The early success of Scouting was immediate and huge. And 100 years later the Scout Movement continues to grow. Yet as Scouting has grown, the church in this country has witnessed a steady decline and particularly amongst young people. Is there anything the church can learn from the continued success of Scouting?
Some churches today are thankfully enjoying increasing numbers. When a first generation church forms it does so in ways that are relevant to the people and the culture it serves. And it grows. When a church becomes a second, third, fourth generation church it tends to remain very much in the mould in which it was formed.
“Scouting is a movement, because it moves forward. As soon as it stops moving, it becomes an Organisation, and is no longer Scouting.” (from the Scout website)
To what extent has the church become an organisation rather than the dynamic, spirit-led movement seen in Acts? Scouting has been able to embrace change, and because it has constantly adapted to the age in which it operates Scouting remains relevant to the lives of young people and is able to offer much to excite and inspire them. To what extent is the church able to embrace and deal with change? Is it something welcomed as an exciting opportunity, or tolerated as an unwelcome necessity, or rejected altogether?
Scouting is a movement which successfully networks. This provides a strong sense of connection with something much bigger than just the local Group. How easy is it for a local church to live in glorious isolation from all that takes place not only in the world but also within our own denomination and the rest of the Christian church?
The Scouting programme reflects the huge variation in members’ interests and backgrounds – it recognises and celebrates difference – all under one umbrella but meeting in their various age and interest groups. Maybe we in the church can get too caught up on the holy grail of All Age Worship instead of concentrating on All Age Belonging. Whilst we need to feel connected to each other, we don’t all have to be doing the same thing at the same time. We don’t all have to worship in the same one hour on Sunday morning. Worship can happen on any day and at any time.
Scouts are encouraged to take part in a wide range of activities. Participation is a key to their success. How much has church-going become a spectator activity? How easy is it for a church service to be marked out of ten by the audience, and that mark given in respect of the entertainment and comfort value?
Scouts take part in a balanced programme that helps young people to find out about the world in which they live, and encourages them to discover more of themselves by providing opportunities to explore their own values and personal attitudes. How eager are we in the church to talk about our faith to each other? How eager are we to say what difference our faith makes to our lives? How eager are we to share together in something like VISION4LIFE?
Scouting is exciting and it is outward looking. Can we say the same about the church? Scouting is about being with friends, being part of a team, participating fully in the adventure and opportunities of life. Is that what we feel in our churches?
I don’t want to take the analogy between the church and Scouting too far, but perhaps we should think why young people flock to the latter and mostly shun the former. Scouting has been largely successful in ridding itself of its stuffy old image; the church has been far less successful in this.
An important consideration in all this is our parade services, because (correct me if I am wrong) I am just a tiny bit doubtful that either the leaders or the members leap for joy when one is coming up.
Sunday morning and young people is no longer always a good combination. As a church we need to think out of the box, we need to decide if we are prepared to take the risks that are involved in remaining relevant in a changing world.
From a talk by Revd Liz Shaw, minister of St Andrew’s URC Eastcote, at a special parade service to mark the centenary of Scouting.