Nov 222010

My daughter enjoyed Cubbies for her three-year-old year at our then-church, and we missed it a lot when we were at a church using a different program last year. So when we moved this year we made sure to find a church that had a Sparks club for her to join (now that she’s five).

We have been diligent about working on her lesson each week, and she memorizes her verses incredibly well (if I do say so myself!).

Last Sunday she came home from club very excited, because she had “earned” her wings and her first (red) jewel. I was puzzled, since I knew that was still a few lessons away from where we were working.

My husband, grim faced, explained more to me later (I am home with our youngest while he takes the “big kids” to church Sunday nights).

It seems that my daughter was pushed though “memorizing” and parroting back THREE verses during class time to earn that jewel, so that she could be more “caught up” with other kids (who have already been doing this)… Many already have several jewels, and a several kids were recognized at awards time for having finished their book already!!

Let’s be clear: It was nine weeks into the AWANA year, and Jewel had worked on and memorized lesson nine. They had her also “do” lessons ten, eleven, and twelve.

I was heartbroken.

I enjoy the AWANA curriculum. We like working through one lesson each week, dwelling in the Word and learning a verse. And I would assume the AWANA teachers would also be reinforcing that lesson in class.

Obviously, when you’re racing to earn your awards and finish your book, you are not actually hiding the word in your heart. Jewel can tell me the verse from lesson nine, but has no idea what those from lessons ten, eleven and twelve were.

This is not discipleship for our children, this is some kid of worldly achievement competition!

Sadly, it seems to be the whole AWANA program at this church, as the club leadership was involved in saluting the kids who had already finished books, and holding them up as examples.

I didn’t stop to think that I needed to “church shop” for an AWANA program. Silly me, I assumed that with such a structured curriculum, the experience would be pretty similar from place to place.

And what now? If the AWANA program was a big part of the reason we are at this church, and now I need to be taking Jewel to a program somewhere else…

  9 Responses to “Missing the Whole Point of AWANA?”

  1. I hate when the church is pushing the kids to just repeat the verses. I think sometimes they do it because parents aren’t helping the kids at all, but why push Jewel? Our church tries to get the Truth & Training kids to do 2-3 sections per week, and we started almost 2 months after everyone else. Clara said she’s passed a couple kids already, but the girls have been working in their book several times per week, and we practice (and review) verses pretty much daily. Jim was worried about the girls being pushed too hard by me, but Trinity recited the 8 reasons God gave us the Bible with the verses (and most of the addresses) correctly. I asked the leaders what was expected, and they attached a guide to be able to finish the book by the end of the year (May). She said some don’t even finish one section each week, and others finish up to 5 (they won’t allow more). I think it’s sad that some push for completion, winning and keeping up with others. I would talk to the leader and let them know your purpose in not pushing her too hard. I want my girls to know these verses by heart, hiding God’s word in their heart, thinking about His word when they wake up, go throughout the day and while they sleep. Good luck with whatever you guys decide to do, and keep up the great work teaching her to hid God’s word in her heart forever.

    • Well I certainly *don’t* (and won’t) do that with Jewel…

      But when they do that during class time without my knowledge or approval… Grrrr!

      We will certainly be talking to her teacher, and the AWANA club leader – but it’s also not going to be fun for her if the whole culture is based on these achievements, and she’s the only one not getting them. *sigh*

  2. How very sad :( The saddest part is that this leads to what we’ve talked about a little…years from now, these same “program leaders” and parents who are pushing their children for “acheivements” instead of fostering a relationship with God…will be wondering why their children have “strayed”. As parents and teachers, our job should be to hide the Word in their hearts, so that our children KNOW and BELIEVE it…not to check off acheivements and collect rewards and praise for how fast they made it through the Bible. I personally “lost” so much time and put myself through so many trials that could have been avoided if I had grown up with more of a relationship with God instead of a checklist of how many times I’d read through the Bible and all the “doctrinal beliefs” that made me a “better” Christian than others (like the “real Sabbath” debate)…I had to find God all over again as an adult. I will continue lifting your family up in prayer!

  3. I found your blog through the Feelin’ Feminine site.
    I grew up in the AWANA program, so the title of your post caught my eye. I also have a 5-year-old daughter, who is in her first year of Sparks.
    You are absolutely right! The entire point of the AWANA program should be, not the awards and the recognition, but knowing, and hiding God’s Word in their hearts.
    Of course, that being said, the Sparks program is structured differently than the Cubbies program, and so some of the expectations are different. In Cubbies, the curriculum is set up so that the children learn one verse each week. But, when they get to Sparks, they are expected to do at least 2 sections per week in order to finish their books by the end of the year. Whether or not they do finish should not be the ultimate goal…
    Personally, I would rather have my daughter KNOW the verses, even if that means she doesn’t finish a book, rather than having a vest full of jewels that are ultimately meaningless because she didn’t truly learn (and understand) the verses.
    I have noticed that different churches run their clubs differently. The training that used to be standard for all AWANA leaders and directors seems to have lapsed. Sadly this has created a lack of consistency from one church to the next. Some run exemplary clubs, and are truly focused on the heart – seeing children develop a love for God’s Word – not just head knowledge. While others, seem to be more caught up in the rewards, which only ends up creating self-righteous hypocrites. (Sadly, I know far too many kids who grew up supposedly memorizing the verses, and earning ALL of the awards AWANA had to offer, but very little of it remained in adulthood.)
    I hope you are able to work something out with the leadership of your club. When used correctly AWANA can be a very valuable tool…but in the grand scheme of things, it is just that – a tool. And, as such, it can be misused.

  4. I stumbled upon your blog through the Booksneeze review program – and this post caught my eye. Last year we had the opportunity to take our sons (10 and 8) to a church that had Awanas, it was my first real exposure to it.

    My younger son (the 8 year old), loved it. They pushed him to memorize 5-7 verses per week and he “earned” lots of “cash” and came home with tons of stickers and broken airplanes and, well, crap. But couldn’t repeat a single verse for me, except for whichever one we had worked on the week before.

    My older son (the 10 year old) refused to go back. He said he hated it, because no one really talked to him except to quiz him, and he didn’t feel like he was learning anything. This is a kid who LOVES church, he wakes up early on Sundays to get dressed so he doesn’t miss service.

    We had to invest $60 in the program (which is a lot for a family where I just lost my job and we are struggling) and I was so sad. The books seem good, but the program seemed more about “getting” the jewels and money than learning about God and His Word. I would love to hear an Awana success story, because for our family it was a failure (and an expensive one at that).

    (To be fair – the church itself was a failure, with no outreach and a very cliquish group of people. We don’t go near there any more. We only went that year, because they were teaching the Dave Ramsey class.)

  5. The AWANA books will make the child go back and review these verses. That helps a little, but I understand your point. It’s a journey, not a race.

    • I’m thankful the AWANA program we attended encouraged learning verses at the child’s pace. It was my daughter’s first year in Sparks and she was in second grade. She wanted to do the third year book, so she worked very hard and faithfully to learn the verses and finish all three books. She can quote all the verses to me with reference. Yes, I helped her achieve her desire by planning how many verses she needed to learn in order to finish her books, but she had to be willing to
      memorize and recite them to the leaders. We made learning the verses part of our homeschool Bible time. I am so thankful for a program that encouraged her to learn 92 verses plus all the books of the Bible. Even though she earned red and green jewel pins, she did not get blue pins for every wing (attendance) since this was her first year. As a result she sees the empty holes with no blue pins unlike her friends who have participated in previous years. Also she does not have the review emblem patches or extra credit pins. This helps her realize, it’s not about the awards, but about truly learning God’s word. The rewards she earned came from being faithful.

  6. [...] I was able to get to the gold crown alot faster then most by taking advantage of the system. Like this angry Awana mother notes, I probably missed the entire point of the [...]

  7. I agree with you. I don’t really understand how training a child in the way he should go became a show-off competition of badges. Children will end up taking God’s Word for a joke and only be interested if cool graphics or trivial prizes are thrown in their faces. I think people shouldn’t be surprised when their children stop attending church when they grow up. God’s Word is treated as a joke from an early age.

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