SALT LAKE CITY — The Mormon church, the biggest sponsor of Boy Scout troops in the United States, announced Thursday it is pulling as many as 185,000 older youths from the organization as part of an effort to start its own scouting-like program.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said the move wasn’t triggered by the Boy Scouts’ decision in 2015 to allow gay troop leaders because Mormon-sponsored troops have remained free to exclude such adults on religious grounds.

But at least one leading Mormon scholar said that the Boy Scouts and the Mormons have been diverging on values in recent years and that the policy on gays was probably one of several contributing factors in the split.

Saying it wants a new, simplified program of its own that is more closely tailored to Mormon teenagers, the church announced that boys ages 14 to 18 will no longer participate in the Boy Scouts starting next year. The church said the decision will affect 185,000 teens, while the Boy Scouts put the number at 130,000.

The loss is only a fraction of the 2.3 million youths in the Boy Scouts of America. But the organization has been grappling with declining membership for years and has enjoyed an unusually close bond with the Mormon church for more than a century because of their shared values. Joining the Boy Scouts is practically automatic among Mormon boys.

Boy Scouts of America spokeswoman Effie Delimarkos said the organization is saddened by the decision but understands the church’s desire to customize a program.

About 280,000 Mormon boys ages 8 to 13 will remain in the Scouts while the church continues to develop its own program, the Mormons said. The Boy Scouts estimated the number at 330,000. The church did not say when the younger boys will be withdrawn from the Boy Scouts.