Pathfinders: Less About Achievement, More About Fun

Blog October 18, 2023

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. (Deuteronomy 4:9, NIV)

Were you in Pathfinders as a child? Many of us remember learning to march in formation, memorizing Bible verses, practicing interesting and useful skills, going camping, and, for some of us, complaining about how uncomfortable the uniforms were. And of course, the excitement of getting to add another patch to our sashes.

In 2021–22, a survey was sent to Pathfinder leaders in the Florida, Michigan, Northeastern, Ontario, Potomac, Southeastern California, and Texas Conferences in order to find out how they felt about and how to implement the Pathfinder program. Participants answered questions about Teen Leadership Training, the investiture achievement curriculum, basic drill and marching, and Pathfinder honors and uniforms. Responses were very positive, with participants largely supporting the processes or approaches currently in place, and when given an “other” option on the survey, respondents mostly wished to change nothing.

While most of the questionnaire was multiple choice, participants were given the opportunity to write in their own comments about what they would find most helpful in running their Pathfinder groups.

The survey asked, “What is one thing that would help you in Pathfinder Club Ministry the most?” and “What one thing would you change about Pathfinder Club Ministry?”

Interestingly, the first question prompted mainly “do more of this” answers, and the second question received more “do less of this” answers.

The first question will be addressed in another blog post. The second question, with its “do less of this” answers, threw up a number of concerns, including the volume of requirements for investiture and the strictness of the program.

A recurring theme was a need to focus less on achievement and more on fun.

When asked about changes to the investiture program, more than 40% suggested “less reading or memorization,” about a third wanted more variety in honors offered, and nearly a quarter asked for “fewer requirements.” In addition, about one-third shared additional ideas for improving the investiture program by selecting “other.”

Leaders felt that a curriculum that focused more on hands-on learning, rather than on required reading and memorization, would increase its value to today’s children.

When asked how they encouraged teens to stay in the program, leaders listed activities like social gatherings, camping, Conference events, and hiking.

Write-in comments illustrate the participants’ wishes to have Pathfinders be less achievement-focused and more fun. Some of them are listed below:

  • Add more outdoor activities. Focus more on interactive activities instead of bookwork.
  • The school aspect. Most pathfinders who left the club stated that the ministry feels like extra schoolwork. To help with retention, I alternate between the curriculum aspect and recreational activities during meetings.
  • Change the focus from completion of readings and class/academic type work, to more social, community building and outdoor activities.
  • Make it cooler and fun for teens like hiking, safety and financial skills.
  • Somehow make it less like school. Kids don’t want to do school twice in one day.
  • Less reading and added work outside of Pathfinder. I don’t want pathfinders to have homework. I would love more self-development activities.
  • Lessen the pathways curriculum requirements. Especially for the older kids. They are so busy at school in junior high and high school and have all sorts of extracurricular activities. It’s almost impossible for them to complete all their requirements.
  • The requirements and the timing can be rigorous. It should actually be a part of normal church activities.
  • Make it less structured with less requirements. Have more friend time where kids can do Godly things together.

Pathfinder leaders across the Conferences are deeply committed to their roles as mentors and guides for Seventh-day Adventist youth, and church leadership should be encouraged by the results of the survey. At the same time, there are aspects that have been identified by the questionnaire that require attention. Children today spend more hours in school, and are sent home with more homework, than previous generations, and Pathfinder leadership is recognizing that they have an opportunity to provide children with more practical and hands-on experiences.

You can look at previous research blogs on Pathfinders:

Pathfinders’ Views on Salvation: Grace or Works

Pathfinders’ Views of their longevity within the Adventist Church

Pathfinders and Social Media: Knowing Jesus Better

Pathfinders’ Views on Healthy Living

Pathfinders’ View on God’s Law and Salvation

Created in collaboration with the Institute of Church Ministry.

Published by ASTR on 10/18/23

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References: Petr Činčala and Injae Son. The Pathfinder Club Ministries Study: The Club Leadership and Members’ Commitment and Interests in the Major Elements of the Ministry. February 2023.