Several years ago, I chaired my church’s youth minister search committee, and in that role, I thought a lot about what makes a successful youth program. In the process, I read a book (Choosing Church: What Makes a Difference for Teens by Carol E. Lytch) that really put this issue into perspective. I think the book’s lessons apply as well to Scout troops as they do to church youth groups.
According to the book, successful churches attract young people by offering three things: a sense of belonging, a sense of meaning, and opportunities to build competence. On the other hand, churches that focus on such surface aspects as “young, virile, male youth ministers,” contemporary music, and “fun and easy” programs fail to engage young people.
Too many Scout troops, I fear, focus on fun and easy, categories where there’s far too much competition—from movies, TV, videogames, theme parks, comic books, and the like. Instead of setting high expectations and holding Scouts accountable, they transform Scouting into yet another entertainment venue and lose out to those who do entertainment for a living.
Real Scouting is all about belonging (e.g., patrols, adult association), meaning (e.g., the Oath and the Law), and building competence (e.g., advancement and leadership development). To be successful, all we need to do is stick to the basics of the program instead of trying to change it or water it down in hopes of attracting kids.
How does your troop offer belonging, meaning, and a chance to build competence? Post your ideas in the comments section.