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Insight from a Children's Pastor & Awana Commander

The “Evolution” of the Awana Handbook

 

Pictured above are Awana handbooks from 1961 to the present. These handbooks encompass my entire lifetime. Let me show some of the timeline to give you some perspective. Going from left to right (oldest to current):

  • Copyright 1953, Second Printing 1961 This was actually the second book for “Pals” (i.e. 9 year olds) – The book for 8 year olds was called “Hunter”.
  • Copyright 1991 – Now the first of only 2 books for Pals
  • Copyright 2002 – Ultimate Adventure Book 1 (used for 3rd – 6th grade as a single entry point)
  • Copyright 2010 – Revised Ultimate Adventure Book 1 (now the first book of two for 3rd & 4th grade only as the former UA books 3 & 4 were redesigned and renamed Ultimate Challenge books 1 & 2 for 5th & 6th grade)
  • Copyright 2016 – Mission: Grace in Action

As you look at the first book, copyrighted 1953, an important fact to keep in mind is that the Awana Youth Association (AYA) was officially organized in 1950. This would have been one of the first books used by what we now know as Awana. Now compare that to the second book shown, copyright 1991. Do you see much difference? Though some of the content changed, basic graphics added and some reformatting, the book was basically the same as it was 40 years prior. Seminary students were being discouraged from using Awana in their upcoming ministries because it had not been changed in about 50 years, and for the most part they were correct, the material was beginning to no longer connect with the students who would be using them.

Truth & Training came in with a lot of controversy. Why the change? It was harder, it was dumbed-down, why can’t they offer both? All of the things that we are hearing today were said almost two decades ago complaining about the material many now defend and wish to maintain.

I did a comparison of the Revised Ultimate Adventure 1 book to the new Grace in Action book (you can read that here) and the results surprised me and many others. In a recent conversation in comments on another post, it was suggested to do a comparison to the former Pals/Chums Brave/Maiden handbooks. So I did and here are the results of the last four books in the image above:

 
Brave/Maiden
(1991)
UA1
Original
(2002)
UA1
Revised
(2010)
Grace in Action
(2016)
Sections Required
52
56
56
30
Search Sites / Explore This
8
7
7
26
Verses Memorized
45
68
37
36
References
36
63
34
26

Note that entrance booklets, review verses, nor extra credit verses are included in these counts. – Verses removed from the original UA1 book were moved to the Silver extra credit sections in the revised book.

 

Are you surprised? I have to admit that the results surprised me in many ways. These results actually take away one of the “negatives” that I shared privately about the T&T Ultimate Adventure format!

Some will use this as a defense of their perspective. I am not looking into started debates about verse counts, sections, etc., I am simply presenting stats. The question becomes, how far back do we look at handbooks to compare them? Shall I compare the 1st handbook shown in the picture as well?

I do want to note a few points:

  • When the original T&T book was introduced, people complained that Awana had both dumbed-down the material and also that it was harder to complete. With over 30% more Scripture memory, which was it?
  • The complaint about the Grace in Action Book is that it is not as much Scripture memory when actual verse counts are almost identical, yet that it is harder because there is more “homework” (search sites / explore this sections), yet if you count the “explore it” areas as separate sections (like the search sites were separate sections), then the section counts are almost identical to the Brave/Maiden and Ultimate Adventure books which also had several sections of “homework”.
  • In Awana handbooks for this age, there was never a time that scripture memorization was required to complete every section in the handbook. The new T&T format is the first time that scripture is required to complete every section.
  • In all circumstances, with every revision, Awana receives feedback that they have “watered-down” the material by some and others say that they made it more difficult.
  • While Awana is known for its emphasis on Scripture memory, there is more to Awana than that. If all one looks at are verse counts (and competition to complete sections), then you are missing a greater picture. Yes, the verse counts can be used as a gauge, but that is not the only gauge to be used to properly evaluate a ministry.

How well a new curriculum is received has many deciding factors. The main factor is the willingness to accept the change and work to tweak it for your club within the base guidelines of Awana. The second main factor is how well the change and how to implement it are communicated.

There is much more commentary that I could offer on the “evolution” of the Awana handbooks, and some may come up in discussion in the comments below, but when one looks with an open mind at stats and considers the heart of those developing the material, in my view, I see that Awana is staying the course in trying to reach boys and girls with the Gospel of Christ, providing materials for local leaders to disciple them effectively, and training them to serve Him – keeping the message the same – using various approaches.

I end with these questions….
While one cannot judge a book by its cover, first impressions are key. Looking at the handbook covers above, which one do you think is more engaging for a child in today’s culture? Which one do you think they are more likely to pick up and explore if they found it lying alone on a bench?

If Awana should not make changes, or when they do, they should continue to allow use of the previous material  (as has always been suggested with each revision), then do you believe that Awana should still be offering the 1st Pal handbook shown on the left? When should they discontinue previous material?

At what point should Awana revise materials?

I am interested in your thoughts. Please share your thoughts by commenting below.

For the 2017 conference season, I am currently scheduled to be at conferences leading breakouts (workshops) in North Carolina, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. I will be bringing the handbooks shown above, as well, some others, if any one attending those conferences is interested in visually comparing the handbooks and how they have been revised over the years. Find a conference near you by by clicking here, and you can ask your local Awana Missionary if “Commander Bill” will be at your conference. I will be leading a workshop on T&T in at least one conference which I hope to broadcast via Facebook live and then on this website.

(I am not an Awana historian. If I have erred in any of the “history” shared, please let me know)

The Author

9 Comments

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  1. I had the opportunity to be a regional training director for the T&T material. It was easy to make the move from a club night organization standpoint. Purchasing all new materials etc. made club rather expensive for a couple of years. Nonetheless it was systematic and not to challenging to implement. The same is not true of the current update. As a field test church we were asked to rearrange our club, change what we did in each session and given materials with no clear award structure or program. “Give awards every third and fourth section” was what we were told at one point. Now, heading into our third year with it we have a sense of understanding and have developed a plan. I did not encounter the level of concern with T&T implementation that I am seeing with Commanders with this revision. Six churches have contacted us saying “Help!” because they know we have been working with it. They are looking to us for help because to them it’s confusing. My leadership team has over 80 years of combined public school teaching experience and we have yet to see a curriculum that is this challenging for people to work with. Perhaps consulting professional educators would have helped. Should we have to work this hard to implement things, no. Can it work, yes. The great people who serve in leadership of local clubs do not often have the time or expertise to look at all of the new material and decide how to integrate it. I wish we could help more people than we are able to.

  2. ***Warning, long post following ***

    Hey Commander Bill!
    Thanks for your posts. I always look forward to reading them. After reading this post, I felt compelled to share my insights from our previous year in T&T. But first, a little background…

    I have been an AWANA leader for 20 years and have been our club’s T&T Director for the past 6 years. I usually take the summer “off” between club years before starting up recruitment for the next AWANA year, but last year I spent the summer researching the new Mission: Grace In Action (MGIA), listening to all the webinars provided by AWANA, and determining how we would introduce MGIA. I did the analysis of how it would happen if we eased into the new material or used the “Big Bang” approach. Easing into the material would take four years to accomplish while changing everything over would be a one-time shock to the system but would be manageable after that (hopefully).

    This past year we typically had around 44 T&T’ers show up each AWANA night with a total population of about 66 T&T clubbers, 52 were regular attenders (attending at least 25% of our club nights). We had been tracking these numbers each year I have been Director. In addition, each of these groups had their own “small group,” 3rd grade boys, 3rd grade girls, 4th grade boys, 4th grade girls (we have 2 small groups due to the number of 4th grade girls), 5th grade boys, 5th grade girls, 6th grade boys, and 6th grade girls. Each of these 9 small groups had at least 2 leaders.

    We ended up going with the “Big Bang” approach, which included every clubber, regardless of the grade they were in or the book they finished (or didn’t finish) the previous year. Everyone, 3rd – 6th started with the new entrance booklet and MGIA. This next year, Lord willing, everyone, 3rd-6th will be in Mission: Evidence Of Grace (MEOG). And, just like last year, we will leverage the “move together” approach that AWANA recommends using this curriculum. However, As we move into the 3rd year of the new material, both 3rd & 4th grade groups will use the MGIA handbook and both the 5th & 6th grade groups will use the new, yet to be developed, AWANA material. Finally, in the 4th year of the new material, the 3rd & 4th grade groups will use the MEOG handbook and the 5th & 6th grade groups will both use the final new, yet to be developed, handbook AWANA will deliver. The material, as I understand it, is set up to be 2 alternating handbooks for 3rd & 4th grades and 2 alternating handbook for 5th & 6th grade.

    I mention all of this as it gives us a unique perspective on the content of the MGIA handbooks.

    First, our average book completion rate had been around 66% year-to-year. That means, no matter how many regular attenders we experienced, about 2 of 3 clubber completed their handbooks. This past year we experienced a whopping 86% handbook completion.

    Second, taking into account your analysis of the verses, even though MGIA had only 32 section (compared to 56 in UA and UC handbooks) our clubbers still recited 2,582 verses (total for all clubbers for the entire year) compared to 2,550 verses recited in a comparable year using the Ultimate Adventure and Ultimate Challenge material. And, like you mentioned above, every section required a memory verse to be recited to pass and most required the review verse (the previous week’s verse).

    Third, the total number of sections completed this past year were 2,863 with MGIA and 2,809 in the comparable year using the UA and UC material. The reason for this is that AWANA has leveraged the silver and gold sections to be extra credit with the silver section being more activity-based sections (like drawing out the 7 days of creation) and the gold section being strictly additional memory verses. Our club experienced clubbers completing 83 silver awards equating to about 500 silver sections! We also saw 4 clubbers complete all their gold sections for all 4 units which equates to an addition 119 verses to be memorized per clubber (one 3rd grader, two 4th graders, and one 5th grader)!

    So, comparing MGIA to the UA and UC material…
    – Clubbers still got the work done… and much of that because they want to.
    – Clubbers who had struggled completing the UA and UC handbooks have completed the MGIA handbook.
    – The pace (1 section per night) worked well with all of our leaders and reduced the amount of chaos handbook time can experience.
    – The small group format worked well with our leaders. They reported having more time to spend going over the content of that week’s material and most of them spent some time in prayer with their small groups.

    ** Bonus Section **
    Even though the blog is comparing AWANA material, I thought I’d share a few other things about our experience this past year.

    1. We attempted to leverage the large group material that coincides with the handbook. We found that the large group lessons were too redundant because the leaders were going over that material in small group time. I think we will abandon using the large group material and go back to setting up random lessons with leaders and special speakers during large group time.

    2. We found, at the beginning, that our small group time was not enough. So, we reduced large group time by 10 minutes (T&T did games, then small group, then larger group) leaving enough time for songs, a brief review and then awards. This, however, was especially hard on our secretaries as we attempted to hand out awards for the clubbers who earned them that night. We eventually moved to the ‘Fast Tract” time AWANA suggested in one of their webinars. What this means is that a few of our leaders came to club a little early and clubbers who were ready to say their verses could do that work prior to small group, reducing that amount of time the leaders had to take to listen to verses.

    3. A long time ago I was told that “Once I thought I had communicated enough I need to double my efforts.” Communication was a big deal last year. The handbooks were changing, many parents were concerned, the leaders had to change the way they ran their small group (handbook) time, the large group lessons needed to be coordinated, and we had to figure out how to cram 32 lessons (doing 1 lesson per night) into 27 regular club nights. I spent most of my time as the Director communicating with parents, church staff, leaders, and clubbers ensuring they knew what was going on and how the year would progress. By the time the end of the year rolled around, everything was fine (except that AWANA year-end book awards were delayed – ugh). This was the pain that was expected going “Big Bang,” but we developed a new normal this year and the next three years should be much easier. Oh, and by the way, the kids didn’t seem to mind about the change.

    One last thought… the AWANA Pledge says “whose goal is to reach boys and girls with the gospel of Christ and to train them to serve Him.” I think AWANA is getting better, with this new material, in providing churches with the opportunity for Godly leaders to disciple young Christ-followers!

    Elliot Richards
    Georgetown Bible Church
    AWANA T&T Director

    1. That was a long comment, but very well written sharing your experience from the planning and how you adapted as the year went along to meet your specific club. Thank you for sharing.

      As you noted, there is a lot that can be done with the handbook aside from the “required” material, bonus section, extra credit, etc. I just compared the required aspects because that is the baseline, and where most comments are based.

      I appreciate you sharing about your experience. I hope it encourages others that the transition can be made well.

  3. Well, after being a leader/director/commander since 1995, I definitely have some thoughts.
    First, there is a lot of claim that the focus on Scripture Memory has not shifted. However. what I have been told is that reciting verses is now a bonus, something that clubbers do on their own time, not as a part of the 3 main sections of Awana. Fast Track is intended to happen outside of club time. And is only for those who want to pursue extra efforts. How is that not shifting the focus from Scripture Memory to Bible Study? I can tell you that it failed miserably in our club. We had 0-3 kids coming to Fast Track – out of about 20 clubbers. So only that many were reciting any verses. Our kids are primarily unchurched and have no parental support at home for learning verses so we had to expect little 3rd graders to be so self-motivated they’d come to an additional time on their own initiative to say verses. Of course, it’d take about 15 minutes just to teach them the verses as none were practicing at home… at least during a traditional handbook time the focus was to teach those verses. We knew they wouldn’t come ready and were prepared to teach them. Fast Track was for those already ready… which again, was 0-3 kids per week.
    My next thought is on the “keep offering the old”. Awana WAS offering 2 curriculums – T&T and Roots. Roots was more like what the new Mission Grace in Action is – a whole group study together. I thought it was nice that Awana offered 2 different kinds of focuses.
    Next – the claim is that the point is to deal with the fact that kids weren’t learning “the meaning” of the verses. I challenge that greatly – they memorized the meaning along with the verse! I think what people wanted was the application spelled out for the kids – not the interpretation. I see that as the Holy Spirit’s job and not mine. Obviously I need to do it to some degree, but I don’t want all of the Handbook/Small Group Time to be MY words. I want them memorizing God’s Words instead. Years from now I don’t want the clubbers to remember what I said about a verse. I want them to remember the verse.
    My next thought is on the difficulty level. Again, unchurched kids, almost entirely broken homes, low academic level. It was painful to try to get my 3rd & 4th graders to be able to look up a verse (takes about 5 minutes to accomplish unless I just do it for them), read a verse, figure out the answer to the question (they just want to be told word for word what to write. They’re not academically advanced enough to do this kind of reading comprehension activity), and write it down. We could have used all night just to accomplish this part, let alone the intro activity, the prayer time and the “teaching” of the verse. Maybe it works good in clubs where the kids are on a higher academic level, but for us, it was way too much. I also wonder why the need for verses that are harder to understand. What was wrong with Genesis 1:1? Why the need to move to Revelations 4:11? Why put in verses like Hebrews 1:3 if the goal is to make it easier for the kids to understand? As a teacher, I think the academic level has been raised at least one grade. That has nothing to do with whether the content is good or bad or new or old. It’s simply a higher academic level.
    Now, do I think that teaching kids to study the Bible is good? Yes! Absolutely!
    Do I think that change is bad simply because it’s change? No! Some changes can be excellent, and the new curriculum can bring some of that.
    To some degree, I almost think it hasn’t changed enough. (Sounds crazy huh!) I’d like to see 2 small group sections and 0 large group sections. Or maybe 1 Large Group Section a month. I would like to see one for handbook time and one for Bible Study time. That’s what I’m proposing my club try this next year. I would like to see the Bible Study and verses be more on a 3rd grade level for the 3rd grade book though. Or maybe have Awana yet again offer multiple options. I like challenges and want to see kids memorize as much Scripture as possible. I’d be supportive of lots of verses – just easier ones for the younger kids.
    So those are my thoughts. I’ve greatly valued all my years in Awana and am proud of what Awana has stood for in the past. It has been a HUGE influence on my life! I’ve dedicated all of my adult life to memorizing Scripture and teaching children to do the same – in Awana, at camp and in my classroom and even when I babysit kids! Awana has taught me to value God’s Word above all else. I’ve not made any decision to cease doing Awana, but I do believe there has been a shift in focus – largely due to the Fast Track element – that now children do not recite verses during the official Awana program time – at least not under the proposed schedule.

    1. What you are doing is what Awana expects you to do. They need to present a “preferred” structure, knowing that with the uniqueness of each club that one model will not work the same for everyone. For some clubs, as you mention, the “preferred” method works well, for others, it will be tweaked, or modified, as you are suggesting doing. Your proposed “dual” small group model, one helping learn the verse, one for completing the questions, may work well for your club and may be an example to others. That is why, from my perspective, it is difficult to properly address how to implement the transition for each individual club because each one will be slightly different with various nuances.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Thank you for your research. We embraced the new Grace In Action because it engages our clubbers in small group and allowed them to learn and grow together ans build stronger bonds with their small group leaders. Only three of fifteen completed their books which some would consider a failure. Fact is the clubbers were much more engaged and focused and we had two saved! We are looking forward to the new book for next year.

  5. I loved the format of this year’s book! But I’m super excited for next year’s as I know Awana has taken feedback and tweaked things (with some more relevant verses and bringing back the “bring a friend” section and also including the books of the Bible!!) and I’m hoping the new book will be just as fantastic!
    Thank you so much for doing these comparisons by the numbers! Super helpful. Also made me kind of nostalgic for the old books as I was in Chums and Guards, myself.

  6. I Loved the new curriculum this year!! The Start Zone was very well written, keeping it short for the kids to continue into their handbook. The resource bundles were very helpful, a great place to start!! Also, found it helpful for another leader to teach the lesson in an emergency if the speaker for the night had to be absent. We usually have 83 T&T clubbers a week, with additional “visitors” a week. Fortunately, we have the space to allow each handbook to be separated. Large group time was spent going over “Search Sites” contained in each handbook, to make it a more interesting study, also, found leaders not having to be in four different handbooks, because the children were all over the place!
    This year, I, as Director for 20 years, kept our new “Grace” handbook at a very low capacity of 22, as opposed to approx. 43 beginners, so our new curriculum could be studied and understood by our leaders. Next year this “small group” will head into the new curriculum “Evidence of Grace” with handbook two leaders to do the same. I have to say, five clubbers dropped out, but, the remainder completed their handbook with two children doing all the “silver” activities as well. We even competed in “Bible Quiz” with eleven of them, six had perfect paddle scores!
    I believe the “Gospel Wheel” verses for memorization should be introduced again, when they “tweak” the “Grace in Action” handbook, to help our first time clubbers. “The Gospel Wheel” plan of Salvation verse memorization, is a bit more simplistic.
    I am really excited to be introduced to the new curriculum ahead, as well as “Grace in Action” to be “tweaked”. I believe the clubs who found their children needed “more” memorization, really need to teach the children to slow down and learn how to have a “real Bible Study”. Everyone needs to study together a lesson at the time, helps make questions and answers as a group, better understood how everyone feels about the main concept. The other children needing more, should keep up weekly, completing the “silver” and “gold” activities. These are the children who need to “fast track” before or after club. Then all the “shy” or “slower to process” children receive the most understanding in the “small group” time.
    God Bless the Awana Ministry and it’s team of writers, All of the clubs and their Ministry Team!! Changing one heart at the time, with the Gospel of Christ.

  7. I feel compelled to comment on this. First, thank you Commander Bill for the comparison and thank you to those that have commented!

    We have 92 registered T&Ters, 75 active, and an average attendance of 50-60 each week throughout this past year. I have been the Awana director for our church for 14 years and added the T&T program to our club in 2004 during my second year.

    Our club did what Elliot’s club did (big bang – everyone switched over; see the post above) with the exception that the kids who have been successfully completing UA and UC were allowed to continue in that series if they wanted to. All other clubbers were placed in GIA and we moved through the sections together. I had several clubbers that have not passed a book in two years who passed their first book this year and are now motivated to go back and finish their UA book. I had several leaders share how much they appreciated the new materials because it allowed them to go deeply into the meaning of the scripture with the kids. I had parents who loved the change because all of their T&Ters were on the same section each week and we provided a calendar to keep everyone on track. Both of our pastors are involved with our program and appreciated the change – they felt it was an opportunity to help kids apply scripture and biblical principles in a much more meaningful way.

    Perhaps the most powerful for me personally was my 11 year old son. We struggled mightily to get him through UA 1 and we didn’t make it through UA 2 last year. The material in GIA clicked with him. He was willing to sit down and work through the sections and it wasn’t all about memorizing the verses. At times in the past, I’ve felt that kids were so focused on memorizing that they were totally missing the point. Now, it seems as though the kids have a pretty good understanding of what the scripture means when they sit down with leaders and leaders have the luxury of having discussions about the scripture and how to apply it.

    Our club struggled a bit with the management of the awards. We awarded a chevron after any 4 sections were passed as suggested but it required us to totally change how we kept track of awarding chevrons/badges. We will look to fix this for next year – I’m still working on a more efficient way to do this.

    God’s word is timeless and unchanging. However, the delivery methods of God’s truths has morphed over the years in order to engage the most people possible. It only stands to reason that Awana needs to update materials to engage and motivate kids. I am hopeful, however, that this is the last change for a while to T&T! Since starting the T&T club at our church, we’ve had 3 awards systems (badges w/stickers, dog bowls and bones, and chevrons/patches as well as 2 updates to end of the year awards), 3 uniforms, and 3 sets of curriculum. Changes like this are expensive, so perhaps we’ll stick with this for a while:)

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