Mac’s Message #16: Hold Separate Activities for Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, and Venturers

Mac McIntire

Mac McIntire

If you have been reading my weekly messages and paying attention over the past three weeks you will have noticed a trend in the topics. I have explained who holds the keys of leadership in the Aaronic Priesthood quorums, the importance of adult shadow leadership, and the need to train your boys on how to lead.

Today I wish to address the importance of holding separate quorum meetings on Sunday, even if there is only one deacon, teacher, or priest in the quorum. Typically you also should hold separate Boy Scouting, Varsity Scouting, or Venturing activities. The reasons for this should be obvious if you see the connection with my previous messages.

The president of the deacons, teachers, and priests quorum (bishop) holds the keys to preside over his respective quorum. The priests quorum first assistant works under the direction of the bishop. One of the purposes of separate quorums is to help a young leader learn how to use and magnify the keys he holds. If the quorums meet collectively, the keys and leadership skills of two presidents are dormant during quorum meetings. Shadow leadership also becomes muddled as a small group of boys is overwhelmed with a preponderance of adult men in combined quorum meetings or Scouting activities.

Separate quorum meetings and Scouting activities also encourage boys to seek out the lost sheep. Most human beings need social interaction. Boys don’t want to be alone in a quorum. After a few weeks of being the lone boy in a Sunday meeting or Scouting activity a young man is more likely to reach out to his friends and less active Church members to get them involved. Perhaps there is no better example of this than expressed in the video on the Church’s website: “Inviting All to Come unto Christ: Sharing the Gospel.”

I can personally testify of the power a small unit has on inspiring a person to reach out and bring others into the fold. When I was in the military in Korea I attended a branch of the Church that had only four active members. Yet there were 104 members on our branch roster. Not being satisfied with how few people were in attendance at our Sunday meetings, I took it upon myself to seek out the one hundred. It was an overwhelmingly spiritual experience as the Lord inspired me in both where to look for, and what to say to, the lost sheep to encourage them to return to the fold. By the time I left Korea a year later I had assisted in activating forty-five of the one hundred. It remains today one of the great joys of my life.

For those of you still holding combined Aaronic Priesthood meetings I encourage you to separate your quorums. I know your quorum attendance will grow and quorum brotherhood will be strengthened when you do. I also encourage you to separate your Scouting units. Your boys will invite their friends to participate when the unit is age-appropriate to their peer group. Don’t let the smallness of your unit influence you to combine your Scouting effort. Seek to grow your units instead. Engage the boys in seeking out the lost sheep. Encourage the boys to reach out to their friends. Pray for the Lord’s help to open the hearts and minds of the all of the young men within the boundaries of your ward and stake. 

Take a Moment to Reflect

  • Are you holding separate Aaronic Priesthood quorum meetings and Scouting activities?
  • Are the youth leaders using their keys to strengthen their priesthood quorum and Scouting unit?
  • Are the boys searching out the lost sheep and inviting their friends to attend Church and Scouting activities?
  • Do you know who the lost sheep are and where to find them? Have you sought the Lord’s help in bringing them back into the fold?
  • Are you actively inviting all boys within your ward boundaries—members and non-members—to participate in your Scouting and priesthood activities.


Turn Your Reflection Into Action

  • What will you start doing, stop doing, or do better as a result of your reflection?


“O Lord, wilt thou grant unto [us] that [we] may have success in bringing [the young men] again unto thee in Christ. Behold, O Lord, their souls are precious, and many of them are [our] brethren; therefore, give unto [us], O Lord, power and wisdom that [we] may bring these, [our] brethren, again unto thee.” (Alma 31:34—35).


 -Mac McIntire is a dedicated Scouter who has blessed many lives through his service and acute understanding of the Scouting program. He currently lives in Evanston, Wyoming.


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  1. Michael Briggs says:

    Good in theory…..very, very, very tough to do in small wards where there aren’t enough YM (total) to create 1 standard patrol.

    1. Mac says:

      I know it is not easy to hasten the work of the Lord by reaching out to other boys within a ward or stake to invite them to Scouting and priesthood activities. But I feel a need to remind the readers that in the video link in my blog message the Church unit was small — merely a branch.. Immokolee, Florida, has a population of only 24,154 people. But look what the faith and perseverance of one boy and righteous Aaronic Priesthood leaders can achieve. The scriptures are full of the marvelous things one can accomplish if they believe and put their trust in the Lord. Remember, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26; see also Mark 10:27; Luke 18:27). Scouting is about teaching boys to do hard things. Perhaps membership recruitment is one of the hard things adult Scouting leaders can teach the young men by modeling the way. Don’t be too quick to think it can’t be done.

      1. Michael Briggs says:

        Just to clarify, I didn’t say it couldn’t be done in tiny units. Just that it would be very tough to do.

  2. James Francisco says:

    While there is definite merit in ensuring that there are separate quorum meetings to ensure that quorum presidents get the experience they need exercising priesthood keys. Breaking up the young men into separate scouting units is a large error that in fact defeats some of the reasons that the church sponsors scouting. Perhaps the biggest youth development opportunity that is lost is the chance for older young men to mentor and train the younger boys. There isn’t enough difference in knowledge, skills, and abilities to really let the young men get the full benefit of being mentors and trainers. This does not prepare them for future larger group teaching opportunities like ward gospel doctrine classes. The smaller unit sizes also limit the benefit of program and activity planning since they don’t have to do much to work out the logistics and transportation of the group. Getting one or two parents to drive a car isn’t going to give them background to support them when they are a stake high councilman getting six to nine wards worth of young women to girl’s camp. There’s sound reasons in pedagogy for identifying the ideal patrol size as 8 boys and troop size as 36. We cheat our youth when we try do use other than proven group sizes and methods.

    1. Dave Johnson says:

      I’ve been reviewing the back-catalog of great “Mac’s Messages” posts. Thanks Mac!
      I have to agree with James. I find the organization of three different units within one YM organization (Scout Troop, Varsity Team, and Venturing Crew) to be a strange construction that makes it seem (erroneously IMO) as if the various AP quorums should not interact.
      It seems to me that quorum integrity could be preserved simply by having each quorum be a separate patrol in the same troop. Then activities could remain separate if desired, like how the EYO scout patrol is directed to be. The separate activities would allow quorum leaders to plan challenging and fun activities according to the needs and maturity of their quorum. On occasion they could also combine for a multi-patrol activity with a priest age SPL counseling with patrol leaders from three other patrols in a Patrol Leaders Council just like in the BSA training. That would be great!! We could leverage BSA training for Adult and Youth leaders more easily with this organization. I think chartering only one unit would streamline the adult scout leader organization in a ward and lend focus to what the troop committee should be doing.

    2. Dave Johnson says:

      With this in mind and with the BSA concept of the Older Scout Patrol (i.e. Venture Patrol, High-Adventure Patrol) within Boy Scout Troops, I’m not sure what Varsity Scouting gives you that isn’t already captured in the Older Scout Patrol. A Venturing Crew might have additional value, but it’s not obvious to me.

  3. Mac says:

    I think you make some good points, James. Thank you for your reply.

    One of the big differences between non-LDS Scouting units and LDS units is the age spread of the boys, which allows older boys to mentor and train younger boys in non-LDS units. Mentoring is an important part of the Scouting experience. Often the forced “advancement” of LDS boys to varisty at age 14 and venturing at age 16 is what causes boys to lose interest in Scouting, whereas if they could continue from age 11 to age 18 in a strong Scouting program they may have remained active in the program. For this reason I have sometimes felt I’d rather be a scoutmaster of a non-LDS unit so I could see the development and progress of the boys over an extended period of time.

    Interestingly the Church and the boys might benefit by keeping all of the boys together in Scouting. Having older boys mentor younger boys would prepare them to be better senior companions on their mission and as future senior home teachers. It would also give them many more leadership and teaching opportunities in their youth.

    I also agree that patrols and units need to be bigger. Eight members is also the ideal size for work teams, which better prepares boys for their employment future. In my blog message I am not suggesting we keep the units small by dividing them. In fact, I’m saying just the opposite. I’m hoping the boys will NOT want to be in a small unit and will therefore seek out the less-active, inactive and their non-member friends to increase the size of their unit. What I hope doesn’t happen is where a ward combines their deacons, teachers and priests to create a good sized unit and then the boys don’t feel the need to invite other boys to participate.

    Wouldn’t it be great if every LDS unit — whether Boy Scout, Varsity or Venturing — were so well-run that every boy within the boundaries of a ward or stake would want to participate and there would be plenty of boys in each unit to have a fully functioning program.

  4. Daniel says:

    Thank you for your posts they are inspiring and helpful. This post is one I have been waiting for. Here some observations:
    1. It appears that your justification for having separate activities is based on keys and growth. I wonder if these are truly a sound basis for having separate activities. First let’s talk about keys. If keys were a good justification for dividing activities then we would see divisions with different presiding officers and no division without presiding officers. However there are examples of quorums nested in wards where a Bishop holds keys as well as an Elders Quorum president. These two both hold keys yet there are activities together and activities separate. Also, for Elder’s quorums they may meet separately for quorum meeting but get together for stake priesthood meeting. Therefore while I agree that keys mean quorums and that a president is to watch over, be with and strengthen those in his quorum (say in Sunday instruction) I don’t know that this means activities should be separated. Also we see many divisions in primary without a key holder directly involved.
    2. Your second argument has to do with growth. While this is a nice anecdote I am not sure that this is cause for a general assertion that all young men groups should be separate in activities. I have observed a large number of small divided young men’s groups that didn’t grow. In addition we see a number of examples where wards are split or are combined depending on growth, leadership support etc.
    3. Now while I don’t fully agree with your justification, this is still an issue we wrestle with often. When I go to roundtable I ask questions of other scouters (not in the church) and they look at me quizzically. From my observation it often appears that scouting builds a program often not fitting well in average wards and that the Church often pushes for a program at odds with how scouting functions outside the church. For example, a scout troop is generally several patrols and many of the scouting activities are based on patrol competition and identity and yet in my experience in the church (across many stakes, wards branches etc) I have NEVER seen a deacons quorum that could support multiple patrols (even with participation from non-members).
    4. So one argument would be, “get going and recruit”. So let’s suggest that as it stands now 20% of wards can operate a fully functioning multiple patrol troop based on current membership (which I think is still generous). The other 80% should independently build a trained scout committee, varsity committee and venturing committee, trained adult and boy leaders. Then with their 2-6 boys per quorum begin recruiting to get the necessary boys to operate (which would be an additional 12-18 per group). Honestly someday I would like to be part of such a miracle; however I struggle to see my way forward on this process. Both scouting materials and church materials suggest that programs are often better with more kids. So if our end goal is to bring about such a miracle is the best initial step to split each of them apart? Is there not a hybrid model as a midway step so the boys can show the group/quorum identity in an activity setting with all present? Is there not an activity structure that allows for part of the meeting to be quorum level and part to be inter-quorum (besides opening exercises)?
    5. We are really trying to figure out how to make this all work. Our numbers are increasing but it will be a few years before this is fully realized. I wonder what to do NOW as far as multiple quorum mid-week or outdoor activities in order to accomplish our goal.

    1. Mac says:

      I have thoroughly enjoyed the thoughtful discussion and differences of opinion this blog message has generated. There have been great points made on both sides of the issue of whether to hold separate meetings are not.

      One of the things I have learned with my experiences in the Church is there is an inspired reason why the Church leaders create a policy. Therefore, in my opinion, it’s important to know why the policy was written before one decides to do something outside of that policy — even if the policy seems not to work or causes problems. I first try to do things the Lord’s way by policy, doing everything within my power, before seeking an exception to the policy. I ask the Lord to bless me that I can do it His way, even if He has to help me by opening doors or providing miracles.

      To be clear, by policy you CAN combine priesthood quorums and Scouting units. But there are some per-requisites to doing this. Here is what the policy states:

      “Combining activities for small units during the week may be authorized by the stake president, so long as each ward maintains a properly registered unit; each is staffed with adult leaders; and retention, recruitment, and activation efforts are maintained by each ward or quorum.” (Scouting Handbook for the Church, 8.4).

      Note that one of the criterion for granting an exception to the policy is membership retention, recruitment, and activation. That’s why I link the two issues of separating meetings and membership recruitment. I believe if Scouting leaders and boys were activity pursuing membership recruitment, their Scouting unit would not be so small. However, having lived in two very small branches of the Church, I know there are times when combining units is necessary. One of the branches in which I lived only had one priest-age boy, two teacher-age boys and no deacon-age boys. Nor were there very many boys of Scouting age within the branch boundaries. The choice of what to do is clear here.

      Please note also that the stake president is the one who determines whether a ward can combine its Scouting units. Not the bishop. I would hope both the stake president and the bishop have a thorough knowledge of and vision of the Scouting program in the LDS Church. I would hope they would be trained in Scouting. That way, if the stake president and bishop discuss the issue and determine to combine Scouting units, they will do it will full knowledge and under the inspiration of the Lord. The stake president is the final arbitrator on this issue. Once he has made his decision, I would hope that every adult and youth Aaronic Priesthood leader would support his decision fully.

      I testify that blessings come when we follow our inspired Church leaders and abide by their policies and direction.

      1. Daniel says:

        Hey Mac,

        Thank you for your response. I am familiar with the policy above and I agree that we should do all we can to conform to policy. My understanding of the policy you are referring to is about combining units across the Stake (so if one branch or ward were to combine their unit with another branch or ward) hence the part about “each ward maintaining a properly registered unit”. In this case it would certainly be a Stake President/Bishopric decision. From my reading of the policy this is not referring to combination of quorums/scouting units within a ward/branch.

        The area that I am certain is referring to combining within the ward is in the handbook section 17.2.3 “Small quorum or class size”

        “In a ward or branch with few young men, Aaronic Priesthood quorums may meet together for instruction and activities. However, individual quorums should still be organized, with leaders called and sustained for each quorum…”

        Now I think you make a fair point that recruiting is important. I just think that recruiting is a function of a quality program rather than group size. Further I think if anything quality improves with size rather than the opposite.

        Perhaps the challenge I see is based on adult leaders. I think it is particularly difficult to have trained and motivated adult leaders mentoring all the quorums. If we were to divide our activities by quorum right now I am pretty convinced that there would be huge disparity in the quality of program across quorums. By combining we leverage the motivation and training of some of our strongest adult mentors and young men and scale at across all the quorums.

        I’ll continue to ponder this issue and your perspective and see if I need to repent for combining our groups.

        Thanks again for the forum and your excellent posts.


        1. Mac says:

          I doubt you need to repent. Go by whatever inspiration you and your leaders have received. I have no problem with combining units when necessary. I’ve even done it myself as a ward Young Men president. As you say, the key is to give the boys a quality Scouting experience, and to not detract from that. I think all of your comments on this topic have been excellent. Thanks for your participation on this forum.

  5. Richard Holloman says:

    Some great discussion here. Thank you, Mac. I just discovered your blog today. Many of my most uplifting experiences and fondest memories growing up and then raising my son in the church — entirely in the mission field — have been connected to scouting. The sad part is that the ONLY truly “functional” units I have ever experienced have been non-LDS ones (I’ve served as SM, CM, CC etc. in both, including in your recently featured Far East Council). I have marveled at, and sought mentoring from, a few outliers from time to time, and had hoped that my recent move to Idaho (“Zion, Jr” ;-)) might bring me closer to healthy LDS scouting. I see evidences of it in other stakes whose scouters actually attend and contribute to Roundtable, but . . .

    Anyway, your openness and creativity is refreshing. I would much appreciate your including discussion of LDS cub scout matters from time to time — especially now that my grandsons are similarly suffering. Even though LDS packs often look more like “real” BSA ones than do our troops, we still suffer from from the dominant cultural tradition of parents seeing cub scouts as another “drop-off” sitting service like primary class. I am actually hopeful about the imminent program changes and wish my voice to be one of grassroots sustaining of our general leaders (especially the Primary and YM) while fervently seeking insights like yours that can percolate speedily down to such parched roots.

  6. Greg Hart says:

    As a green Ward YM Pres and Venturing Advisor in California a few years ago, I had no idea I would be stepping into such a firestorm of opinions on this topic. Online and amongst my own presidency, there were very strong opinions pulling this way or that way. I earnestly sought clarity by reading as much official Church materials on the topic I could find. These materials seemed to always point towards upholding the troop/team/crew structure (except one new little line in the green handbook). Aside from more knowledge and expertise shared from stake and ward leaders, what would have been most helpful to me is guidance on how to accomplish the Church’s aims of honoring priesthood keys with varying number of young men (few vs. many). Also, guidance on how to create mentoring relationships between priests/venturers and deacons/scouts, similar to what you would get in a highly functional non-LDS troop.

    1. Daniel says:


      I really appreciated your comment. I think you get really close to what the issues are.

      In our YM presidency we also have very strong opinions on how to manage this. Right now we run a semi-integrated program. We camp together monthly but have time for quorum level activities (for troop, crew, team). Also we have a combined PLC with representatives from all groups with the understanding that some activities will be combined (when interests are shared or there is a greater need for mentoring) and that some will be separated.

      Often a key argument for splitting up is that the interests of the boys varies greatly by age. Last year nearly all of our weekly meetings and campouts were combined. Then at the end of the year I surveyed all the boys regarding their favorite activities and campouts. Interestingly I found that there was more variance WITHIN QUORUMS than between quorums. So in our troop the notion that activity preferences are homogeneous within quorums doesn’t hold. Basically my conclusion was that our ward YM group benefited greatly from the diversity of interests across quorums when we worked together in combined activities/campouts.

      I do wonder if by debating the combined/separated issues if we are ‘hacking at the branches’ of the issue and not getting to the root. Our scouting/YM program has undergone major changes/(improvements in my opinion) over the last year. If I were going to boil it down to the key mechanisms it would be:
      1. functioning PLC
      2. quorum presidency meetings
      3. meet with the president/leader before and after each of these meetings
      4. camp monthly

      Personally I don’t understand how we can’t honor keys through the patrol method within scouting. The older boys can still break off for older boy activities and high adventure as the scouting program certainly allows for it.

      We find a number of advantages to working together. First, in our presidency meetings the quorum presidents focus on quorum level issues and goals rather than having to focus on activities. Second, we gain some scale for our adult advisors as camping and working together allows for redundancy in case some can’t attend. Third, we can do larger inter-patrol activities because we have numbers. Also, we have added 5 of non-LDS participants.

      But I would be very interested in any other ideas on helping this work.

      1. Mac says:

        This sounds great. It sounds like your approach is working well for the boys. I would enjoy reading more about what you are doing. Perhaps you could add additional information here, or you could write an article about your experiences that we could post on the blog. Feel free to email or call me if you would like to discuss this. Just click on my picture for my phone number and email address.

  7. Michael Briggs says:

    So, one of the things I’ve seen in these replies, and in my last 7 years in Scouting is the thought that the younger boys “can’t hack” high adventure.

    I grew up in the 90s in a non-LDS Scouting unit (didn’t join the church until age 20) that did high adventure 11 months out of the year. We took 1 month of “vacation” in the summer.

    We had “aged out” scouts coming back as ASMs on outings because of the fun that we all had on these high adventure events.

    I strongly feel that any unit that doesn’t focus on high adventure is selling the program short to the boys.

    Do it from day 1 when the 11 year old crosses over.

    Get them hooked on the outdoors and keep them outdoors. Then you won’t lose them to the “fumes” (perfumes and car exhaust) when they hit their mid teens because you have a “boring” “low adventure” program. Keep them in the woods as much as possible.

    Don’t wait until they’re 14 or 16 to get them outdoors.

    BTW, get them doing stuff and you’d be surprised how easy rank advancement becomes.

  8. Marla Thomas says:

    Thank you for this site. It takes “the obvious” and even simplifies it more (for those who don’t realize). Adult leaders and youth do not always interpret the “real intent” of what is written in the “Scouting in the Church Handbook”, the LDS church “Handbook 2” Instructions and the scriptures. There is wisdom in clarifying “the basics” while still leaving the primary decisions at the local unit level.

  9. Mac says:

    Marla, you are right. The Church handbooks are very good at explaining the “what.” They seldom tell the “why.” My blog messages try to explain why the what is so important. Typically, when a person knows and understands the why — and gains a testimony of it — he or she can figure out the “how.”

  10. Mac says:

    Daniel, I think you have answered your own questions correctly. Your solution seems to be a viable alternative that is working. I also think you have clearly identified the main ingredients to successful LDS Scouting units. Good job! Keep up the good work and keep us posted.

  11. Marla Thomas says:

    In response to James Francisco’s original comment:
    This discussion needs to explore the “intent” of the separate age group/quorum concept. You may not know that the separate “quorum idea” has been introduced by church leadership through inspiration. It is not just an “idea”. Doctrine and principles of the gospel are evident. It is hoped that each stake and ward leader comes to know and feel that this is, actually, God’s will. Tradition, because of positive past experiences and feelings, is difficult to change and adjust from. Group size is important. Each quorum has its size indicated as stated in the Doctrine & Covenants. Because of “seemingly” small numbers of young men in some wards this issue of quorum size has become an issue. Most wards have more than one or two young men who come to church in each quorum; but, not all young men of the ward may be coming to church for various reasons. This is a perfect opportunity for adult leaders to teach the “fellowshipping & missionary skills” that each young man will need as he serves a mission. Missionaries usually work in small groups teaching the gospel. Very seldom is their teaching done in large groups. Fellowshipping is almost always done by “reaching out” to the ‘one’ or ‘the few’ who ‘are’ or ‘seem’ lost. The goal is to assist individuals with the opportunity to “feel the spirit of the Lord”. If there are only one or two young men attending in a quorum with the two adult leaders each week at priesthood meeting — they are only separated out from the other quorums for a lesson for that age level for approximately 30 minutes which is enough time to give them their “own identity”. When it comes to whether to have the quorums/scout units meet together on mutual night, campouts and other activities . . . it would depend on the activity purpose. There are probably only going to be two times a month for the scout/quorum unit to meet separate from the others because one week is joint YM/YW Activity directed by the bishop and another week will probably be a joint young men’s activity. So, there is plenty of time for the older youth to interact with the younger youth. If there are small numbers in the ward then all units in the ward might have their campout together with each set up in camp separately with a “troop area, a team area and a crew area” (similar to separate patrols). Then the older young men would be able to interact with the younger ones; but, also, maintain their own needs and interests. A 16-17 year old young man does not think and have the same interests as a 12-13 year old. An older young man can be utilized as a leader of the younger ones without being the actual senior patrol leader. Some of these things will come naturally or a bishop or young men’s leader will direct it. Of course, the crew and team will probably have a few times per year when they have separate campouts/activities according to the advanced nature of the activity or if it is a “High Adventure” type activity. Also, the stake will have activities for those 14 and older that the younger young men will not be invited to. Reflection upon the age appropriateness of a ward program is important.

  12. Mac says:

    Stay tuned. Message #22 will be on the importance of outdoor activities. And message #24 will be on the need to teach boys to do hard things.

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