don't have a personal web page, though if I were pastoring a church again, I would certainly want my congregation to have one. To reach the people you want to reach, you have to have multiple, integrated platforms.

For how shall they hear without a preacher?
junior woodchuck guidebook

Three Keys to Venturing Success

A recent promo from Regional Venturing folks asked Venturers to share what made Venturing special for them during this time of year. I'd like to relate some things I shared with one of my fellow Council Board members over lunch recently. He asked me to explain Venturing to him. What made it work? What do we as a Council need to do to support it? I said there were three keys to Venturing success that we keep overlooking. So, here, in a series of posts, are those three keys to Venturing success.

Key Number One: Who is it for?

Venturing is not just Boy Scouting in a forest green shirt. It's a whole different program, but we keep trying to do it as if it were Boy Scouting, and then wonder why it doesn't take off and go. And to begin with, we keep targeting it to people who have no need of it.

Item: we keep trying to use Venturing as an older boy retention program. It's not. It's an older youth extension program.

Think for a moment about Boy Scouting. I was a Boy Scout for seven years. I am an Eagle Scout. I was on camp staff. I was an active Arrowman. I bleed khaki (although in my day, it was olive drab). But those older boys who reach the heights of Scouting are not typical. Some 4% of all the youth who enter Scouting reach Eagle. Few will ever be on camp staff. Few will ever do a high adventure trip, or go to a National OA Conference. Yes, we're very proud of those 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds with all the awards on their uniforms. But they are, by definition, exceptional Scouts, not typical ones.

The typical Boy Scout is 10.5-13.5 years old. As they get older, they drop out. That's not a bad thing, it just is. Life is busy. If we've had an impact on them in those two or three years, then we've done what we set out to do. Not everybody has to make Eagle to be positively impacted by his Scouting experience. Trying to market Venturing as an older boy retention program means marketing to a minority of a minority of a minority of an ever-shrinking population. There's nowhere to go with that. And even if you succeed, you get resentful pushback from Scoutmasters who think you're trying to seduce their few top Scouts away to a different program.

Not only is the bulk of Boy Scouting's target audience younger boys, it's designed that way. Think about the Boy Scouting program as a curriculum. Look at its methods. Lots of emphasis on signs, codes, signals, uniforms, rituals. Lots of recitation. Lots of standing shoulder to shoulder, lots of flag ceremonies. Use of the gang principle (patrol method). The adult (male) role model. These are all appropriate methodologies to work with Middle School youth. Yeah, you will also find this on sports teams and in military boot camp, but the point is, Boy Scouting is on a mission to acculturate the young and deliver them a proper (young) adulthood.

Now, imagine trying to put a 15-year-old in that group. He may want to join Scouts because he's got Scouts who are buddies, but in order to succeed in the group, he's stuck learning to build fires with 11-year-olds. Even if you put him in an older-boy patrol, he's still passing requirements written for boys much younger than himself. It's boring to him. All those nights in a church basement, churning out requirements. Where's the FUN? When do we get to GO PLACES? Busy as the average Troop is, it moves too slowly for older teens.

Venturing is built upon the proposition that we take the 14-20-year-old and put him or her right to work on the exciting stuff. We de-emphasize codes and rituals and uniforms; we have them, but we don't spend hours memorizing what the two stars in the badge are for and all that. We learn what we need to know in the act of seeking adventure. You should be able to join a Venturing Crew and within mere weeks be equipped to make your first high adventure trip. Everything you need to know you will learn in the field among your peers. Let's go!

Yes, we do service projects. We learn knots. We have organizational meetings. But we do it at a different pace and with a different set of assumptions about whom we're working with. We don't assume that you have any outdoor skills or Scouting background or anything else before we start to equip you for the big stuff. That's Venturing.

Some older Scouts will gravitate toward Venturing as a replacement for something they loved when they were younger but now find old hat. Other older Scouts, who just can't enough of the scout trail, will double-register. Fine. But let's put this out there, first of all: Venturing welcomes former Scouts and dual-registered Scouts, but it is not primarily designed for them.

Venturing is designed for youth who missed out on the first pass of the parade, for boys and girls who didn't do Boy Scouting (or very little of it), and who are only now wanting to get in on the fun that they missed. But life is busy, and it doesn't go backward: they want to do it with their own peer group in a way that fits their schedules and their state of development.

Venturing is our second bite at the apple. Its target audience is youth we didn't recruit before. It's not about retention; it's about extension. Trying to make it into Boy Scouting in a forest green shirt holds it back, and it robs the Council of a major membership growth opportunity.

What about girls?

Venturing's openness to girls is one of the reasons for its success. Girls couldn't be Boy Scouts, but they could do Venturing. So I was asked whether I thought that opening Boy Scouting to girls would hurt Venturing. No, I said. There will be some girls who join at age 11, just like boys. And they'll have good experiences, I hope. But there will always be girls who didn't join at 11. We need a plan to attract those girls when they hit 14 and up. The sex of the Scouts and Venturers is irrelevant to defining who each program is for.

So, what should we do?

The Council needs to design a program of extension. Look for new leaders and charter partners who catch this vision of working with a different target population. Start new Crews around new (to us) youth.
junior woodchuck guidebook

Three Keys to Venturing Success, continued

I'm continuing my little series on the Three Keys to Venturing Success. These are all things I've said over and over in conversations, coaching sessions, training courses, and Council meetings over the years. They are not unique to me. Other successful Crew leaders over the years have noted the same things. But the problem has been that there have been rather few successful Crews, so the number of people who know how to do this is small; on the other hand, there has been a rather larger number of people responsible for policy and program who, in the absence of the experiences and background of successful Venturing, default to trying to do Boy Scouting in a forest green shirt.

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.