I like Legos! Even as an adult, I still find time to play with Legos either by myself or with my daughter. Like some homes, we have a Lego® bin in our house that is filled with many different pieces. It’s a vast collection of different sizes, shapes, and colors. They can cover the carpet and at times need to be dislodged from the bottoms of our feet as we lay curled up on the floor in pain. Can anybody else relate?
At one point, these pieces came out of a box and included some very specific instructions for how to put the original design together. Depending on the size of the design, hours or minutes are used to put the exciting creation together. The Star Wars® Star Destroyer™ in my office took at least a couple of days to put together. I had help in the beginning but support quickly eroded away by day two of the build.
Now why am I talking about Legos? And what does it have to do with Awana®? Well, first we (Awana) are a children’s and youth ministry so talking about toys is completely appropriate. But even more important is what happens to the Legos after they have been put together and the last piece has been snapped into place. You see, not only have I put together Star Destroyers, but I have also put together quite a few LEGO princess castles with my daughter. I can tell you that not a single castle looks like anything you have seen in a Disney® movie. Why? Sure the plan that it came with makes it look like it did in the movies, but my daughter has something else in mind. She has a different set of needs to feed her imagination. And the beauty of it is that nobody is watching her and saying, “NO! You’re doing it wrong!” And why? Because it’s her world and these are her choices. She knows the architecture of her imagination better than anyone. And when it comes to our clubs and to you as a leader, nobody knows the design of your ministry, it’s needs and limitations better than you. And you may have bought the box of stuff from Awana, but at some point, you’re going to want to tweak it. AND THAT’S OK! It’s OK to pick up some pieces and play with some different components. Before you had a singular picture in mind, but now you have a collision of different pieces to make something unique and highly effective for your ministry.
As a former children’s pastor, I understand the need for off the shelf or out of the box thinking. You don’t have a lot of time on your hands, and you’re running with very little margin in your life. So the traditional elements and architecture of the Awana program will work for you. It’s what you want. However, you’re also limited by the fact that it’s according to the instructions that came in the box. Most of us have probably tweaked something in our own homes at some point in time. I’m not sure if you do this, but often I’ll look around my house and do an AutoCAD® drawing in my head. I’m moving furniture and walls and plumbing all at the same time. Why? I think it’s just because we are wired to create, design, and redesign. But sometimes, we don’t think that we can or have agency to do so. As a ministry leader, you have some natural and synthetic limitations in your ministry. I have traveled a great deal across the country and I can tell you that no church is 100 percent identical and no Awana club is 100 percent run the exact same way. Therefore, ministry leaders need freedom to make some decisions. Let’s throw all the pieces in the bin and possibly create something new. The local church is primed to be a space for innovation and reinvention. But what does this look like? Let me give you a couple of ideas and examples of Awana ministries that have reached into the bin and with the originally designed pieces, fashioned something new.
1. Awana has in its design three divisions of club. Game Time, Large Group Time, and Small Group Time. Each typically runs about 30 minutes in length. I recently sat down with a T&T™ leader, and she was describing her ministry to me. She said, “It’s really hard to do a large group right before small group.” I asked, “Why” She said because the kids feel like it’s a duplication of the same content. In my curiosity, I asked her, “Tell me how many kids do you have in your T&T group?” She said, “Oh, about five or six.” I looked at this ministry leader as she was trying to build something according to the instructions that came out of the box and offered her this advice. I said, “I think you just have a small group. Maybe one day it will grow to be a large group but you have a small group. Maybe you just need to do (for right now) Game Time and Small Group Time.” She looked at me and said, “Really! I can do that?” Yes, you can. Why? Because you’re in the driver’s seat of this discipleship journey and you need to make the best decisions that are going to help disciple your kids and lead them to Jesus. She looked relieved and left with a new vision and a problem solved. Why? Because she learned how the pieces connect for her ministry and was empowered with the freedom to make choices for the benefit of those she is discipling.
2. There’s also a difference in how you can experiment with the various components of the Awana ministry. If you find that something isn’t working with your kids, the worst thing is to keep using a tactic that just doesn’t resonate or connect with them. Over time, you’ll quickly lose them. When we were field testing the new T&T material, I had the opportunity to go out to California and watch a church that decided to do something different with their large group. Instead of talking “AT” the kids for 30 minutes (which is too long I might add!), what this leader did was amazing. She broke up her teaching by inserting experimental and discovery based learning opportunities between her points. She would present a point (an example would be talking about the fact that God Is … Creator) then release her kids to stations where they would build and connect the truth communicated in the lesson to something tangible they were building with their hands … and yes, they were using Legos! Brilliant! Personally, I wanted to come back and praised this leader for her courage to think outside the box and alter the instructions to meet the needs of her kids.
3. The last example I want to share is how Awana clubs are diving into the needs and interests of kids to fill the content of their game or interaction space. For some clubs, running traditional Awana games is a great tool for their ministry. Especially, for those kids that love competition and high energy activities. However, I have a daughter and she has Physical Education every single day. She LOVES to run. But at around 7:00 p.m., that love to run is being replaced by some other functions in her brain. She has other interests and wants to do different things. We have several stories of clubs that have modified their Game Time to draw in kids based on THEIR interests and not the interests of the leaders. So we’ve seen clubs replace traditional Game Time with electives, fine arts, coding, robotics, ESL, martial arts, and the list goes on. What are your kids interested in? The thing about the Lego bin is that you need to spend some time sifting through the pieces to find that one that works and that just takes time and study. Study the kids in your ministry. At times, we elect not to change the design because we just don’t know enough about what the next few steps should look like. Study your kids, discover what they are interested in, and then invite them into something new that you all can experience together.
Let’s wrap this up! As children’s ministry leaders, you have the tremendous task to disciple children and you are in the driver’s seat. There are going to be times when you need someone to give you the instructions to follow. But not every kid is the same and not every ministry context is the same. As children’s ministry leaders, innovation and ministry modification will define the next decade of our field. So let’s not be afraid of failure and let our apprehension hold us back. But rather, let’s be courageous and start making some decisions. I believe that doing so will help us define the next several years of ministry and create better discipleship environments for our kids.