Unguided, Ungrounded, Unappreciated, Uninspired: How Trail Life USA Aims to Solve the ‘Boy Crisis’

By Published on December 11, 2023

Trail Life USA isn’t just a Christian alternative to the Boy Scouts; it’s an answer to the deep crisis affecting boys in America.

“We’re growing boys into godly men,” Mark Hancock, the scouting organization’s CEO, tells The Daily Signal Podcast. “We’ve discovered a proven process for turning boys into godly men, and it involves four things.”

Hancock, today’s guest on the podcast, diagnoses four major problems American boys face: They are unguided, ungrounded, unappreciated, and uninspired.

“One in four boys now doesn’t have a father in his household,” Hancock says. “They go to school, 76% of teachers are female. Eighty-something percent of Sunday school teachers are female. So, these girls have wonderful models of leadership. Boys don’t have that, so we are guiding boys. We think that’s important.”

Trail Life USA requires leaders to be confessing Christians, but it welcomes boys of any or no faith tradition.

Hancock also laments that boys are ungrounded, noting that “58% of Americans no longer believe that God is a source of moral truth.” His organization aims to “ground them in biblical truths,” through its six essentials of a Christian worldview.

“We also know that boys are unappreciated,” the CEO adds. He says the culture’s “gender blurring” sends the message that “it’s like a boy is some sort of a defective girl.”

Boys are twice as likely to be in special education programs and three times as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, he notes. “They’ve fallen behind girls in every single academic category. One category they are leading in is the suicide rate — 10- to 14-year-old boys have the fastest-growing rate.”

“If you looked at any other demographic that was going through what boys are going through right now, I mean, we’d be picketing in the streets,” Hancock says, “because somebody’s got to do something about this — and Trail Life is doing something about it.”

He also laments that “boys are largely uninspired in a culture that it’s participation trophies or ‘let’s not keep score because we’re going to hurt somebody’s feelings.’”

“That’s horrible for boys,” Hancock says. “They want to be challenged. They want something put in front of them that’s bigger than they are. They want to identify with something that’s doing big things. And so, in Trail Life USA, we’ve given them this robust awards program and we challenge them outside of their comfort zone to go beyond what it is that they thought that they could do in a company of men.”

The CEO says Trail Life USA has a “proven process” and he offers his church partners a money-back guarantee.

Hancock recalls a moment when a boy in California who had been raised by a single mom stood in front of a troop of men after receiving the Horizon Award, the organization’s second-highest award.

“He stood in front of that group of men, single mom sitting there in the audience, and he said, ‘The men in this troop, I have to thank you. You taught me how to shave and you taught me how to love Jesus.’ I thought, ‘They nailed it. They nailed it,’” Hancock recalls.

The head of Trail Life USA also laments the decline of the Boy Scouts, calling it “tragic.”

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“An organization that gave us presidents, and astronauts, and civic leaders, and generals, and tons of great men over the years, suddenly decided that it was going to abandon some of its traditional values and the way that that secret sauce that they had for building good, strong men,” he says.

In 2013, after the Boy Scouts decided to admit openly gay scouts, Hancock gathered 50 men in Louisville, Kentucky, to create a new organization that launched Jan. 1, 2014.

“Now, Trail Life has grown to over 50,000 members in all 50 states,” Hancock recounts. “We’re in 1,200 churches now, 1,200 troops across the country. Boys from 5 years old all the way up to 17 years old [are] participating in Trail Life USA.”

Trail Life USA has many of the same features of scouting — uniforms, handbooks, patrols, outdoor adventure — but it is Christ-centered and boy-focused.

“I hope this isn’t too radical for your listeners; We believe that boys and girls are different,” Hancock quips.

Listen to the podcast below.


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