We do not plan to continue our AWANA program this fall. We explained it to the AWANA workers in April; we told the church body at May's VERTICAL WORSHIP, but I know that many didn't attend the VERTICAL WORSHIP – so I want to explain our reasoning.
Let me first say that our AWANA leaders are some of the best children's volunteers a church could want. I love that group of people and we are trying to plug ALL of them into one of our other programs for children. They are the best! But here are nine of the reasons we are cutting AWANA in the fall:
- The most obvious reason is that we are losing almost all of our key AWANA leaders. Before we ever decided to cancel AWANA – our "commander" and the "directors" of every group except one let us know they would not be returning in those roles. AWANA is a very volunteer intensive ministry, and not just with the number of volunteers, but also the commitment level of those volunteers needs to be high. Losing so many key people at once means that our program would suffer tremendously.
- AWANA, by design, is to be the primary and focused children's ministry in the church. I spoke with an AWANA missionary who confirmed that to be true. The problem is, HIGH POINT is our main children's ministry. AWANA is supplemental to HIGH POINT, and the two work on two very different philosophies. And as a staff, we have chosen HIGH POINT to be our primary children's ministry, and all other children's ministries must work in conjunction to HIGH POINT and follow the HIGH POINT philosophy.
- Staffing three high quality children's programs every week is a difficult task, especially when all three programs are VERY volunteer intensive and require a high ratio of volunteers to children. We just have not been able to staff all three properly.
- With our church, we've chosen to get more "simple." We've dropped programs and ministries (even good programs and ministries that were effective) to focus on doing three things with high quality and high intensity (Sunday AM, EQUIP, and Small Groups), and thereby do a better overall job of making more and better disciples. But our children's ministries have just gotten more complex during that "simplification" of our adult ministries. We needed to simplify our children's ministries also.
- It seems to us that AWANA is a great program for traditional churches that are not regularly reaching new people. The emphasis of AWANA is learning large amounts of Scripture. That philosophy is difficult for us when it is on Wednesday night when many new and young believers are dropping their children off so they can attend a small group. We have discovered that parents are not studying the verses nightly with the children. We are ostracizing our new children because they don't come prepared, or we have leaders who (in an attempt NOT to make children feel left out) "help" them say a section that will not stay in their long-term memory, much less be in their minds when they go to bed that night. It just isn't practically accomplishing the task of long-term Scripture memory.
- AWANA is not outreach friendly. It is very insider focused. Requiring large amounts of Scripture memory makes it very difficult for children whose parents are just dropping them off so they can attend a small group.
- I don't know how to say this kindly: AWANA is a dated program. The differences between AWANA and High Point is substantial. That doesn't say anything negative about our AWANA staff – they are a dedicated group, but the material they are presented with is simply dated. It requires a great deal of creativity on their part. (Did I mention the leader of AWANA is still called "commander?" Is it just me – or is that from another generation and time?)
- We really need to move the 4 and 5 year old's out of HIGH POINT and into their own program (to be called HOT SPOT). To do that – we need an entirely new set of volunteers to do that program with the excellence as we have done HIGH POINT. This is just a practical math reason. There are only so many highly competent and willing volunteers who will give themselves to children's ministry on a weekly basis. Our children's ministry director believes this new program MUST be a priority, and we as pastors agree. We've grown by 300 people over the past year, but we have not equally grown in our ratio of committed children's workers. We have to staff this new program and it must be a priority.
- Bottom line – HIGH POINT is the children's education basket we are choosing to throw all of our eggs into. That may change, but for now – we believe it is the right decision.
I don't like making unpopular decisions. As I prepare to post this blog (it has been sitting in my drafts folder for a few hours), I admit I've been tempted to not allow comments, but that is a defensive/pride issue on my part. So I will keep the comment section open, but I'm going to try not to respond. I'm confident that we as a staff have made the right decision. Who knows… maybe we will re-start AWANA in January.
Again, I want to thank our current AWANA leaders for their incredible ministry to our children. Some have been working in AWANA since before I came to Northridge, and they are an amazing group of people. I especially want to recognize Kristen Peden for her incredible dedication and time given to AWANA for several years! Kristen, you have led well!
By the way, here is the exciting news. If you believe AWANA is helpful for your child's spiritual development and are convinced that your children should be a part of AWANA, there are several great churches in our city that still run AWANA. I would encourage you to contact them about the days and times of their programs. These are good churches and we would endorse your involving your children in their AWANA programs: