This past Saturday was South Florida's AWANA Ministry Conference. For those who don't know, AWANA is a children's ministry club that meets weekly in churches all over the nation and around the world. The AWANA mission is to reach boys and girls with the Gospel of Christ, and train them to serve Him. You can learn more about AWANA here.
The theme of this year's AWANA conference is Zoom Out: See The Bigger Picture. It spoke about the importance of parental involvement. AWANA clubs meet once a week for 1 1/2 - 2 hours, depending on the church's schedule and how many clubs are meeting. There are 6 different clubs, from Puggles (ages 2-3) to Journey (for high schoolers). Our church has Cubbies (preschoolers), Sparks (grades K-2), and Truth and Training (also called T&T, grades 3-6). AWANA night is divided into 3 parts: Large Group Time, Handbook Time, and Game Time. I work with 3rd grade T&T girls. We have large group time with all the T&T kids, boys and girls from grades 3-6. We typically have about 40 children in attendance who will listen to a Biblical teaching. Then the kids split up, and our girls are separated by grade. I sit with the third grade girls (which is a group of 6-7 girls) and help them with Scripture memorization and handbook activities. This is the only one-on-one time the leaders have with the kids. It lasts about 20 minutes. Afterwards we go to game time, and the kids learn different games that they will play later on at the AWANA games, where we compete against other churches.
The program is wonderful, filled with encouragement, learning, and opportunities to make lasting friendships. We've heard from many Christians who participated in AWANA when they were kids, and how it positively impacted their spiritual growth. I can't emphasize enough the importance of preparing our children for the future by teaching them the Gospel message. It's a tremendous blessing to be an AWANA leader, impacting the lives of our future leaders, pastors, and missionaries.
The first part of the day was the opening session, in which we heard about what AWANA is doing worldwide. There are 12,877 clubs worldwide, in 98 countries, teaching over 850,000 children. That's not including the nearly 1,000,000 children who are part of AWANA here in the United States. That's almost 2,000,000 children whose lives are being changed for eternity! It was really encouraging to hear all that God is doing through AWANA, and humbling that God would use simple folks like us to further this ministry.
After the opening session, we were able to split up and attend workshops. I was so glad my son E was able to attend; he is a student leader (formerly known as LIT's) and there was a workshop just for them, plus a workshop for Spark's leaders, which is the group E is working with. My first workshop was T&T Basics. Even though I've been a T&T leader for 2 years, I knew there'd be plenty to learn, and I got some good pointers.
The next workshop I attended was Connecting With Parents. This was my favorite - it challenged me to step out of my comfort zone and get beyond Hello with my group's parents. If parents don't get involved in the program and encourage the children, it won't have as much of an impact on the children's lives. They are with us for a very short amount of time. The things they're learning need to carry over to the home, and the kids should be preparing for Awana every week with their parent's help. There were also many great ideas on how to use social media, email, phone calls, whatever it takes to engage the parents and get them excited about Awana.
After a Chick-fil-A lunch (which was totally yummy) E and I attended the Five Love Languages for Kids. This taught about how love is expressed and how everyone responds differently, including children. If you haven't taken the love languages test, you can take it here. There was plenty of information on learning how to treat children with love and encourage them along the way.
The last workshop, Storytelling With A Twist, was taught by the same woman who taught the Connecting With Parents workshop, Mrs. Linda Weddle. What an amazing workshop! This was especially good for those of us who teach during large group time. It taught us how to tell stories so that we keep the children's attention, and how to use our own life experiences (so long as they're appropriate) to teach Biblical truths. Several people told simple stories from their childhood, and we were given the task of figuring out what Bible truths could be applied to it. We found it was a lot easier than we expected! The Bible is a complete book, and there is always something that we can learn even in the most mundane moments of life. It gave me a whole new perspective on storytelling!
The conference really challenged me to pay more attention to the needs of the girls in my group, and also to ask the parents for their cooperation. After all, parents just want the best for their children. If they are included in their children's activities, they will be grateful. I already was able to connect with the parents of one of my girls, and it was really productive! I can't wait to put more of the great suggestions into practice!