As you may have heard by now, the BSA has begun a discussion about whether and how to serve the whole family–both boys and girls, in other words–at the Cub Scout and Boy Scout levels. Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh began the conversation at May’s National Annual Meeting, and councils across the country have been holding listening sessions this summer to gather input from volunteers.
I missed the meeting in my local council, but I caught the video used in all the meetings online. In it, Surbaugh lays out his rationale for beginning a broader discussion of this important topic.
My point in this post is not to weigh in on this specific topic (although I applaud Surbaugh’s willingness to ask challenging questions and think outside the patrol box). Instead, I want to highlight a key point Surbaugh makes. In the video, he argues that Scouting’s problem is not its programs–which are proven to meet the needs of families–but the way it delivers those programs. What keeps people away, he says, is not content but convenience.
Starting about the 11:30 mark in the video, Surbaugh describes the evolution of options for watching movies at home:
- First, there were video stores–remember those?–that rented VHS tapes. You had to “be kind and rewind” unless you wanted to pay a penalty.
- Next came DVDs and Blu-ray discs, which offered higher quality and eliminated the need to rewind.
- These days, of course, we stream videos on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, and a bunch of other services–no trip to Blockbuster required.
Surbaugh imagines that a lot of people a decade or so ago lost money trying to invent even better discs, not realizing the product was good enough for most people.
That same thinking can happen in troops. We don’t necessarily need bigger, louder, more expensive activities to attract and retain members (not that high adventure isn’t important for older Scouts). We do need to think about how we’re delivering the program and how effectively we’re communicating with families.
Take the simple issue of departure and return times for outings.Is it easy for parents in your troop to get to your meeting place at 4 p.m. on a Friday? Would getting back at 12 p.m. on a Sunday work better for families than 2 p.m. or 10 a.m.? Do you announce departure and return times from the moment an outing is announced–and stick with those times as plans develop? And do you text parents from the road to confirm your return time, especially if you’re going to miss your target?
We need to think about questions like those–and more complex ones as well. If not, families are as likely to hit the eject button as the play button.
Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.