– Awana Clubs International is an organization that charters church-operated children’s clubs primarily for three-year-olds through 8th graders (although programs are also available for high school students). Awana was established in Chicago in 1950, and now operates in more than 10,200 churches in 104 countries, with more than 45,000 club programs under charter. The Awana program is used in more than 8,200 churches in the U.S. alone, with more than 800,000 “Clubbers.” (The “home office” in Streamwood, Illinois employs 176.) Awana has a goal of 15,000 U.S. clubs and 25,000 clubs worldwide by 2005. (See end of report for a detailed description of each of the club programs.)
The children take part in various “Bible-centered” activities, with considerable emphasis on Bible verse memorization. Club time is typically divided into three segments: game-time, a Bible lesson, and a time for individuals to recite the verses they have been learning. Bible Quiz and Awana Olympics are held in the spring of each year. Churches pay a yearly membership fee that entitles them to purchase Awana materials, take part in regional and national Awana events, and publicize their affiliation with Awana.
Part of our problem with Awana is that it has become so well respected that it in effect has become a denomination, in the sense that many people look for an “Awana” church rather than a “fundamental, Bible-teaching” church. Is this respect warranted? And with whom and what are a church and its members identifying when they accept an Awana charter?
– Awana continues to claim to have very strict chartering requirements. Prior to 1995, its policy stated that it would not grant charters to “churches affiliated with denominations that are members of the [apostate] National Council of Churches [NCC] and/or the World Council of Churches [WCC].” In actuality, Awana charters churches affiliated with the American Baptist Churches, USA (ABC), which is a member of the NCC. (Awana has been chartering ABC churches since as early as 1963, though its policy statement against NCC membership was not instituted until the early 1980s. Awana is committed to compromise with the NCC, and as of mid-1999, had chartered at least 40 American Baptist Churches.) Awana justified this clear violation of its own policy on the grounds that some ABC churches fully support Awana doctrinally, have publicly declared themselves opposed and non- supportive of the NCC, and remain in the ABC “only because of the financial repercussions of leaving” (1994 letter on file from Awana’s Missions Director).
In 1995, Awana officially changed its position regarding its relationship to churches within the NCC/WCC. Since in recent years Awana’s policy of not chartering NCC-member churches was not being practiced (see above), the new statement reads that the Awana charter is not available to churches that are “supportive of the NCC and/or the WCC” (removing the word “affiliated“). This implies that one can be affiliated with apostasy without being supportive of it. Can Awana really believe that one can be affiliated with an NCC-member church without partaking of its evil deeds? (cf. 2 John 9-11). If words mean anything any more, affiliation includes support. Not according to Awana — a church can be a part of an apostate denomination and simply tell Awana “we are not supportive” of that denomination, and they will be granted a charter. The entire issue is now totally subjective. Who will define “supportive”? This issue places Awana squarely in the neo-evangelical camp.
[5/5/01 Update to the Above: Awana recently sent a letter from its president to churches who currently use Awana. The biggest changes are once again in the doctrinal statement. Awana claims it is going back to its roots, but this is really a step toward further compromise. In a recent long discourse with an Awana official, a Kansas pastor wrote the following: “… My problem is with the deceit of chartering American Baptist Churches despite the clear statements prohibiting it, and now the removing of key parts of the doctrinal statement that clearly speak against false doctrine and trends such as the charismatic movement, and the policy change. Its statement formerly said churches who used Awana were not to be ‘affiliated with’ the NCC/WCC at all. Then they weakened it to ‘not be supportive of.'” Now this more recent change is to drop the policy on this completely, and opens the door for charismatic/Pentecostal and liberal churches to be affiliated with Awana. The Awana official, in an e-mail to the Kansas pastor, noted specifically that the Assemblies of God and all American Baptist Churches now would be free to use Awana. The Kansas pastor adds: “In this latest change, Awana has dropped its policy of selecting churches completely. All you have to do now is say you agree to teach the materials as they are given.” He said Awana’s philosophy, and that of many other organizations and churches that formerly stood for the truth, is to downplay doctrine so that more people can be reached for the gospel. The Bible clearly condemns that philosophy [“end justifies the means”]. (Source: 5/15/01, Calvary Contender).]
Awana also charters non-NCC supporting Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) churches, also because they are willing to affirm Awana’s doctrinal statement. Yet the SBC is part of the apostate Baptist World Alliance (an organization which has conducted on at least three occasions “theological dialogue” with the Vatican Secretariat for promoting Christian unity), and both are represented on certain NCC Boards. (Awana’s Home Missions director says: “I am well aware of the liberal aspects of the SBC. However, it is beyond the role of Awana to make a change in that situation. … There are Southern Baptist churches that have affirmed their agreement with the Awana doctrinal statement, and therefore, are chartered.”) (Reported in the 1/15/92, Calvary Contender.)
So if your church is in Awana, you are in an organization with both ABC and SBC churches. And your children could be fellowshipping with and competing against the children affiliated with those churches. This, of course, is in direct disobedience to God’s commands concerning separation from modernism and apostasy (2 Jn. 10,11; Rom. 16:17; 2 Cor. 6: 14-7:1).
– Awana’s leaders and missionaries are very neo-evangelical in their associations. For example, Awana’s president, Art Rorheim, accepted an honorary doctorate from Jerry Falwell‘s neo-evangelical Liberty University a few years ago. More recently, an Awana college missionary in Arizona was a supporter of the 10/92 Luis Palau Phoenix Crusade; he published a brochure that told of an Awana Clubbers choir that was scheduled to sing and called for counselors for the meeting (i.e., “You are needed as a personal worker at the end of Rev. Palau’s message to help boys and girls who desire to make a spiritual decision. … Come on Awana leaders, lets this [be] the best part of our work, the harvest.”) [Palau is a Catholic sympathizer whose ecumenical message is heavily diluted with pop psychology and Arminian easy-believism.]
– Awana was also an exhibitor for the first time at the 1997 National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) Convention. (Until early-2001, the NRB was an arm of the neo-evangelical National Association of Evangelicals, but remains as ecumenical as ever.) Awana also was an official sponsor and provided the delegate badges. This indicates a greater involvement and identification with these neo-evangelical organizations. In 1999, however, Awana was only one of the NRB Convention exhibitors. Awana also denied it was ever an NRB sponsor to some who questioned the practice, while the evidence revealed it indeed was. Apparently, Awana leaders decided to discontinue being a sponsor while still renting space for their exhibit. (Source: Calvary Contender.)
– The Spring 1993 Awana Clubs’ Leader‘s Digest lists guidelines from a Wayne Kiser book for getting free publicity from newspapers for club news. One is: “Avoid Christian clichés like ‘saved,’ ‘shared,’ and ‘blessed.'” A book by radical liberal sociologist Anthony Campolo was included on a list of Awana Headquarters “Recommended Resources.” Though a mild disclaimer was given for the contents of listed books, none was given for authors. (Reported in the 5/1/93, Calvary Contender.)
– Some say it’s okay to support Awana because it’s a good vehicle for child evangelism. But Awana’s gospel message is not the gospel of Christ. The Bible teaches that to be saved, man must repent of his sins as the Spirit of God quickens his soul (Rom. 3:23; Lk. 13:3,5; Acts 17:30; 11:18). Antinomians contend that repent means “a change of mind” only, with no fruit necessarily evident in the life of the professing Christian. Awana missionaries believe as the Antinomians (there is also no mention of repentance in Awana’s Statement of Faith):
“The sole condition for receiving salvation is faith (trust) in the Lord Jesus Christ. No act of … sorrow for or turning from one’s sin may be added to or considered a part of faith as a condition for receiving eternal life” (Reported in The Perilous Times).
This is the false gospel that is inherent in much of Awana Clubs’ materials. [See the Nov/ Dec 1986 issue of SIGNAL, pp. 12-13, for Awana board member Rich Wager’s article espousing “decisional regeneration.”]
Clubs are broken down into age groups: preschoolers (3-4 yrs.) (Cubbies); kindergarten thru’ second grade (Sparks); third & fourth grades (Pals & Chums); fifth & sixth grades (Pioneers & Guards); seventh & eighth grades (Junior Varsity); and grades 9-12 (Varsity). For third grade through sixth grade clubs, boys and girls are separated into different clubs. A detailed description of the Awana Club programs follow (Source: Awana Internet web site, 10/00):
Cubbies is the Awana Club for preschoolers during the two years prior to regular kindergarten, usually three- and four-year-olds. Cubbies is unique because it supports and maintains parents as the primary source of spiritual nurturing by directly involving them in the teaching and learning process. Cubbies uses the fundamental Awana elements of games and activities, Bible memorization, handbooks, and awards.
Sparks is the Awana Club for kindergartners, first-graders, and second-graders. Each club meeting has three parts. In Game Time, Sparkies enjoy entertaining games played on the Awana Game Circle. During Green Meadow Time, Sparkies gather for their age-appropriate Bible lesson. During Sparkle Time, clubbers recite Bible verses from memory, complete handbook sections, and earn awards. Sparky, the friendly firefly, appears throughout the Bible-based materials to encourage clubbers to complete their handbook achievements.
Pals is the Awana Club for third- and fourth-grade boys. An American Indian theme is used throughout the Bible-based materials. Club meetings consist of three segments. Game Time is when fun, exciting, team-oriented games are played on the Awana Game Circle. Council Time is when clubbers get together for singing and Bible teaching, and are challenged to serve God. Handbook Time is when boys and girls meet in separate, small groups to recite Bible verses from memory, interact with their trained adult leaders, complete their handbook sections, and earn awards.
Chums is the Awana Club for third- and fourth-grade girls. An American Indian theme is used throughout the Bible-based materials. Club meetings consist of three segments. Game Time is when fun, exciting, team-oriented games are played on the Awana Game Circle. Council Time is when clubbers get together for singing and Bible teaching, and are challenged to serve God. Handbook Time is when boys and girls meet in separate, small groups to recite Bible verses from memory, interact with their trained adult leaders, complete their handbook sections, and earn awards.
Pioneers is the Awana Club for fifth- and sixth-grade boys. As they mature and head toward their teenage years, Pioneers use handbooks and other materials especially geared for their older age group. These clubs use a contemporary nautical theme throughout the Bible-based materials. The club meeting features fun and competitive games and a message that focuses on the gospel and applying God’s Word to daily life. During Handbook Time, leaders interact with clubbers to help them memorize and understand Scripture verses.
Guards is the club for fifth- and sixth-grade girls. As girls mature and head toward their teenage years, they use handbooks and other materials especially geared for their older age group. Guards uses a contemporary nautical theme throughout the Bible-based materials. The club meeting features fun and competitive games and a message that focuses on the gospel and applying God’s Word to daily life. During Handbook Time, leaders interact with clubbers to help them memorize and understand Scripture verses.
Awana CrossTrainers is an inexpensive, Bible-centered club program run by urban churches and designed specifically for inner-city boys and girls in third through sixth grade. The purpose of CrossTrainers is to assist the local church in evangelizing, discipling, challenging, and training inner-city youth by providing Bible-based, Christ-centered weekly club programs.