Each week they come — hundreds of thousands of boys and girls ages 6 to 17 years, streaming into United Methodist churches for after-school or early evening meetings.
Some of the children and youth are Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Others are Campfire or 4-H Club members. All are part of the scouting ministry umbrella of The United Methodist Church. For about half of the participants, scouting is their only church involvement.
Scouting is an often-overlooked door for United Methodists to go into their community and for the community to take the first step into the church. Scouting Ministries Sunday is an opportunity to recognize those involved in the ministry and invite others to join.
The United Methodist Church designates the second Sunday in February as Scouting Sunday (formerly Boy Scout Sunday), with an alternate date on the second Sunday in March (formerly Girl Scouting Sunday). Most churches that sponsor or host both Boy and Girl scouts will choose one day to celebrate the ministry and the adults and youth involved. Many prefer the earlier date because it does not (usually) conflict with Lent. The celebration can occur at any time during the year.
Scout Sunday activities during worship or another part of the day might include:
- Scout liturgists and musicians: Pastors and other worship leaders can work individually with the young people to prepare them to read Scripture or lead other short parts of the service. Musical performances require several practices beforehand.
- Scout greeters and ushers: Congregants and scouts have an opportunity to meet each other.
- Service or mission project: Invite scouts and church members who do not usually work with them to tackle a project together on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
- Award presentations: God and Country, Good Samaritan, Cross and Flame and other religious awards can be presented to scouts and leaders. Presenting Eagle Scout, Gold and WoHeLo awards emphasizes the service each youth program promotes.
- "Meet the Church": Provide brunch, lunch or refreshments on Scouting Ministries Sunday. Invite all scouts and their families to attend. Create fun ways to introduce the young people and adults to other ministries of the church. Gather information so you can send follow-up invitations to those who are not connected to a congregation. East Ohio Bishop John L. Hopkins recalls that someone invited him to join a Boy Scout troop, meeting in a Methodist church. After a few weeks, he was invited to Sunday school at the church, which led to being a member of a confirmation class and beginning a lifelong commitment to Christ and the church.
Johns Creek United Methodist Church in Johns Creek, Georgia, is currently home to eight scout units, 400 plus scouts, with 180-200 registered adult leaders participating. Parents also participate and are encouraged to go through training, including youth protection training.
Johns Creek activities for Scout Sunday are easily adaptable for even a small congregation. They include:
- Worship: Scouts and their families receive special invitations to participate in Scout Sunday service.
- Special seating: Uniformed scouts and leaders and their families, are invited to sit together. During the service, Scouts are asked to stand and then leaders and then former Scouts – the impact is seeing how many members were a part of scouting as youth.
- Ushers: Youth and leaders in uniform usher and assist during worship.
- God and Country Recognition: Youth who have completed the God and Country program are recognized during church and at a special luncheon following the service. Everyone is invited.
- Service Day: A day for landscaping, cleaning and renovating is a great way Scouts can say, “Thank you” for their church’s support.
Johns Creek United Methodist Church has also hosted community-wide celebrations inviting Scouts in the area to participate. Their United Methodist Men’s group provides information about scouting (as well as other programs) at appropriate activities and events. The men’s group provides scholarships to scouts and helps fund Eagle projects.
This thriving program recognizes that scouting is a safe place for youth to participate in wholesome activities. It is also a great opportunity for parents to just spend time with their children doing low-key, fun activities.
The General Commission on United Methodist Men established an Office of Civic Youth-Serving Agencies/Scouting Ministries. This office promotes the use of programs across the Church and to help local congregations understand how they might use civic youth-serving agencies as an outreach ministry within their community. According to Larry Coppock, National Director of Scouting Ministries for UMM, there are currently 324,125 scouts (Cub, Boy Scouts and Venturers) in 8,000 units (packs and troops) in United Methodist Churches in the U.S.
United Methodist Men offers 10 reasons to consider scouting as a ministry of the church which may be helpful to you if you sek to establish a program. (Scroll down the page for full information.)
*Noble is editor of Interpreter magazine and Interpreter magazine OnLIne. She may be reached at KNoble@umcom.org. This story was updated in January 2016. Additional reporting by Laurens Glass, writer and digital specialist for United Methodist News Service.