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:
|Search Sites / Explore This|
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)