FRANKLIN, Tenn. (BP) – AWANA, the non-profit ministry focused on children’s discipleship, will host a Child Discipleship Forum this week in Franklin, Tenn., focusing on discipling in an increasingly secular culture.
A variety of speakers, pastors and guests will discuss children’s ministry in a post-Christian culture, according to AWANA president and chief strategy officer Matt Markins.
“We’re all being formed or discipled by something,” Markins said. “Everyone is feeling the pain of how secular culture is forming kids in the image of the world. We want to focus on how to form kids in the image of Christ.
“We’re asking what is it we’re doing at age 5, 7, 9 or 11 to form children in the image of a resilient disciple, so that by the time they get to 13, 14 they have a biblical worldview and are a disciple of Jesus Christ.”
Markins said the three main focuses that will be discussed by the conference speakers: cultural analysis, child advocacy and local church practice.
The forum will be hosted by Rolling Hills Community Church in Franklin, Tenn., Sept. 16-17. More information about the conference and a link to sign up, for either in person tickets or a full video link available after the conference, can be found here .
Ed Stetzer, professor and executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College will be one of the forum speakers.
He said in a statement to Baptist Press that although the current culture is unlike what today’s parents grew up in, raising disciples of Jesus is still the main priority for children’s ministry.
“My focus is on the future that our children face … it’s a different world than we grew up in,” Stetzer said. “Thriving in that new world will require us to raise up resilient disciples, shaped by the Gospel, and living on mission.
“I’ve read the end of the book and Jesus wins, but we need to be sure that the children in our church finish the race as adults fully committed to the Lord. That’s our hope at the forum. We want that AWANA Cubbie to finish the race well.”
Many Southern Baptist Churches use AWANA programs as a part of their children’s ministry programs, and reaching those under 18 continues to be an emphasis in the convention as one of the strategic action points of Vision 2025 .
Lifeway research suggests  children who regularly spend time in prayer and Bible reading are much more likely to persevere in their faith into adulthood, which is a part of the three-factor discipleship strategy AWANA promotes.
Those factors are: Belong (quality relationships), Believe (knowing the Scriptures) and Become (experiential methods).
Markin said as a non-profit ministry, AWANA heavily relies on local churches to partner in ministry and carry out this strategy.
“We’re here to come alongside and serve the local church,” he said.
Pastor and conference speaker Sam Luce said the COVID-19 pandemic has provided churches and ministries an unexpected but needed opportunity to re-examine how they approach kids discipleship in the face of an increasingly secular culture.
“I think this might be God allowing us to re-think what we do and how we do it,” Luce said. “We have to start to think differently in how we train and teach kids. I think this re-start needed to happen whether COVID happened or not. It may be a hidden blessing.
“I think change is needed and what has to change is this idea of being so event-driven that we draw kids to church as if that’s the goal. How are we going to teach kids in such a way that when they come, they leave more like Christ? It’s not about getting more kids to come; it’s saying how can we go deeper with the kids that are coming in such a way that they are not just entertained but transformed by the power of the Gospel.
Luce said an attractional model of kids’ ministry is not sufficient for discipleship, but experiencing deep relationships is what helps develop the faith of young believers.
“We have to be less like Disney, and more like Mister Rogers,” Luce said. “It comes down to discipleship. Have they seen the beauty of Christ modeled for them in their local church and in their family? Christianity is not just information to be understood, it’s incarnation to be experienced.”