Mac’s Message #72: Four Types of LDS Scouting Programs

Mac McIntire

Mac McIntire


Yogi Berra, the famous catcher and manager of the New York Yankees, known for his malapropisms, said “You can observe a lot by watching.” During my many years of involvement with the Young Men program of the Church I have had the opportunity to watch a lot of LDS Scouting units in action. And I’ve observed a lot.

From my observations I’ve concluded there are two critical leader-specific elements that determine the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of LDS Scouting programs. I believe the extent to which these key elements are present in a ward’s Young Men program determines the extent to which boys want to be involved in Scouting activities.

I’ve concluded the two significant success factors in an LDS Scouting program are: 1) the perceived warmth, love, caring, and concern the boys feel from their adult leaders, and 2) the evidence of a well-defined, planned, and structured Scouting experience. If the boys feel loved and there is a quality Scouting program for them to attend, the young men typically exhibit a high level of commitment toward Scouting. If the boys are not loved and the Scouting program is disorganized or nonexistent, the young men tend to drift into inactivity. An analysis of these two components shows there are four basic types of LDS Scouting programs with four likely outcomes based upon how the program is conducted by the adult leaders (see graphic below).

In LDS Scouting units where there is no perceivable love from the adult leaders toward the young men and little or no Scouting structure (Low/Low), most boys will eventually become disinterested and gravitate toward INACTIVITY. In this situation the adult leaders are often unreliable and attend only sporadically because they have no love for the youth or the Young Men program. Without a planned calendar the boys may not know what the weeknight activity will be until they arrive. Lacking a clear purpose, the leaders scramble to come up with activities merely to keep the boys occupied. Frequently the activity ends up being basketball or some other game. The lack of meaningful pursuits can result in young men becoming disinterested or apathetic about Mutual night. Some boys may avoid attending or even refuse to go because it is not worth their time. Others may attend grudgingly only after prodding from their parents or leaders.

The second type of LDS Scouting units I’ve observed is where very little love is shown by the adult leaders toward the young men, but there is a high degree of structure in their Scouting program with regimented rules and discipline (Low/High). The leaders have a well-defined Scouting program because the adults erroneously believe they need to be in control. These leaders seem determined to run their Scouting program by the book—while neglecting to allow the unit to be boy led—practically forcing the boys to earn merit badges and rank advancement. They expect the boys to be quiet and listen as Scouting skills are being taught. In this type of situations I’ve observed leaders who seem to expect the young men to enjoy Scouting, and they become frustrated when the boys don’t respond enthusiastically. Often this results in REBELLION from the youth as they resist the oppressive structure and disrespect their rigid leaders. This may cause the boys to disengage from Scouting activities or become openly defiant regarding planned events. Discipline problems can result when the boys feel pressured to participate by leaders who show little love toward them.  

The opposite type of LDS Scouting unit is where there is a high degree of love between the adult leaders and their youth, but little or no structure to their Scouting program (High/Low). Like in the first example, the adult leaders of these programs have few preplanned activities and may exhibit a laissez faire attitude toward Scouting. The leaders enjoy having fun with the boys—which makes the young men like them even more—but the program is disorganized. Because the emphasis is on fun activities, the boys may become frustrated or bored when they are expected to participate in any of the Scouting aspects of the Young Men program. The boys may do the Scouting requirements in COMPLIANCE with the directives of their leaders or parents, but may be slothful in doing the required work unless coerced or incented to do so. Although the boys are “active” and show up every week to Mutual, they probably don’t see how the application of Scouting principles will help them become better missionaries, husbands, fathers, and Melchizedek Priesthood holders in the future.

The fourth category of possible LDS Scouting programs is where significant love is exhibited toward the young men by the adult leaders. These leaders also love Scouting, resulting in a well-defined, planned, and structured Scouting experience for the youth (High/High). Since these leaders allow the boys to lead the program, there is a high degree of involvement from the young men who plan exciting activities that appeal to them, to less active members, and to their non-member friends. Adult leaders of these units understand the connection between the eight purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood and the aims and methods of Scouting. Because the youth feel loved and understand the purposes of the Young Men and Scouting programs, they exhibit a stronger COMMITMENT to do what is expected of them. As they do so their testimony grows as gospel principles are learned through Scouting experiences. Young men in these programs are blessed to have leaders who understand their stewardship in molding young men who will be “true at all times in whatsoever thing they [are] entrusted” (Alma 53:20) because they have been entrusted with much during their Scouting experiences.

I realize the descriptions above of the four possible types of LDS Scouting programs are generalizations based on assumptions, but I hope they will cause you to reflect upon the Scouting experience you are creating for your young men. I hope you love the young men you serve. I hope you love Scouting enough to run a quality program. I hope you know you are called to bless the lives of the Lord’s precious young men by helping them to become valiant men of God.


Take a Moment to Reflect

  • In which quadrant does your Scouting program typically fall?
  • Do you love your young men? Do you love all of them?
  • Do you love Scouting? Do you do your best to implement the program as designed?
  • Do you have a well-defined, planned, and structured Scouting program?
  • What is the impact and result of the way your run your Scouting program?
  • Do you see your role as a Young Men leader as a sacred stewardship from the Lord? Are you a wise steward?


Turn Your Reflection Into Action

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


“When local priesthood leaders get involved in the work of the Aaronic Priesthood, including Scouting, the work of the Aaronic Priesthood thrives, including Duty to God, missionary preparation, quorum service and quorum strength, individual worthiness, and preparation for temple marriages.  When they do not, it normally results in a number of well-meaning parents and leaders who love the youth struggling to make the program work” (“Charles Dahlquist on why the Church sticks with Scouting, and so does he,” The Boy Scout: The Blog of the Utah National Parks Council, Jan. 10, 2016).


-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 Las Vegas, Nevada. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.

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  1. John says:

    This is a great lesson to help me try to be better for the boys. I would love to see the same kind of analogy or box based upon the types of parental support. You may already have similar thoughts that could be given to parents, hopefully without hurting feelings. I have seen boys be miserable and not succeed in Scouting from parents that seem to just send their sons to Scouts and let the Scout leaders make something of it. I have seen boys succeed in Scouting with parents that are totally involved. I have seen parents a little too involved just to get the Eagle as well. It’s a interesting balance and I would love to see something along these lines that we as leaders can share with parents as their boys follow the trail to Eagle and manhood.

  2. A Scouter says:

    What a fantastic observation and worth taking the time to ponder.

    This also brought up remembrances of conversations at Wood badge after the forming/storming/norming/performing presentation. What scares me is that even though I have a testimony of and training in the scouting program, I see myself at times in different boxes and unfortunately it is not always the the top left and not always related to the YM.

    I think I need to kneel a little more before standing up.

    Thanks Mac!

  3. Venturing Advisor says:

    I think it may be very telling to have some input from our youth; ask where THEY think their program is on this structure. I’ve done this in years past and had my eyes opened & it’s helped me do a bit better. On the knees is great, like A Scouter said. But we can also ask those we serve. This SHOULD be done in boards of review, but the boys are often hesitant to frankly state their opinion. An anonymous tally is a little easier to do.

    1. JD says:

      Venturing Leader – you are right, the boys should be involved. I think this articles is geared towards the adults of the program, but I could see how this could be applied to the young men as well. I printed a version of the chart and posted in my office and realized that this applies to my work as much as it does Scouting.

      As for feedback from the Venturing age boys, they should feel safe and heard when they voice their opinions as it is a key part of helping them gain confidence in speaking with others, specifically adults. Listening and taking notes would be good as their input is invaluable. If they are not confident in their ability to express feelings and thoughts, it is only going to make 2 years of sharing the gospel that much harder.

      1. Steve Faber says:

        Agreed, the chart is an interesting way of organizing observations about teams of people working together, it has many applications.

    2. Mac McIntire says:

      An easy way to use the chart as a feedback tool is to give it to each boy in a handout and let them anonymously mark their page like a ballot. Have them turn in their vote and then tally up the score.

      However, get ready for divergent answers based upon each boy’s personal bias and experience. Use the scores as a discussion starter, not a decision maker.

  4. Steve Faber says:

    Interesting analysis Mac.

    I suppose elements of all four quadrants exist in our ward scouting programs to some degree. Perhaps this analysis could generate some beneficial discussions in our ward YM Presidency meeting or Cub/Scout Committee meeting by exposing possible reasons, especially behaviors, behind why the symptoms exist.

    I do have to disagree somewhat with the generalization that adult leaders who “are often unreliable and attend only sporadically” do so out of a lack of love for the youth or scouting.

    Good men that are called to serve the young men, who love the young men, have day jobs, night jobs, swing shift jobs, new jobs with no vacation time, who get called away on business trips for weeks, and who work weekends and have young families (with none of their own boys in the program), and who take family vacations in the summer that conflict with summer camps, etc.

    These adults don’t necessarily not love the YM program, or Scouting, they simply don’t have a lot of time/training/knowledge/experience yet, but they are willing to serve.

    These adults in many cases have to go through what Yoda said, to “unlearn what you have learned,” about what scouting is now compared to what it used to be when they were boys.

    Are these adult scouters unreliable and sporadic? Yep. But the Bishop called him for a reason.

    Good men like this are sometimes paired with a pretty reliable and consistent adult scouter, who has a bit more vacation time and possibly a boy of his own in the program, who also loves the boys, and who is also going through his own journey to understand the role of scouting as the activity arm of the Aaronic Priesthood.

    Despite our sometimes best efforts to have a yearly calendar, week-long summer camp, frequent weekend camp-outs, try to have a boy-led program with PLC meetings, quarterly courts of honor, parent’s nights, etc., our ward still has a high percentage of INACTIVITY. Why? We’re still trying to figure that out, but I think it’s a combination of a lot of things, including families just dealing with life and exercising the divine give of agency, but it’s certainly not due to a lack of love.

    I suppose I’m trying to call out that it’s great for these blog posts to lay out a vision of an ideal LDS scouting unit, but in my experience, very few ideal LDS scouting units (the youth, and adults are united in COMMITMENT) exist, including mine in good old happy valley, at least to the granular level of detail described in this blog.

    1. JD says:

      Steve – I agree, it may not be a lack of love in all instances, but it is a priority issue. Work may be the priority or something else may be the issue. There are a lot of good activities we can participate in that fight for our time. We need to take some of those good activities out of our life and replace them with better and best activities. One way to keep someone from greatness is to keep them busy with good.

    2. Mac McIntire says:


      Thank you for providing this additional and accurate perspective of why some leaders may not be as reliable as they wished they could be in attending YM meetings. Since I travel considerably for my business I, too, have missed a lot of Scouting meetings.

      The leaders I was thinking about when I wrote the blog message are those who don’t show up and they also don’t notify anyone that they are not going to be there. Consequently the boys are either left leaderless or another leader has to figure out what to do with the boys. I should have said that in my message.

      Also, it’s true that my blog messages invariably refer to ideal LDS Scouting units because it is my hope in writing these articles that YM leaders will take steps to become more ideal in their Scouting efforts — even if it is only a few baby steps at a time. Of course, one of the great challenges in LDS Scouting is if a unit ever does get close to ideal the leaders often are called to other positions in the Church and the new leaders have to learn how to take their own baby steps toward the ideal Scouting unit.

  5. Cateran says:

    Another area worth discussing is the difficulties transitioning between these types of programs, especially in light of the tendency for a high turnover rate in YM/Scout leaders.

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