Fun, high-tech tools bring youth to AWANALeaders at Hudson’s Faith Community Church are serious about having their message reach young people all across the community, so they insert some fun and high technology to do so.
By: Bob Burrows, Hudson Star-Observer
Leaders at Hudson’s Faith Community Church are serious about having their message reach young people all across the community, so they insert some fun and high technology to do so.
In their AWANA program, which is used for Christian formation by churches like Faith Community internationally, more than 100 volunteers guide the more than 250 children who are served — a number that is up from 200 just a few years ago. This positive ratio means the program is relatively easy to run, a benefit aided by the fact that some serve as secretaries and keep track of what students have accomplished, and others handle the ordering, running games or otherwise serving as leaders or directors.
The program is open to the community, and church leaders welcome everyone to stop in and check out this fun form of evangelization, which is one reason the church has experienced significant growth from Hudson and even the surrounding area.
“This isn’t just for (traditionally) church people,” said Lisa Burton, one of the organizers. She added that bringing guests is encouraged – with the hope that they not only will enjoy the program and learn through it, but that they’ll register for full participation themselves. People need to feel that they belong, and this extends to church, also. AWANA participants often bring their friends, who may attend other schools during the day.
The church makes good use of technology, such as power point presentation and tilted-slightly-from-vertical screens on the wall that are several yards across, onto which messages are projected. During this time, dozens of children who eagerly wave their hands in response to questions sit in the pews of the main church.
In game time, the clubbers are put into four teams and go across a couple of hallways to a large multi-purpose room, where they take part in different contests every week. The games are played around a circle that’s much bigger than, say, that used for a square dance. This is where high-tech yields to the fun that can be had by children who simply play games by bouncing beach balls around, and other such activities.
An aim is that game time will be a fun incentive for coming to AWANA and allow the program to bring children in, as well as offering a reward for participating in handbook and council time. At “halftime,” there is a salvation message.
Once a month, children have special themes where they dress up. Some are Crazy Hair Night, Western Night, Polka Dot Night, Hat Night, Backwards Night and Pajama/Silent Night in the month of December. “The Silent Night is a really fun one as they come dressed in their pajamas, bring their flashlights and a teddy bear if they wish, and then the whole night revolves around that theme. Games will be played in the dark using flashlights, and other things like this,” Burton said.
There also is an AWANA Grand Prix, where students construct cars with the help of their parents and race them down a sloped wooden track. This is another activity that is hoped to attract people who are not regular churchgoers. The church now owns its track; at first it borrowed one from local Cub Scouts.
An activity that is much like this is the AWANA Games that are held for churches across the region and are held in Bloomington, Minn. The games go on in April, but preparation and practice starts in the end of February.
“This way, kids know that ours is not the only church doing AWANA,” Burton said, adding the games are like an Olympics for young people.
Local youth have been successful in recent years, getting medals that are “gold” for firsts, as well as other colors.
Participants in the ongoing AWANA activities on Wednesdays are awarded “jewels” to acknowledge their progress throughout the process of reading books and memorizing passages.
With third through sixth graders, a question is asked: “Who is God?” Seven answers are explored as “discoveries” in the activities.
The three aspects of an AWANA night are handbook time, council time and the aforementioned game time.
In handbook time, the clubbers recite Bible verses they have memorized throughout the week to their leader. Much of that preparatory work is done at home, and with some of the older children, the memorization level can be quite intensive.
A goal may be set to finish a given number of books, but each child decides – with the input of adults – to what degree they’ll work toward completing that goal, to give them a comfort level.
For example, third through sixth graders are usually asked to complete four books in that period of time. Many of the book sections deal with the question of “who is God,” and other themes that correlate with that question.
During council time, children learn more about God’s love and are instructed in biblical truth, usually from one of the pastors, an ANAW leader, or a missionary serving in a different country. Occasionally, guest speakers like a police officer or firefighter are brought in to share experiences about being a Christian in their job.
AWANA is an acronym for Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed and it comes from II Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
The goal of AWANA is to reach boys and girls with the gospel of Jesus Christ and disciple them in spiritual growth and service. The activities are bolstered by this phrase from the Bible: “My word will not return void.”
Life applications are important, and also how the things coming from the heart are life-giving. These ideas are bolstered by not only games, but speakers that can be both informative and entertaining for the youth, nature walks that show what God has made, and even diaramas of Bible stories, that are incorporated into the program.
When some missionaries visited from India a couple of years ago, their cause of building churches was aired, and through the help of the local students, the majority of the project was accomplished in a few short months.
Through a fund drive where sponsorships were represented by individual bricks, and those from different classes or groups of students each took up a wall, a total of $4,000 was quickly raised. Through matching funding, that amount was raised to almost $10,000, and growing.
“This shows what faith can do,” Burton said, adding that this has proven to essentially be a one-of-a-kind project.
Photos of the children hang on the walls of the four Indian churches that were built through the local program. Plenty of leprosy treatment kits, which cost $30 each, also have been donated.
The help goes both ways. The churches in India have women who serve as “prayer warriors” and regularly offer intentions for Hudson children.
AWANA is for ages four, in prekindergarten, through the sixth grade. Cubbies, a group that has really taken off, is the offering for ages four and five, Sparks is for grades K-2, and Truth and Training is a separate section for both boys and girls in grades 3-6. This program’s rapid growth has been a pleasant surprise. Each club of each gender is served by a director.
AWANA is held every Wednesday from 6:45 to 8 p.m. except during holidays. The starting and stopping Wednesdays roughly follow the regular school year.
Other churches also conduct religious formation sessions, of course, and most of what is done streams from their theological beliefs. Evangelical and Pentecostal churches may start right off the bat with several songs in a row, use a lot of testimonials and memorization, and may be able to afford more of the high-tech equipment because tithing is strongly encouraged. They are not afraid to show their faith actively.
Mainline churches, such as Protestants and Catholics, are seen as more into ritual and when it comes to Scripture, stick more closely to the liturgical year for topics. They may be big on context and background when dealing with Scriptural truth, and the emphasis may be more on forming the youngster’s opinions, rather than just strongly advocating a denominational viewpoint.
Some resources into the varied approaches are the Applied Center for Research, the work of theologian Martin Marty, and of sociologist and theologian Andrew Greeley.