Some churches think of Scout troops and Cub packs as annoying groups that simply use the church as a meeting space. On the contrary, the presence of hundreds of unchurched youth meeting in our churches offers an opportunity for congregations to minister to the needs of youth.
Pastors should help congregations view scouting as a way to serve their communities and a method to introduce unchurched young people to Jesus Christ.
Over 17 percent of youth in scouting experience church for the first time through membership in a Cub Scout pack or a Boy Scout troop. Additionally, surveys conducted in United Methodist churches indicate that approximately 50 percent of youth that meet in these units come from unchurched families, underscoring the need for reaching out into the community, inviting youth into the life of the church, and eventually making new disciples.
In order for a church to take advantage of this well-kept evangelistic secret it must commit to two responsibilities:
1. Providing a meeting place in the church building.
2. Identifying, selecting, and approving adult leaders.
Church-sponsored units enjoy many benefits from the local Boy Scouts of America (BSA) council including youth-protection training for its leaders; liability insurance; low cost accident insurance; access to camps and high adventure facilities, including rustic chapels; and basic and ongoing training for all registered adult leaders.
All this in addition to the opportunity to reach out to unchurched families in our communities and disciple boys to become principled Christian men.
Scouting as Evangelism
One of the key points for a church is reflected in the twelfth point of the Scout Law, “A Scout is reverent.” Although scouting is a secular organization it is grounded in tenets that reflect a recognition and reverence for God. British general, Lord Robert Baden-Powell, mentioned “duty to God” as a primary function of scouting in his 1908 bestseller, Scouting for Boys. Subsequent BSA publications provide more detailed references.
During the last twenty years of the BSA’s 100-year history, religious institutions have emerged as the primary charter partners. There are several reasons for this phenomenon.
Many denominations view scouting as an evangelistic tool and a way to serve the youth of their communities. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) uses Scouting as its official youth program like the UMYF. TheLDSChurchexists as the largest charter organization of the BSA, followed by theUMC. Over 371,400 youth, mostly boys, meet weekly in 11,300 units in 6,700 UM churches or approximately 20 percent of the congregations in the denomination.
Churches may integrate teachings about the Christian faith into the programs of their Scout units. One such avenue is provided by the St. Louis-based Programs of Religious Activities with Youth (P.R.A.Y.). P.R.A.Y. administers achievement awards (formerly called God and Country awards). With four levels, this age-appropriate religious study series is offered by many denominations. Hundreds of churches use the curriculum for confirmation class, Sunday school and forVacationBibleSchool. Over 7,500 awards were earned by youth meeting in UM churches in 2010.
Jonathan Sprott ofSouthern California, is an example of how the church can reach unchurched young people through Scouting.
In 2001, seven-year-old Jonathan participated in a God and Me program led by the Rev. Jim Ledgerwood, pastor of the Lancaster (Calif.)UMC. The program, for grades 1-3, is the first of four P.R.A.Y. curriculum levels. After Jonathan completed the first study, he asked Ledgerwood to baptize him. The Scout then became an active member of the youth group. He later completed God and Family (for grades 4-5) atLancaster.
When Jonathan and his family moved to Valencia, they joined Santa ClaritaUMC, where he completed the God and Church study (grades 6-8) followed by God and Life (grades 9-12). “It was a great way to make friends in a new neighborhood,” he says.
Jonathan says he remembers visiting churches and learning about their stained glass windows inLancaster. “I remember learning about the Apostle Paul and how courageous he was.”
Jonathan’s pilgrimage from being a Scout attending meetings in a UM church to being a Scout who is an active member of theUMCis a testament to caring congregations prepared to meet youth where they are in their spiritual walk with God.
Developing Churches and Christian Leaders
Recent reports indicate that 43 percent of United Methodist churches in theUnited Statesdid not receive a member by profession of faith in 2010, and yet 50 percent of boys in Scout troops housed in UM churches are unchurched. What an opportunity we are missing!
Scout units meeting in your church may include boys like Jonathan. Inviting them to participate in the P.R.A.Y. religious-study series may be their first step to becoming lifelong members of theUMC.
Steering Scouts to mission projects on the trail to becoming Eagle Scouts is also an effective way to develop principled Christian leaders. (UM Bishop Will Willimon, episcopal leader of the North Alabama Area, is an Eagle Scout, as a matter of fact.)
To earn Scouting’s highest award, 15-year-old Clayton Attig of Boy Scout Troop 586, chartered by RivieraUMCinCalifornia, earned the required 21 merit badges and served the troop in several leadership roles including senior patrol leader, quartermaster, historian, and bugler.
Clayton completed a community service project by managing over 70 volunteers for a total of almost 500 hours to landscape a large hillside at a non-profit neighborhood center that moves families from poverty to self-sufficiency. To achieve this, Clayton wrote and received a $2,500 grant from the Board of Public Works of Los Angeles, Calif., making him its youngest grant recipient. Clayton, a senior and an honor student atRedondoUnionHigh School, has been a member of Troop 586 for six years.
Scout Sunday is celebrated in theUMCon the second Sunday of February. Traditionally, this is a time for pastors and lay persons to recognize the contributions of scouting to the church and community. Most churches design the worship service for Scout participation. Additionally, it is a time to acknowledge the church's sponsorship as well as contributions by unit members. This may include time to acknowledge troop and individual service projects that have improved the church grounds and building or honor young people like Clayton.
Raise Up A Child
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Raise up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (KJV).
Evan Hunsberger’s upbringing epitomizes the essence of this Proverbs verse. Evan, a thirteen-year-old Life Scout in 1999, frequently watched his grandfather Eugeneread from a pocket-size WWII-era devotional book, Strength for Service to God and Country (SFS). Eugene had comforted sick and dying men as a Navy corpsman in the island-hopping campaigns in the Pacific theatre. Now on his death bed,Eugene listened intently as Evan described his plan to re-publish the book as his Eagle Scout service project, as it had gone out of print after the Korean War.Eugene nodded his enthusiastic approval in his last hours, knowing that his grandson’s actions would resurrect a spiritual treasure.
Evan spent the next three years gathering devotions from people of color, women, and both laypeople and clergy, characteristics not common to the original edition but certainly relevant for a changing and diverse military. He spent 2,500 hours soliciting and compiling devotions, editing content and seeking and finding a project sponsor—the General Commission on United Methodist Men.
Evan’s initial goal was to get 5,000 books printed at a cost of $25,000 and distribute them to Marines atCampPendleton. During this laborious and time-consuming process, Evan stayed true to his training—by his parents and by his Scout leaders. He never abandoned hard work for the easy way out. That would have been easy to do as most kids his age were not used to the sacrifices he was experiencing.
Working in partnership with the GCUMM, his project sponsor, the revised edition was finally published in 2002; the first 10,000 copies were shipped to soldiers inAfghanistanthrough the Office of the Chief of Chaplains, the Pentagon. Since that time over 445,000 copies of this remarkable little book have been distributed to military men and women and other public service personnel.
Evan’s training at a young age, his Scout experiences combined with a caring and mentoring family, helped establish for him a solid Christian foundation. Thirteen years later, Evan is a newly married 26-year-old who blazes new trails perhaps not as dynamic as Strength for Service. Yet today he carries with him a toolkit equipped with integrity, honesty, and truth, attributes that stand the test of time.
Larry W. Coppock is Director of Scouting Ministries for the General Commission on United Methodist Men. www.umscouting.org.
Rich Peck, Communications Coordinator for GCUMM, contributed to this article.
This article was first published in Circuit Rider (Aug/Sept/Oct 2011) and on MinistryMatters.com. Used by permission.