By Darryl Alder
Jul 26, 2014

Why Scouting Matters to LDS Church Leaders


Rushford Lee, owner of RED Research and Design

A few months ago, Rushford Lee, owner of Research Emotion Design (RED) started asking himself some questions centered on the subject of Scouting and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. How did Scouting relate to Church objectives for youth? Was there a spiritual side to Scouting? Is there really any link between the trail to Eagle and a mission?

After pondering these and others, Lee asked his own stake president some of these questions and was surprised by the answers. This prompted him to embark on a large research project for the Utah National Parks Council, Boy Scouts of America that included focus groups (he called them “love” groups—turns out not all the Scouters who like Scouting, love the Boy Scout Council), including broad surveys to hundreds of LDS Church leaders, who had plenty to say. What followed were many meetings with the council officers to discuss the findings, and in the end, Lee was appointed to Vice President of Marketing for the Council.


When guessing what the most important outcome of Scouting to LDS Church leaders, many thought that becoming Eagle Scouts was at the top of the list. RED found that while having a young man receive his Eagle Scout Award was on the list, it was far from number one.

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    LDS Leaders selected these outcomes and aspects of Scouting in this order.

He also found the most effective way to champion the message of Scouting was through stake presidents and bishops, 80% of whom were Scouts when they were younger and 44% earned their Eagle. Many of these key leaders had been in the trenches as Scout leaders and 61% had been in young men presidencies.

From his research, Lee explained, “Our young men need heroes to look up to. They need role models in their lives, at home and as they grow. Our goal is to help them become men such as the great leaders and teachers around them.”

From this finding, the Utah National Parks Council, BSA responded by incorporating the theme “Becoming such as These.” Which was later turned into an original song composed by R. Ross Boothe which premiered at the Celebration of Eagles this last July.

Lee explained that we need to tie church leaders to Scouting and, “encourage our boys to become men like the key leaders in the church, stakes, wards and Scouting troops; to become men like Christ.”


“‘Duty to God’ is the heart of Scouting and is a foundational principle as old as the organization itself.”

Lee further clarified “This is what Scouting is meant to be; bringing God into Scouting in a large way and making this tie together. It’s time to make the purpose of Scouting clear.”

Before his research, it was not clear to him. The study surprised him on every turn and it became clear that many don’t understand the “Duty to God” connection that Baden Powell intended the program to have.

Scouting Pillars of Communication to Reach LDS Leaders

pillar with fluerdelies

The research pointed the Utah National Parks Council, BSA in a new direction that centers around six pillars that connect with and communicate to LDS leaders the “why” of Scouting.

Through surveys of stake presidents and bishops, the six pillars are in order of importance to young men leaders as they youth go through their Aaronic Priesthood/Scouting experience.

11-   Be prepared by developing a testimony of Christ and of the gospel while doing our duty to God and our country.  In the survey one stake leader described it this way:  “Bearing our testimonies around the campfire: If we take our young men to outdoor activities and forget to have them bear their testimonies around the fire, we’ve missed the purpose of Scouting.”  

Service2-   Be prepared through personal growth and learning to serve others through charity and doing a good turn daily.  In the survey another stake leader said:  “There are life learning experiences in an outdoor environment with other boys and men that give the boys a unique experience outside of the home that support what’s going on inside the home.”

33- Prepare to go on a mission and teach others by preparing through the Scouting program as the activity arm of the priesthood. A stake leader described it this way:  “Life is full of difficult experiences. Teaching resilience in the early years is very helpful preparation for missions, marriage and parenthood.”

44-  Be prepared by learning to do hard things. A young man will gain confidence, learn leadership skills and prepare for the future as a son of God. One survey participant offered:  “Learning how to do hard things, gain confidence and preparing for the future.”

Men like these5- Be prepared to be good fathers and husbands by following the examples of men, such as our Scout leaders, the bishopric, our prophets and the Savior.  One Stake leader explained it this way: “To develop young men through faith in God, hard work, problem solving, achievement, and character-building activities.”

66- Be prepared by learning who we are as Scouts and sons of God by keeping ourselves physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight, understanding our true nature as a son of God. Finally to quote one more Stake leader: “Many young men don’t have the opportunity to connect with others. They don’t have strong family ties, they may not make friends easily, don’t fit in well at school. Scouting provides an atmosphere where the kids can fit in with their peers. Our leaders try and do a variety of activities that interest all of the boys. Gives leadership a chance to reach the one.”

The Utah National Parks Council, BSA is grateful to Rushford Lee and the team at RED; this research will shape the message and direction of Scouting for many years to come.

Author: Darryl Alder | Strategic Initiatives Director, Utah National Parks Council, BSA

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11 thoughts on “Why Scouting Matters to LDS Church Leaders

  1. AvatarDon Ellsworth

    Outstanding article. So how do we get the message to Church Leaders? There are lots of Bishops that still don’t get it. Thanks for sharing.

    1. AvatarMelissa McCoy

      I agree with Don. The message needs to get to Church Leaders. My son was denied advancement because someone could not get their act together (with plenty of advance notice) and get him his Board of Review. He had passed through his Scoutmaster conference and everything in order to go through. No one is even doing anything about the denial…kind of annoyed with that.

      My son is now in a Community Unit (dual enrolled with an LDS Unit) and doing well. He is a Patrol Guide and helping the younger Scouts in their advancement. He has expanded his horizons and is enjoying it. He has gone to OA and know about more advancements then we know what to do with. He attends both Units as he can with his various other activities.

      I realize that the Scout Leaders are volunteers, but it couldn’t hurt to inform parents, etc. about things so that they can help their child through the advancement process. I asked and asked and asked…and finally dual enrolled him so that my son get the assistance needed.

      I am overall pleased with the Community Unit, compared with the LDS Unit.

      1. AvatarJOHN O SUMP

        Melissa, Community Troops are great, as are LDS Troops. However they are humans also, they make mistakes also. I would like to know the rest of the story behind your son’s problems. I hope everything will go well with him.

  2. AvatarJared Thompson

    An excellent article. I would really like to see some research done as to how the council could make scouting more user friendly for the lay leader. I have a strong testimony of scouting’s value to our young men, but many of the support functions are too cumbersome. When I have advanced such concerns, the answer is always, “get more training”.

    1. AvatarSkeet Hudgens

      Trainning is one of the keys of success. I have been in scouting for over 60 years and I know the vaule of getting trainning and once you get converted to being a scou ter your boys will benifit. Round Table, Scoutmaster fundamentals and many other programs for you and the ultimate is Woodbadge. Be Happy and enjoy the world of Scouting- First desire then action.

      Best to you and your efforts


  3. AvatarColleen Scholz

    Thank you for the wonderful research and article! In our district we have been trying to incorporate Brad’s book, “Trails to Testimony” which talks about the same things, namely the spiritual side of Scouting. We also have been trying to use the concepts of “Come Follow Me”, to teach the adults at Round Table so that they can go back to their Wards and use them. I have seen improvements in our District’s program from this in the last two years or so. I think a lot of success comes from training the leaders and inspiring them, and it trickles down I wish I could’ve been part of the survey, but here’s my two cents.
    I’ve been a Scout leader for twenty five years now , on a District and Ward level, and I love it! If Scouting can make such a big difference in my life for all these years, then I will always be behind it!

  4. AvatarCarl Sorensen

    This description is a perfect description of an Aaronic-priesthood based program, not a Scouting program. I don’t believe that Scouting is contrary to the ways of the Church. Nor do I believe that there is a conflict between the goals of Scouting and the goals of the Church. But notice how few of the pillars in the diagram have a direct connection with advancement in Scouting.

    I think that when the UNPC claims that all of the benefits from the priesthood activities are due to Scouting, they overstate the cause. And I don’t think that the overstating is necessary. Scouting is a great program. Bearing testimonies around a campfire is a wonderful, spirit-building moment. But you won’t find anything in Scout training telling you to do that. (You also won’t find anything preventing you from doing it).

    Maybe we do need a marketing campaign for scouting. But I’d feel a lot better if the marketing campaign for scouting focused on the scouting program, not on add-ons to the program like “Baden-Powell intended it to have”, even though they don’t show up in the current materials.

    1. Darryl AlderDarryl Alder Post author

      Carl your understanding of Scouting is not as common as we might hope for. The first duty of a Scout as explained by Baden Powell is Duty to God. In 1920 he stated: “There is no religious side to the movement, the whole of it is based on religion, that is, on the realisation and service of God.” However, in a multi-faith based organization, like BSA, it can be difficult help specific faith based charted organizations use the program as they might like; the training and literature are generic, leaving adaptations up to each chartered organization.

      RED’s research shows that two of every three LDS leaders see little or no connection to Scouting; they cannot see how to use it to achieve their youth objectives. Yet in 1913 when the LDS Church qualified for a charter from the National Council, through the Deseret News the Church’s leadership explained their adoption of Scouting was “to promote discipline and develop character, to instill honor and trustworthiness in the lives of young boys and to inspire them with a sense of duty to parents, country, and religious ideals.”

      When a scout unit uses the methods of Scouting, we get to our aim of character, citizenship, and fitness. One of the most troubling misconceptions about Scouting in the LDS Church is that it is often only seen as advancement toward Eagle. You wrote, “…notice how few of the pillars in the diagram have a direct connection with advancement in Scouting.” We are happy about that since their are eight Scouting methods (see, only one of which is advancement.

      The RED research suggests LDS leaders do more spiritual activities when camping and hiking, to use the method of adult leadership to counsel with youth about their “Duty to God” pathway, and to make the “whole of it is based on religion” as BP suggested. According to the Oct 2013 Ensign, “About ten years after the Church affiliated with the Boy Scouts, Church leaders decided that MIA meetings would be dedicated solely to Scouting and no longer divide their time between Scouting and religious activities. That determination rested on the conclusion ‘that religious training could naturally occur through Scouting activities.'” The RED research suggests that the overt attempt to separate Scouting from church is spoiling the ends, without the union of church and Scouting the aims of character, citizenship and fitness cannot be fully achieved

      1. AvatarRaquel

        This was very well put. There are so many opportunities to Teach and Lead Young Men through the Scouting program. Combined with the Duty to God program within the LDS Church. It is Ideal. However, it is a struggle, somehow, to catch the vision of how it all works together for the good of the youth.

        This article and your reply here has clarified it well, I believe.

        Some of my ward leaders have expressed their desire that they wish that the Young Men have some of the same kinds of experiences that the Young Women have at girl’s camp. I have often wondered why the YM leaders don’t make that happen, if that is what they want. Camping is an automatic opportunity to draw close to each other and to the spirit. And YW leaders have learned well, how to use that to their advantage by facilitating teaching moments that lead to the end result, where they share their testimonies around the campfire. YM will have the same kinds of experiences, when the YM leaders learn to use that same opportunity to the same end.

        The scouting program also gives them other opportunites to teach and grow and learn. Camping is only one of those, as you mentioned.

        Great insight and response. Thank you

      2. AvatarMichael Gordon

        “Church leaders decided that MIA meetings would be dedicated solely to Scouting and no longer divide their time between Scouting and religious activities. “

        In my ward, Scouting happens once a month. The other weeks are intended to “have fun”. The scoutmaster sees Scouting as “not fun”.

        “two of every three LDS leaders see little or no connection to Scouting; they cannot see how to use it to achieve their youth objectives.”

        Two out of three LDS leaders prefer basketball.

        Religion is life; life is religion. All of Christianity and all of Scouting distills to the same thing — service (love) to your neighbor. Doing what? Whatever needs doing. “Man is that he might have joy”. For me that is one thing; for you it is another thing and that’s okay.

        Good character happens naturally as a consequence of the Scouting methods. Setting out with a goal of forcing good character on young men is almost certainly doomed to failure. Setting out with a goal to canoe the Green River will succeed, with some trials along the way creating opportunity for helping one another and obtain the spiritual understanding and reward that comes from doing such things.

        From Zion’s Camp came many of the church’s early leaders. Camping breeds a sense of duty and interdependence. It arises naturally but can be guided and reflected upon briefly so as not to put too much attention on this minor side effect which is really pretty much its entire purpose.


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