Discontinuing AWANA Clubs @ Northridge

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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?)
  8. 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.
  9. 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:

  1. Good decision! And well explained! Some of your comments remind me of a song we used to sing…”I’m in the Lords ARMY, Yes, Sir!”

  2. I agree with making these changes based on the churches’ direction, I just have one question…what will all the parents in small groups do with their children on Wednesday nights? Any ideas being kicked around?

  3. Working on that, Dan. If you have ideas – talk to Scott. We just know we don’t believe we should have a program simply to make child care possible. So we are all ears on ideas.

  4. At first when I heard the news I was disappointed because my younger brother had just recently joined and LOVES it! But I appreciate your explanation and see the wisdom in it. As you have been saying on Sundays, the church should not be implementing programs after programs to increase those 100 hrs. It makes sense to simplify to increase the quality of the time the children do participate.
    Thank you for the hard decisions you make and the humbleness you show through them.

  5. Hey PD! I def don’t envy making those tough decisions, but I believe your reasoning is sound. It’s a bold move, but one that seems to be necessary. I will pray that God will bless that direction!

  6. David, as a former AWANA leader for 23 years I still believe Northridge is making the right decision with respect to children’s ministry. I loved serving the Lord in AWANA and how I could help youngsters better understand the truths that they were memorizing. It was also sad to see youngsters there that struggled with memorization and also received little or no help from home. There just wasn’t enough time for one on one help that was needed for a number of the little ones. As the usher at 11:00 that goes down to highpoint each week to count the kids there I am overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and joy that is so evident in the kids that are there. They are getting taught so much more than AWANA was able to do. The volunteers involved in that ministry are outstanding and doing a great job. I also was surrounded and worked with wonderful AWANA leaders when I served but the program itself was limiting. I don’t know what the feedback is with the decision made but personally I fully support it.

  7. I worked in Awana for 17 years and I believe that Awana is not a dated program but a viable program that firmly grounds both churched and unchurched children in Scipture.
    However I am surprised that it lasted as long as it did seeing that small groups were on the same night and that made it difficult to have enough volunteers.
    I volunteered only 2 years here because my husband wished to attend a Wed. night group. However it seemed that some parents did not work with their children during the week, and I personally felt that these parents saw the program as baby sitting. It’s a shame because Awana is designed to give children and the parents who worked with them a solid understanding of who Jesus is and why there is only one way to God through Him. It was great for my children both to participate in and to become LITs .It is usually the habit of Awana leaders to know their children and spend extra time with those who are unchurched.
    The children always seemed to love coming.
    It is usually a midweek program and not meant to take the place of the Sunday morning program, although the hope is usually that one will lead new children to the other. This in both believer oriented and seeker oriented churches.
    Again I do not believe that the program is dated
    The proof is in the pudding-The kids love the program and the Awana staff have done a great job with planting the seeds for future growth. Thank-you especially to Dan and Dottie who I worked with who spent so much time explaining the scriptures to the children and praying with them
    And of course to Kristen Peden who put 200% in the program and all the other GREAT AWANA VOLUNTEERS

    Sandi Hoover
    Is Sparky going to retire permanently to Florida ?

  8. We are at a similar crossroad in our church. Most of your points I have considered. Another situation we deal with is sports; many are making a priority of sports on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings, only attending when sports are not in season… breaks my heart the message being conveyed. AWANA is a huge commitment on all fronts. Most of our workers are older. Like you mentioned, they are a dedicated group that wants to foster a love of God’s word for a lifetime. Thanks for expressing your reasons with clarity. Please pray for our small, but growing church; I am encouraged.

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