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The Handbook Time Controversy

I am going through some evaluations from one of many fall conferences. As I am reading them (and I’m still going through them), a comment made by a workshop leader that was noted on the form really stood out to me. The workshop was on Handbook Time Ideas and I won’t name the workshop leader, that is not important.

The comment on the evaluation form was this, “#1 Priority in handbook time is passing sections, it is not explaining them. Thank you for making this clear.”

Handbook time often raises questions on “how” to do it properly. I even attended back to back conference workshops (years ago) on handbook time that expressed different views on how to “do” handbook time. There are concerns that children do not understand the verses and are just reciting them from their short term memory, which is a valid concern.

Now I cannot know for sure the context in which the previous statement was made, but I think I understand the intent. So this response is my view of handbook time. I’m eager to hear your responses and comments.

I would agree that the #1 priority of handbook time is passing sections – with a disclaimer – that isn’t the only reason.

From my perspective, the 2nd priority of handbook time is discipleship, helping them understand the verse and why they are memorizing it.

And third, building relationships with clubbers.

If anyone of these takes too much importance, then handbook time is unbalanced.

Let’s look at these individually:

The 1st priority is passing sections, but if the sole focus is on getting clubbers through the handbook to share about how many awards have been earned, that is the wrong motive.  At that point we are placing a greater emphasis on what we do and the importance of completing a book. Now don;t get me wrong, we should try to have clubbers complete a handbook each year, but that is not always possible. There will be clubbers who are unable to complete a handbook each year, or keep pace. If our sole purpose is to complete books, then we leave the clubbers who cannot in the dust, discouraged, and possibly walking away and never returning.

Second, discipleship, making sure they know why they are memorizing what they are saying. If this part was not important, Awana would not place definitions in the section to help the child understand. Yes, I know, they are not required to know to complete the section, but take a moment and see what the child knows and explain it briefly if they do not. Now if too much emphasis is placed on the explanation, then clubbers cannot progress through the handbooks. It is our hope and prayer that parents are working with their child, teaching them these things, but we all know that is not always the case. That is why it is an important part of handbook time.

Finally, building relationships. We are people, we should care. If building relationships was not a part of it, then Awana could sell voice recognition software and clubbers could say it, or just type it into a computer to verify the accuracy. Again, building relationships should happen all night, not just handbook time.

So all three aspects are important, just as all three main parts of a club night are important, but they each have their place, and they overlap. Don’t over emphasize one to the detriment of the others. Keep a good balance and handbook time will be all it should be.


5 Responses

  1. Bill,

    I love it, great minds must think alike as we had this discussion at our leader’s meeting last week. I stressed with them that we must have balance and focus on helping the kids pass sections, while encouraging them to take time to understand what they are learning (meaning leaders should disciple) and engage the kids where they are (building relationships) I totally agree with ya on this one. I’ve been in many clubs where the focus is on one and not all three.
    Great Thoughts, wish I could have been at the conference.

  2. I know that the #1 reason for doing handbooks are to get the verses into the clubbers heart, but we also want them to get through the book in a year so they can stay on track with the way Awana has the books set up. Honestly if we spent so much time trying to get the clubber to really understand each verse, they would only get through a 1/4 of their book! Preachers are leaders are not.

    • I would rather see a child get halfway through a book and know it well than see a child get all the way through a book and only know it so-so.

  3. First time T &T leader & my child is a 1st yr Cubby, I am VERY disappointed in the AWANA programs short-term memory forcus. A clubber earned the check-off for the verse, yet during Council time couldn’t come up with half of the verse.
    I was on & have lead Bible Verse driven quiz teams where long-term memory & understanding was necessary. I had hoped AWANA’s program was for long term understanding, not just getting through a bk. As a prof. teacher I know my Clubbers are getting little long-term bible memorization. 30 mins to do hdbk w/various scripture, not a single lesson everyone focus on. I stress building relationships & let the other leaders listen to the speed-“memorizing”

  4. Heather, thus the “controversy”.

    First, I want to thank you for your dedication to the children in your care and your desire to draw them closer to Jesus.

    How clubs handle handbook time varies from Awana club to Awana club. Some are focused too heavily on getting through the handbook, while others focus too heavily on explaining the verse, building relationships. there needs to be a balance – as I tried to state in my original post.

    Often, the “short term” memory is by clubbers who get no help at home and come unprepared and “learn” the verse during handbook time at club (which isn’t much time). The ones who are able to put the verses into long-term memory generally are home-schooled or have more help at home and learn the verse and have a better understanding of why it is being learned.

    As Larry Fowler spoke about in his workshop during the simulcast conference (see my recap on this blog – simulcast Workshop 1 – Rethink), our target is getting the Word of God into the hearts of children.

    The Awana program is geared for long-term memory, but not every club, or every leader sees that, and as you’ve noted, some focus on completing the handbook. In Cubbies, the children all progress through the handbook at the same time, whereas in Sparks and T&T, it is self paced, so handbook time is a time to build relationships and celebrate with them as they progress through their handbook.

    The night is designed to be balanced (all three parts) and when done properly, yes there is some short term memorization of Scripture, but ultimately it should lead to life-long change and a life following Jesus.

    So what you see in the local club is not indicative of Awana nationwide, or internationally.

    How the memorization is done has been debated for several years, decades even and ultimately we rely on God’s promise that His Word will not return void and even the short-term memory will come back to them at a time when they need it.

    The debate, unfortunately, will continue…

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