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Here's an alternative to missionally lost Boy Scouts of America

Trail Life USA troopers.
Trail Life USA troopers. | Trail Life USA

I vividly remember watching a steel industry commercial as a child. Molten iron, through an intense process at temperatures of over 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, was converted into red-hot molten steel and poured into molds from a sturdy vessel called a “crucible.” This powerful imagery demonstrated how critical the crucible is in the process of transforming mined ore into the essential components of our modern world: skyscrapers, automobiles, pipelines, military vehicles and industrial machinery. 

The crucible must have the integrity to endure the intensity of the reaction it contains.

But what happens if a crucible fails? When its integrity is compromised, it disintegrates into the mix, producing weakened steel that lacks the necessary strength and structural integrity. This analogy is strikingly similar to the current state of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), an organization that has historically served as a crucible used in molding boys into capable, principled men.

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For over a century, the BSA formed some of the most influential figures in American history, including presidents, astronauts, civic leaders and generals. These men, products of a rigorous and value-driven process, were part of what is often referred to as “the greatest generation,” who stormed the beaches of Normandy to liberate Europe from tyranny. The BSA’s objective was clear: to prepare young men to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.

However, in May of this year, the BSA announced a significant shift: dropping “boy” from its name, creating what some perceive as an identity crisis. This change followed a decade of compromises and challenges, including integrating girls into the program. While inclusivity is often seen as a step forward, it is confusing for boys and fundamentally alters the dynamics of an organization historically focused on the unique needs of boys. Since 2018, the BSA has lost over a million boys while gaining 176,000 girls. This trajectory will ultimately make it primarily an organization for girls. Perhaps the anticipation of this projection explains the striking “boy” from their name.

Boys fleeing the organization are desperate for a defined path to manhood. While equal in value, boys and girls are different in many ways — physically, emotionally and socially. Every legitimate science confirms this established truth. Integrating girls into the BSA, while well-intentioned, dilutes the focus on the specific developmental needs of boys at a time when they need clear direction the most. Programs designed specifically for boys recognize these differences and tailor their approaches accordingly.

In this context, Trail Life USA emerges as a new crucible for developing strong, godly men from the stuff of boys. Formed in 2013 and launched in 2014, Trail Life USA is now the largest Christ-centered, boy-focused ministry organization in the United States, with nearly 60,000 members in almost 1,200 troops across all 50 states. Trail Life USA adheres to the original vision of scouting founder Lord Robert Baden-Powell, who said, “Scouting is nothing more than applied Christianity,” and envisioned scouting as “a game for boys under the leadership of boys under the direction of a man.”

This emphasis on peer leadership and male mentorship is central to Trail Life’s mission and critical to a society that needs men of character. Trail Life USA is dedicated to preserving the distinct and powerful processes that help boys be molded into capable men. This involves providing an environment where risk and adventure are integral, and where a boy’s assertive and adventurous nature is nurtured rather than suppressed. Boys need a space where it is acceptable and honorable to be distinctly boys, where their unique qualities are understood and appreciated, and where positive male role models guide them into manhood.

As the BSA rebrands and shifts its focus, parents are looking for alternatives that remain true to the original mission of scouting. Trail Life USA offers a robust program that not only fills the void left by the BSA, but also addresses the deep crisis affecting boys in America today. Trail Life USA offers a new crucible with the integrity to mold the next generation of leaders.

Mark Hancock is the CEO of Trail Life USA, a character, leadership, and adventure organization that is both Christ-centered and boy-focused. Trail Life USA partners with churches and parents across America as the premier national character development organization for young men which produces generations of godly and responsible husbands, fathers, and citizens. In over 1,100 churches in all 50 states, fathers and sons are connecting, relationships are deepening, and legacies are beginning as a new generation of godly leaders rises.

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