Have you ever memorized John 3:16 with hand gestures, played in Game Square, or cashed in your Awana Bucks for prizes? Have you ever been poured into by a leader who didn't just teach you but showed you God's love? If Awana was a factor in your early walk with Christ, you have Awana co-founder Arthur Rorheim, who died on Friday at age 99, to thank.
Rorheim, a former Chicago youth minister, co-created the Awana program and served the organization for over 70 years. Rorheim is remembered for working to reach millions of children with the gospel, discipling them, and reshaping American evangelicalism as we know it with Awana's rigorous and Scripture-focused ministry.
While serving as the organization's executive director and president emeritus, Rorheim saw the organization grow from a weekly club at his church on the North Side of Chicago to a program held in 47,000 churches from 100 denominations—discipling more than 3.7 million young participants ever week.
Rorheim continued to advise the organization and visit its headquarters in Streamwood, Illinois well into his last years of life.
Rorheim was a true testiment to God's ability to equip those He calls, as he served in leadership for decades despite having never earned a seminary degree or taken on formal training in curriculum development. “God chose to work through an ordinary, untrained man like me,” Rorheim once said.
As for Rorheim's profound legacy, Robert Lightner, Dallas Theological Seminary professor emeritus, said in response to Rorheim’s 2010 autobiography, Mr. Awana: “No other Christian youth organization has done more to reach the youth of our world than Awana.”
Many Christian leaders today acknowledge Awana and Rorheim's impact on their spiritual lives.
Willow Creek Community Church senior pastor Bill Hybels said, “I know that I would never be where I am today if it hadn’t been for Art challenging me so many years ago.” Hybels came to faith at an Awana camp led by Rorheim.
“Sad to hear of the death of Art Rorheim,” Dan Darling, vice president for communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) said in a tweet. “His idea to entertain kids in a way that would gain an audience for the gospel became a worldwide ministry with tremendous influence. My life and millions of others were impacted by Awana.”
Winnie Rorheim, Art's wife, died in 2015. The couple had two children, four grandchildren, ten great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren. The Rorhem family set up a tribute site for Art at ArtRorheim.org.
In a Facebook post, Rorheim's granddaughter Kerrybeth Gwaltney her grandfather, whom she nicknamed Paco:
“Our stories are innumerable, but here’s just one: Paco said he could hear the songs of heaven in his last few months of his life. He even created a songbook and said he could point to the songs and hear the music,” she wrote. “He said he could hear these songs from heaven: ‘I'm So Glad That Our Father in Heaven’ and ‘The Old Rugged Cross.’”