For those who may not know what the word Awana is, (the names comes from the acronym for “Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed,”) Awana is a children’s ministry program that started in 1941 and is a mix a large group, small group, games, including a significant amount of Bible memorization. It was one of the most popular children’s ministry programs out there, but in recent years it has diminished in popularity for many reasons. Likely due to the increase of other less Bible intense curriculums being written, the culture of children’s ministry in general needing to keep attentions spans and sporadic attendance of children in churches. In Santa Cruz County, where Baker’s church is located, she shares, “In our area, we’ve seen the number of Awana Clubs go from 5 to 1—with our church now hosting the sole in-person Awana Club.”
So when Baker was considering what mid-week program to provide for children and their families, she dove into researching the experiences of children in this unique time in history. Baker determined that going “old school” was what these kids really needed. She explains what her thinking was in choosing Awana: "If we are not preparing and equipping our young people to stand firm in their faith as they move into adulthood, then what are we even doing as ministry leaders? As kids get older, they will be exposed to “every wind of teaching” through social media, their peers, and even some of their teachers. Unless we prepare them for the world by teaching them how to take up the shield of faith and the sword of the spirit, I am afraid we will continue to see kids walk away from their faith as they move into adulthood, many of them embracing the rapid spread of what has been termed “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” a weak substitute for faith that unfortunately has even infiltrated some Children’s Ministry curriculums.”
Baker gives some of the basics of what Awana’s philosophy and why she chose to use it: “Awana is founded upon the “3 Bs of Child Discipleship”: Belong, Believe, and Become (based on Ephesians 4:11-14). By emphasizing small groups, Awana gives kids the opportunity to connect with other Christ-following peers and adults to show that following Jesus is a lifelong commitment and that they belong to a community of believers. Awana also encourages and supports strong Biblical literacy. Kids who know the Bible can better “navigate a changing culture, build a strong foundation of faith, and love Jesus for the rest of their lives” because they are rooting themselves in the truth of God’s word, which stands forever. Lastly, the Awana program encourages kids to become who God intended them to be. The Awana program is uniquely designed to help kids apply the truth of scripture to their everyday lives.”
So, in a world where we see less interest in the Bible, instead of lessening the depth of the children’s curriculum, Baker chose the opposite. And very interesting results happened. When launching Awana as a mid-week program, it grew to over 100 kids participating (kids both churched and unchurched alike). Not just church kids either. Baker shared this story: “We have kids who come from all different backgrounds. Some from our church community, some from other churches, and many who aren’t a part of Christian homes at all. In the past few months, I have had the chance to witness a student whose eyes have been opened to the truth of God’s word for the very first time. She has been coming with her grandparents, who are faithful followers of Christ but have been asked by the parents not to share their faith with their granddaughter. So, with permission, they brought their granddaughter to Awana. At Awana she has heard the gospel and now is asking questions about who Jesus is, the story of the Bible, and what it means to be saved. And she has memorized 12 verses in just the past 2 weeks. Verses like 1 Peter 2:24, Romans 6:9, and 1 John 2:6. Now each week, she is working through her handbook with Grandma and beginning to understand God’s great love for her, and how to follow Him with her life. Praise God for these grandparents!”
With Awana, Baker shares how not only are kids lives being impacted, but how the volunteer leaders and parents lives are being impacted as well: “We are seeing lives that are being changed, not only in students, but in leaders and parents too. We have some kids who recite their verses in person to their leaders, but many kids say them to a parent at home who films them and emails them to me for credit. With every living room I get to peer into, I think about the potentially unbelieving family members who are hearing their child recite the truth of God’s word. I think about the friends and peers these kids interact with on a daily basis who see the change developing in their hearts and minds. And I think about the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers of 2050 and how some of them are sitting in our very own Large Group Room, receiving the Gospel.”
So, in what almost seems counter-intuitive, how to grow a children’s ministry in our tech-savvy, less attention span, not super Bible interested culture? Use an old school super Bible focused with memorizing verses program for kids. The resurrection of Awana happening to impact lives.
If you’d like to contact Sarah Baker about what is happening you can contact her at: email@example.com. For more information about Awana Clubs, Awana’s Brite Digital Weekend Curriculum, or Awana’s Child Discipleship Resources visit Awana.org.