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Insight from a Children's Pastor & Awana Commander

My Thoughts on the Update to T&T

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It’s coming and it is just around the corner. Already I am hearing the buzz of people talking about the changes being made to the T&T program over the next four years, beginning this Awana year.

When I began in Awana as a leader around 1993, there was no Truth & Training program. It did not exist. I began in Awana serving as a Pal leader. For those who joined Awana during this century, let me explain that the clubs now referenced as Ultimate Adventure were called Pals and Chums. Ultimate Challenge is now the group that used to be Pioneers and Guards. At that time the outcry from clubs was that Awana was “dumbing down” the material, that they made the material harder, that they were caving in to the culture, that they were just out to make money, and more. Some churches dropped Awana, some delayed the change, and many churches began using Awana for the first time. As new churches began Awana, they found success with the Truth & Training program, as many who are reading this have found.

Personally, when the change was made from Pals, Chums, Pioneers, and Guards to the original Truth & Training I had mixed thoughts. I liked the changes to the material, the appearance and how it better related to children. I also liked the content, being more apologetic and theological, explaining what we believed and why. I also felt that the new T&T was harder than the formal material. Even when Awana admitted errors in concept and modified the books to the current books we use today, I felt the books were harder than previously (and still feel as if the current T&T books are difficult for many for various reasons), but I kept that to myself unless someone specifically asked me. I continued to encourage the clubbers as before, to learn about God. I accepted the material and subsequent revisions to the materials, awards, etc.

And here we are today, yet another change to the T&T material and people are asking why.

There are some churches who have clubbers that excel with the current material, while others struggle. Some clubs focus heavily on completing handbooks, others do not. I am already hearing leaders discredit the material having only heard about it or seen samples. Some field test churches had great success, others did not which left a “bad taste in their mouth” and they are sharing that with others. While some see issues if field test churches had “problems”, I see it as good because Awana was able to make tweaks from comments received from the many field test churches.

Here are my thoughts about the update and the reaction to it. I welcome the updates for many reasons. I have always shared at conferences and elsewhere that handbook time was the time where you should get to know your clubbers, where you build relationships, but leaders complained that there was not enough time. That time is now focused on building relationships. The large group lesson seldom focused on the verses the clubbers were learning because they were never studying the same section, or even book. The new T&T has a common theme and lesson where it all connects. The content of the handbooks and progression through the book is much more conducive and encouraging for children to learn about God. There are some items that I question and I shared one while I was at Awana recently. I am not going to share specifically about the new material since I have not seen it yet. I will share my initial thoughts on the material when I have it in my possession. I look forward to and welcome these updates.

What concerns me is that people are already beginning to make the statements heard when T&T was first introduced. Awana is dumbing down the material, is giving in to culture, is out to make more money, isn’t focused on Scripture anymore, this won’t work in my club, etc. Similar to the complaints made when the current material was introduced (side note: if Awana had listened to the naysayers then and did not make the change to T&T originally, then people would not be able to “defend” it so much today. Be thankful for that revision from Pals, Chums, Guards, and Pioneers to T&T which helped you reach the children you have using the current T&T material, which is in its current form because of feedback from clubs). In my experience, I find that the people who complain the loudest are those who are most adverse to change. It is difficult to stop something that you are very familiar with for something brand new. Some clubs still have not transitioned from earlier T&T awards, etc., some still call their clubs Pals, Chums, Guards, and Pioneers. Some will delay this change as long as possible to keep the familiar material (I’m not talking about clubs who are using the current materials until they run out to be good stewards of what God has provided them). Let me give you a personal illustration, an object lesson if you will.

20160607_165937This past Christmas, I bought myself an electronic football game (pictured at right). One I am very familiar with and a game that I enjoy playing. I have never played one of the Madden Football games, or similar. I really have no interest even though the graphics and action are much better, I choose to hold on to that which I am familiar. I can easily teach others how to play, but I can’t do that on Madden. I resist that change and I really don’t want to give the new game a chance, but do you think that children today will be engaged if all I have to offer is this electronic football game? Should I update to newer games that they relate to better? It is the same for some with these updates to T&T, they long to maintain that which they are comfortable. However, when it comes to the updates to Awana, I leave my “comfort zone” and embrace the changes, though I may not always agree with all of them. We need to be able to relate to children where they are at and with what they are experiencing.

As we prepare to get our hands on the material and for the new year, I would ask you to consider the following:

  • There is no one “silver bullet ministry method” to reach all children. All curriculum will be tweaked to meet individual needs. There is only one thing that will reach all children and that is the plain, simple, Gospel of Jesus Christ which Awana has not departed from and is still the foundation for all they do and produce.
  • Awana is a ministry that is reaching out to many children, from the child who has never attended church, nor heard of Jesus (you do still have children bring friends, right?), to the child who is home-schooled in a Christian home being raised “in the church”. Awana must develop a common material to be able to reach and challenge both ends of the spectrum and everything in between.
  • Right now we are “spying out the land” with what we hear and see of the material. I think of the spies Moses sent out to check out and evaluate Jericho. Ten came back with a bad report and spread word among others of fear and dismay, ultimately keeping them from the promised land. Only 2, Joshua and Caleb, came back with a good report, trusting God for what was ahead. What report are you giving, one of fear, or one of hope?

My prayer is that you approach this transition optimistically. Yes there may be things that you do not like, things that you may tweak, and things you may question. I encourage you to contact your local Awana missionary, and/or Awana Customer Service with your genuine concerns and questions after you have reviewed the material for yourself. There is flexibility in how you run your club night and tomorrow I will share some options for you to consider, depending on the makeup of your club, from someone who helped field test the material and has been hosting informational meetings in their area with their local Awana missionary.

For those who haven’t yet reviewed the information made available by Awana regarding the update, I encourage you to do so by visiting the T&T update page on the Awana website.

The Author

30 Comments

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  1. Thanks for this post! I am an AWANA commander, but I also have an 11 year old boy and 10 year old boy in T&T. One of them breezes through the current T&T, while the other is not internally motivated or externally motivated to really get into learning the verses. They are both incredibly smart, but they have two very different personalities and mindsets. I see that this curriculum is going to bring both of them into the discussion and include them both. I’m sure there will need to be tweaks along the way, but from personal experience within my own home…I see how this new style will have a great impact. I’m excited to see how it works out.

  2. Great post! I believe everyone is afraid of change, regardless of the change. There have been so many concerns addressed wonderfully by the new and improved T&T. I’m excited for its implementation!

  3. Couldn’t access any of the webnars

    1. They can be hard to view using the Google hangout link on the website. Go to their YouTube channel and you should be able to view them.

      https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=awana+t%26t+update

  4. I second your thoughts in your very balanced article. Change can be challenging for many, however, we do need to be prayerfully checking our attitudes at the door and allow God to lead us through the transition. For those clubs who do Trek, the new T&T program will work the same way – everyone on the same lesson at the same time. We have seen great benefits from that program.

    Some advantages in addition to the ones mentioned: (1)it removes the competitiveness that currently exists as certain clubbers “race” to beat their friends or other clubbers and may not be taking God’s word in their heart. (2)The teaching lesson supports what the clubbers have studied furing the week and all will benefit from group discussions.

    If there are mistakes or content issues in the new handbook, constructive feedback is well-received by Awana and could result in corrections.

    The scripture about not grumbling and complaining comes to mind from Philippians 2:14-16 (read context starting in vs.1)

    14Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, 16holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.

    Let us encourage one another to avoid negative comments for the sake of complaining before we even get our hands on the material.

    The webinars have been very helpful and if you haven’t yet watched them, I encourage you to do so.

  5. our club was a field test church. We started out trying to do exactly what AWANA requested. It was hard! We spoke to our awana missionary and made the program work for our church. I am glad that we were a field test to get the “trial and error” out of the way of the new program. I like the new format, however, I feel awana rushed it out and there are still some “bugs” and “just make it work for you” instead of defining guidelines. I’m looking forward to this year!

  6. Thanks Commander Bill for your encouraging ( and historical) perspective on change in our Awana culture. It. Has. Never. Been. Easy. :)!

    In light of that, I’d like to say a special thank you as well to all the Awana leaders and missionaries who are currently striving to understand and implement the new T&T updates. Let me encourage you to encourage each other, use all the web sources available to you and reach out to us if you need more specialized help. In the midst of transition, you are the best kidmin partners ever. As you work through the changes that may seem hard initially, let’s keep reaching more kids, more effectively, in every way we can. May this be a awesome year of abundance in ministry as God uses you and the new T&T!

  7. We started an Awana Club last February 2016. At the time, the older T&T curriculum was still being used. Our kids, for the most part, excelled at it. But now there are a few kids who are either new to our club or who finished their handbook, so they’re using the new handbook. Each section seems like it takes way too long to complete. Both the kids and the leaders are frustrated with it. Any thoughts on the handbook now that it is in use?

  8. I want to thank you for this post. I went through AWANA during the 90s, starting in Chums and going into the Varsity books. While in college, I was a leader, briefly, just as Truth and Training was introduced, and, to be honest, I didn’t like it- because I’m one of those resistant to change. I may have been technically an adult (I was 19), but I was still pretty childish in many ways.
    I now have 4 of my own kids, and have resisted sending them to AWANA at one of the local churches (mine does not have an AWANA program) because of my earlier disappointment with the changes. I had planned to go find old Pals/Chums and Pioneers/Guards books that were unused and use them with my kids, and while searching the internet, stumbled upon this post. I am grateful for you objectivity, because it has made me rethink my decision to avoid T&T. My children all attend a Christian school, and my church has begun a midweek program for grades 1-5, but that still leaves out my younger three for the moment and with some changes occurring at my church, I do not know if the new program will be continuing in the fall. After reading your post, I am once again considering AWANA fory kids.

    Thank you and may God bless your ministry.

    1. Kristin,

      I would encourage you to look at what Awana currently offers and then relook at the material you did as a child and see which you think will better connect with children today.

      Thank you for your transparency. Change is often difficult.

      Thank you for your thoughts and kind words.

  9. We have just completed our Awana club year using the Grace in Action curriculum for all 3rd – 5th grade. These children enjoyed the new books and so did our leaders. All full time members completed their handbook and received their book award! The rest of the club evening just seemed to adjust to working through the books with our club members. Love it. Hope to see another great book for
    2017-18 club year.

    1. Since I wrote my comment months ago about the difficulties we are experiencing with the new curriculum, we have found it even more difficult to use and more of our leaders are rethinking Awana. We’ve watched the webinars but they just didn’t help. Could you describe (as specifically as you can) how your club runs as it pertains to the handbook. Are clubbers free to work through sections at their own pace?

      1. Josh,

        Re-reading your previous comment, I wonder if you are trying to use both the “old” and “new” books with children in the same group. If you are, then that would cause frustration and confusion.

        Do you have clubbers in the same group working through the Mission: Grace in Action and the Ultimate Adventure or Ultimate Challenge books?

        1. Clubbers work through sections on their own, so we have both old and new handbooks. Some of the clubbers have an easier time than others memorizing Scripture and I’d hate to hold them back just to stay on the same lesson as everyone else.

          1. That is where you’re struggle/conflict lies.

            If you look at the Mission: Grace in Action book, it is like doing 2 or 3 sections in the Ultimate Adventure/Challenge Handbooks. An activity (the Start here portion), a “Search Site” – Ultimate Adventure/Challenge reference (the Explore section) then a verse memorization.

            So as you see kids going through the books, it looks like one is harder than the other because you are trying to use the same methodology using two different types of curriculum.

            Does that make sense? It seems as if you are trying to use the new materiel with the mindset of the old and not transitioning to the new curriculum method.

            Having the two in one setting is adding to the confusion and frustration.

            Or have I completely misunderstand how you are running things?

          2. We were a test church & really struggled the first half of the field test year. We talked to our awana missionary & he said to “make it work for your club.” We are a small club – averaged 26 kids in 3-6th grade this past year. We moved our ENTIRE club to the new program this year. We had a large group leader who opened up with an introduction to that night’s verse (with materials provided online from awana), then went to our small group lesson where the kids went thru the material for that night in their book & then said 1 verse. We didn’t have them do 2 or more verses – there just isn’t time to do it all – in our opinion! Then on to game time. When we simplified all of the stuff awana threw out to us in the new books, it worked for us. We kept the kids all together & tried to make them understand the content & not just memorize a verse. I think you need to do the entire club under the new material or it just creates confusion. Hope this helps.

          3. If everyone is on the same verse, where does competition come in? One of the draws and one of the main behavior management tools of Awana is the competitive nature of the program.

          4. That is where the philosophy changed. The contests were not a behavioral management tool, and the competitive nature occurs during gametime. It was often used during handbook time to try to get unmotivated children to complete multiple sections in a night to complete their handbooks, because in the Ultimate Adventure/Challenge books, you needed to pass 2-3 sections a night to complete the handbook. Those contests encouraged them to complete more sections, but not to understand them.

            We want the children to understand why they are memorizing these verses and we want to give them a chance to see how it is applicable to their lives. If you want the competitive nature, then have them compete by memorizing the many verses in the silver sections and complete the activities in the gold. Your over-achievers and competitive clubbers will jump on that opportunity, but you do not want the competition to overshadow the Gospel. If the competition becomes the focus, then we’ve lost the purpose of having an Awana club…. to reach kids with the Gospel of Christ and train them to serve Him…… and that is not a competition.

          5. We never used verses as a competition or behavior tool, so that wasn’t a factor in changing curriculum.

          6. We are going to try to make this work while maintaining the competitive awards system. For our small club (25 kids), we have about 10 T&T clubbers (grades 3rd-5th). We plan on using the Small Group lesson for our Large Group lesson and the Fast Track portion as handbook time. (Doubling up Group teaching time… having 2 lessons in one night… would overload our kids. We already have a robust Sunday School, and there is such a thing as too much instruction.)

            We will allow our kids to move at their own rate, letting those who are more motivated to keep memorizing as many sections as they can. Regardless of how far they get, they will still hear the same lesson as everyone else.

            What about kids who come in halfway through the year? How do you do Start Zone and where in the handbook do they start?

          7. They just start in on the section we are doing that night. We had kids go back and catch up the previous sections they missed. We did the start zone with those at the end of the club year that had missed the first weeks.

  10. The new Grace in Action books are awful! My boys used to love AWANA and Bible memorization, but the new curriculum killed their AWANA spirit. My 6th grader was so disappointed he couldn’t do his final Ultimate Challenge book and was forced to go back to a book 1 and say easy verses he had already memorized. One of my other sons (who was just getting into 3rd grade T&T) had seen his big brother’s older books and was also quite upset at the lack of Bible verse memorization. To make matters worse, the lack of verse memorization was replaced with mundane written sections that we did not find spiritually enriching in the least. It almost seemed as if the new Grace in Action book was geared toward outreach of non-churched/unsaved children. The sections took soooooo long to complete and were absolute drudgery. We thought we’d do the Silver Sections to try to make up for some of the lack of verse memorization, but those now include written work, too! Talk about taking the wind out of my kids sails! Honestly, I was initially excited about the new curriculum because my children of different ages could work together, but that was short-lived. We persevered and completed the year, but now my kids don’t want to go back to AWANA next year. They actually asked me to get the old T&T books and do Homeschool AWANA instead next year. I came across this page while trying find a list of verses covered in the old Chums/Pals/Guards/Pioneers books compared to verses learned in Ultimate Adventure/Challenge. I just had to tell you the Grace in Action destroyed T&T for our family, and sadly due to this change all our up and coming children will be stopping the AWANA program after completing Sparks.

    1. Elissa,

      I am sorry to hear about your experience. Having your 6th leave the Ultimate Challenge book and do the Mission: Grace in Action was a decision by the local club and not mandated by Awana.

      While the content and layout is different, the verse count is actually comparable to the Ultimate Adventure 1 Handbook. After hearing so many similar comments I did a side by side comparison of the two books which you can find here (http://www.commanderbill.net/grace-in-action-vs-ultimate-adventure-1/).

      I would be glad to do a comparison of the new material to the former Pals Brave handbook as well if you would like me. I think you will be surprised by the result.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and again, I am sorry that you had such a bad expwrience with it.

      1. Thank you for that comparison. It was very interesting. I shall have to pull out the Ultimate Adventure book 1 and do my own comparison to see why the new book feels so light on Scripture memorization. I know that previously, we did at least 2 sections a week which equated to 4-6 verses. The new book we did 1 section and 1 new verse each week. 1 verse per week doesn’t compare to 4-6 verses each week. The difference is probably that we completed the regular sections a little over half way though the year, and continued with the review and additional verses in the silver and gold sections thereafter. Unfortunately, due to the extensive written work they were unable to do the extra sections this year. Either way, my children found the new curriculum discouraging and lost their zeal for verse memorization. I will have to try to rekindle their love of scripture on my own next year.

      2. And, yes, I would be very interested to see how the Pals book compares to T&T. I grew up in Chums/Guards and I always felt like T&T was missing something… but it could just be that it was too many years ago for me to properly remember the content. 🙂

        1. I will try to work on that this week and post it here.

        2. I completed the comparison of the Pals Brave handbook and I also factored in the original T&T Ultimate Adventure book which was revised to what was used recently. I can honestly say that I wish I had done that comparison years ago when the original T&T UA1 book was introduced.

          I wrote up a post comparing the books from the Pals Brave book to the Current Grace in Action book to try to show a complete picture which will be published tomorrow (5/22/2017) at http://www.commanderbill.net/the-evolution-of-the-awana-handbook/. I did that because the T&T book was revised once from when it was originally introduced to what we see “today”. I hope that provides a proper comparison.

          1. Thank you for doing the comparison including the older handbook. It was helpful to see how scripture memorization and writing sections evolved over the years. While it would appear there are a fair amount of verses, the problem still remains that my children lost their zeal for AWANA with this new seatwork intensive curriculum despite my best efforts to keep them engaged. This resulted in less of God’s Word being hid in their hearts because they didn’t move on to complete silver and gold sections.

            Thank you so much for the side-by-side of the different handbooks. It helped me figure out what was going on and now hopefully I will be better equipped to help my children.

          2. I am glad that the comparison was helpful to you. I know that it opened my eyes in some things that I had perceived differently. Thank you for asking for the comparison, I would not have done it without your prompting.

            Again, I’m sorry that the way the new material was presented in your club was detrimental to your children and their zeal for Awana and I hope with what you’ve seen by the comparison, you can help get that zeal back for them.

            Thank you again for commenting and encouraging the comparison of the handbooks.

          3. It’s not the content but the layout and the pace that is frustrating. It takes forever to get a section done. It has become of a sit-down Sunday School-type tedious (?) curriculum. Since we already have an active Sunday School, we will make Awana work for one more year and move to a different curriculum that doesn’t have so much of a classroom feel.

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