Did you know there’s ongoing confusion about the famed Awana Game Square? I asked several people this week, all longstanding leaders in Awana, about the official title. Is it “Awana Game Square” or “Awana Game Circle”? Oddly enough, no one I asked is 100% sure. As a ministry, we’ve landed on Awana Game Square, but many people still chuckle because the memorable part is the circle inside where all the action happens.
As I see it, whether it’s called a “square” or “circle,” the fact remains: It’s much more than a game square. God is using the ministry of Awana – including its unique approach to games – to change lives for Christ all over the globe. The real question is, “How?”
Is God Really Using Game Squares?
The Awana Game Circle…oops, I mean Square…is one of the most recognized children’s ministry tools on the planet. If you want to find out if Awana is impacting a community, sketch an Awana Game Square in the dirt or on a napkin and watch what happens. Kids, teens, and leaders identify it immediately. Without hesitation they’ll smile and say, “Awana!”
Art Rorheim, co-founder of Awana, never dreamed this simple invention would become iconic among both Christians and non-Christians alike. For nearly 70 years, millions of children and youth have run circles around it. They’ve used Awana Game Squares for relays, beanbag tosses, three-legged races, tug-o-war battles, and a near endless list of fun-filled, competitive team-building games.
It’s hard to describe all that can happen for Christ around an Awana Game Square, but I’ll try. Showing you a picture or two won’t convince you it’s more than a game square. So, here are eight ways God is using Awana Game Squares to reach children and youth with the Gospel and engage them in lifelong discipleship.
1. It attracts kids of all ages.
“It’s time for the baby race!” I could hardly believe my ears when Marcelino shouted it out. When the whistle blew, four leaders started running around the circle with preschoolers on their backs. Everyone around the Awana Game Square cheered his or her color team on to the finish. The little ones loved being part of the “big kid” action in a fun, safe, and honoring way. I could tell from their faces, the leaders had a blast participating too!
Mwaiseni Game Square from Awana® Clubs International on Vimeo.
In my experience, it doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, female or male, there’s something for anyone who’s young at heart on the Awana Game Square. It’s loud but orderly. The rules of the activities are innovative and simple. It takes no effort to draw a crowd. And, by teaming up for each relay by similarities like age, height, gender, or physical size, it levels the playing field for all who participate. Keeping it fun and fair for all ages really works well.
2. It inspires creativity.
When it comes to leveraging the Awana Game Square, the creative possibilities are endless. Relays can be run with batons or beanbags. Variations of dodge ball, tag, steal-the-bacon, and more all work too. Individuals, pairs, or teams are easily included. And, children, youth, and leaders can be challenged to come up with new games in the moment. In fact, while I was in Mwaiseni, I actually introduced a couple new games – it was the first time they used balloons on their Awana Game Square!
Maybe it should be renamed, “The Awana Infinity Game Square?” Jeremy Pettit, now Awana’s Vice President of Ministry Resources & Publishing, and I joked about this a couple years ago. His team was updating Trek for middle school students. We recounted how Awana started because the church needed a creative change to reach teens and kids for Christ. We laughed while coming up with one ridiculous game after another. Truly, the potential list is infinite. The Awana Game Square set this ministry apart then and still does today.
3. It speaks multiple languages.
With Awana Game Squares being used on nearly every continent (sorry Antarctica!), it’s way more than bi-lingual. Kid-influencers don’t need to speak the local language to drop in an Awana Game Square and get going. Children and youth always come out of the woodwork to play, cheer, and sing in their native tongues. Just grab everyone’s attention with your voice or a whistle, demonstrate the purpose and rules of the game, and use your fingers to indicate, “Ready, set, go!” You can speak a foreign language using the Awana Game Square in minutes.
4. It revives the heart.
The Awana Game Square speaks to the mind and grips the heart of anyone who stands on its red, blue, green, and yellow borders. It invigorates the human spirit by calling out laughter, passion, disappointment, commitment, endurance, and celebration. This is so important, especially knowing that today’s children, youth, and leaders are emotionally burdened by what’s going at home and in their world. For just a few moments of fun, they can step away from life’s issues before engaging with God’s Word together. Like watching your favorite team compete for a world championship (go Cubs go!), God uses Awana Game Square experiences to unlock the full range of emotions for kids of all ages.
5. It builds community.
For years I coached children’s and youth sports. Regardless of the activity, there’s nothing like bonding as a team. It gives every player the opportunity to grow in trusting themselves and those around them. It’s not easy to sit on the sidelines when a teammate fumbles, but it’s part of the game. In that moment, you can either drop your head or cheer her or him on to greatness (cf. Hebrews 12:1-2). Awana Game Squares all over the globe are surrounded each week by kids, teens, and leaders who are “all in” – ready to play, win or lose, together. It’s a clear picture of God’s family in action. In so many ways, being around the Awana Game Square strengthens relationships in ways that being in school, hanging out at home, and sitting in Sunday school just can’t do as easily.
6. It advances the Gospel.
The children’s ministry leaders in Luanshya adore the ministry of Awana. As I understand it, they appreciate the three-part model (games, large group, small group), but really it’s the ministry philosophy that motivates them. Awana is wholeheartedly centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. On my recent trip, I heard a variation of this phrase more than once from leaders in Zambia: “If children aren’t saved at a young age, generations will pay an eternal price.” The games attract kids, but it’s the Gospel that transforms their hearts and lives for God.
When I mentioned to leaders that the Awana Game Square could be used as a wordless book to tell the Gospel story, their eyes lit up. Red stands for God’s great love and our sin that separates us from Him. Blue represents new life in Christ through forgiveness of sin and symbolized by the waters of baptism. Green points to lifelong discipleship and spiritual growth as believers walk with the Holy Spirit. And Yellow reflects eternal life with God and the reality of heaven and Christ’s return. The Awana Game Square is not just a fun activity to draw kids in; it’s an ongoing presentation of John 3:16 so children and youth will come to know, love, and serve Christ for life.
Bonus: Check out The Gospel Wheel for another way the Awana Game Square can advance the Gospel. Read my post: Why Should I Still Carry a Pen?
7. It reproduces leaders.
While Awana Game Directors like Marcelino stand in the middle of the action most of the time, he’s not the center of attention. His heart beats fast when others take the stage. Marcelino is a teacher at heart (and by profession), so this makes sense. But really, anyone can learn from and put his example into action. He gets excited when kids step up to play and compete, another leaders introduces a new game, and a child stands in the Awana Game Square to share a testimony or recite a verse. It takes more than one person just to set up and tear down the Awana Game Square, so Marcelino invites others to help and take charge. By leveraging its multi facets, he is equipping new and veteran participants, kids and adults alike. Marcelino is multiplying them to become godly leaders as part of church ministry that reaches children and youth for Christ.
8. It strengthens the church.
Unity, diversity, and ministry reflect the body of Christ. This is exactly what’s depicted around every Awana Game Square. Kids, teens, and leaders who follow Jesus come together as gifted members of God’s family. I’ve heard mind-blowing stories of churches being birthed because of the ministry of Awana. When an Awana Game Square pulls enough people together, including a sea of parents and family members standing around observing and cheering, the momentum to form a local church can be irresistible. And, for children’s and youth ministries that are part of an established church, the Awana Game Square serves as a hub of physical, emotional, social, and spiritual engagement. It can’t help but strengthen the body of Christ it’s attached to.
There is one other way the Awana Game Square strengthens the church that I deeply needed reminding of when I was in Zambia. When super rallies are held, events sponsored by a church network that brings multiple Awana ministries together for games, Bible quizzing, or camp, every church involved gets stronger. The value of dignifying children and youth, reaching them with the Gospel, growing them up in God’s truth, reproducing them as Christ-like leaders, and sending them out to evangelize all skyrockets. This doesn’t happen because of Awana Game Squares, but its one of the catalysts that moves kid-influencers to make powerful, eternal difference with kids, teens, and families in and through their local church.
The Awana Game [Square] Stands Alone
From light-hearted play to highly organized competitive events, the Awana Game Square stands alone at the center of today’s children’s ministry. It’s sometimes the brunt of children’s ministry jokes, but so what. There’s nothing quite like it on planet earth. Local churches in over 115 countries regularly rally around this nostalgic, innovative, and proven instrument for effective ministry. It clearly provides a platform for way more than “getting the wiggles out” before engaging with God’s Word.
The Awana Game Square’s unique ability to impact children, teens, and leaders all over the globe is truly unprecedented. The games, activities, and testimonies shared in the middle of this timeless resource powerfully reach kids with the Gospel and engage them in lifelong discipleship. If you’ve never experienced it, give it a go in your children’s and youth ministries. Year after year, by God’s grace, running in circles somehow keeps changes kids, teens, and leaders forever.
Show the world your Awana Game Square! How is God using it in your ministry?
*Reminder: Always get permission from your kids’ parents before uploading photos of them.