Rachael Slick, Atheist Convert, Part 3 (A Few Notes about the Awana Culture)

As I read the guest post by Rachael Slick regarding her conversion to Atheism, she included a picture of herself receiving an Awana award, presumably for godliness.

As someone who worked in Awana for many years–and even served as a Commander–I am very familiar with their award system. In fact, I have earned most of the awards as an adult leader, as adults are allowed–even encouraged–to earn the awards. This helps keep the adults on top of their game, and also helps motivate the kids to do their best.

Awana awards are NOT for “godliness”; Awana awards are given for demonstrated proficiency at Biblical memorization and participation in various activities (i.e. the Awana Games, or what used to be the Awana Olympics). Depending on the chapter, adults also receive “service awards” for number of years active in Awana, as well as pins and patches for various certifications (Cubbies, Sparks, Truth and Training, JV, Varsity, Commander/Director, etc.)

Awana provides a lot of structure, and includes time for activities (Game Time), Biblical memorization recital (Handbook time), and teaching of Biblical lessons (Counsel Time). Awana covers a wide swath of age groups, from age 3 through high school. Adults are permitted–even encouraged–to earn the handbook and relevant memorization awards, beginning from grades 3 on up. There are also memorization regimens specifically for adults, such as the Sword Club. Typically, every year, Awana issues a challenge–to both kids and adults–to memorize a particular chapter of the Bible. Past examples include Isaiah 53 and 1 Corinthians 13.

The materials are impressive in their depth, and provide good resources for an effective teaching and learning experience. Done rightly, Awana is an excellent vehicle for providing deep–and enjoyable–Christian education for both children and adults alike.

I like Awana. If my church asked me to start up a chapter today, I’d start one yesterday.

Having said that, I must concede: the awards culture in Awana can become problematic.

I remember going to conferences where older kids–and even adults–were wearing so many awards down their shirts that it resembled a military “salad bar” uniform display. It really struck me as ostentatious. I had a fair share of awards myself, but restricted myself to wearing one bar on my shirt, as I found them to be annoying.

I also saw parents playing the game of “My child is better than everyone else”. The awards became a quick source of pride.

Once I realized that, I stopped wearing my pins altogether. When kids asked me why I didn’t wear them, I told them, “Awards are not a mandatory part of the uniform; I’d rather not wear them.”

I still earned my pins, though. I enjoyed doing the memory work, and I enjoyed pushing the kids to do their best.

Today, if I were a Commander, I would have a simple policy regarding the wearing of awards, and it would apply across the board for kids and adults: except for award ceremonies, Awards may not be worn on uniforms, and–even then–no more than one bar may be worn. I would simply wear a plain shirt.

I think it is great to recognize achievement; at the same time, we won’t wear our crowns in heaven either.

6 thoughts on “Rachael Slick, Atheist Convert, Part 3 (A Few Notes about the Awana Culture)

  1. “I also saw parents playing the game of “My child is better than everyone else”. The awards became a quick source of pride.”

    this is so extreme in every facet of parenting, including in every area of the church, that i do not think i can adequately state how extreme it is.


    i also think awanas is great for certain personality types and certain learning styles – meaning it’s not great for ALL kids. that should be fundamental knowledge, but it’s not. my kids loved cubbies but hated awanas (i can’t even remember what it was all called now). i did not push them. awanas, while a good program, is not the be all to end all.

    also, parents do not need a program to teach and train their children. there are some personality types and learning styles who need programs – no problem. but there are others of us who use programs as a very general guide, if at all – nothing wrong with that, either.

    Amir – cudos to you on dropping wearing the awards. yep, our crowns in heaven are so we can given them back to Holy God.

    • That’s the thing: in my experience with Awana, we had all kinds of kids. Some exceptional in intelligence, some above average, most were average, some had learning disabilities, some had behavioral–or otherwise personal–issues.

      I’ve seen Awana “work” for all of them. The problem, however, is when leaders attempt to use the Awana structure to exert a one-size-fits-all style approach on everyone.

      Obviously, some are going to eat it up more than others.

      There were always a set of kids I expected to finish their workbooks early. And I pushed them harder because I didn’t want them slacking.

      Others were slower, and–still–some had, for lack of better words, “issues”. We had to take it easy on them, look for ways to help find a way to learn that worked, and–even when we found it–we did not expect them to nail a section every week. I’ve seen such kids benefit from it, even if they don’t carry the same memory proficiency as the sharper kids in the classes.

      Awana leaders sometimes forget that the structure is not always a set of hard commands, and in fact have a certain flexibility so that leaders can use necessary prudence and discretion.

      In a traditional school setting, we wouldn’t stick a special-ed student in a gifted class. And yet a lot of churches will do exactly that in their “ministry” to children and youth.

      And we wonder why so many get frustrated.

      • Amir – you are truly rare among not only men, but all humanity as well. if my girls had had a leader like you, they probably would have enjoyed it more. they loved cubbies, but awanas was too overwhelming, especially with all the stuff going on at home.

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