At our church, I serve on a committee that oversees our communication efforts. Among our tasks are the advertising and promotions that we place in local media, our various “side-door” ministries (activities that help to enrich the community, like Scouting) and the church website. We redesigned the website this year, and one of the topics that we added was a look at our Sunday worship for those who are visiting us for the first time, and what they could expect when they walked through our doors.
As we tossed around ideas for the first-time visitor section, we had to envision walking into our church – something we do each week without much thought – as if we had never been there before. Sure, we had all been first-timers once, but it had been a long time since we gave it any thought. Not only did it open our eyes to things we stopped noticing years ago, but it led to some redesign work in the church to make it easier for newcomers to find their way.
The process got me to thinking about how first-time visitors to our packs and troops must feel. It takes a certain amount of courage and willingness to try something new, especially if they have little or no idea what to expect. Certainly Scouting (like church) is ingrained in our culture, and there are popular thoughts, conceptions and misconceptions about it, but you never really know exactly what to expect if you’re looking to join.
Much of our new membership comes to us at times when we are expecting them and can make proper preparations. Cub Scout round-ups take place at the start of the school year, and we put out the broad invitation to come to our Join Scouting Nights to find out more. Some packs put on elaborate presentations with slides, planned activities and teams of volunteers ready to sign them up, while others hold informal discussions with those who show up. Our troops generally receive new members in the spring as Webelos Scouts cross over. But we welcome new members at any time of the year, so we need to be on the lookout for those who just drop in, hoping to join the Scouting experience for their sons.
When you plan your recruiting drive, take some time to visualize what a parent totally unfamiliar with Scouting would see and hear when they walk in. You have to assume that they don’t know anything about the concept and purpose behind Scouting. You’ll need to explain how it differs from other activities that they may be familiar with, like clubs or sports, and what makes Scouting a unique experience for young people. Don’t just assume that they know what you’re all about – you’ll have to do some “selling” for most of them.
Since you could also get visitors at other times, think about having a plan to welcome them at your troop and pack meetings. One idea is to have one or two people available to explain things to them in clear, jargon-free language. Perhaps this could be an assistant Cubmaster or assistant Scoutmaster, or a member of the unit committee. It should be someone who can take a break from their other duties (if they have any) and make it a priority to welcome the newcomers.
We can only sustain Scouting if we have a rate of membership gain at least as much as we lose members to aging out or leaving for other reasons. And hopefully we have overall increases year-to-year. We only reach a small fraction of the total available youth. One way to increase our reach is by proactively welcoming those with a curiosity about what Scouting can do for them. If we take time to look at ourselves from the outside in, we can get a much better idea of how to greet new families and give them a sense that Scouting is a good choice.
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