“I WASN’T REALLY A MAGAZINE PERSON, but when I started to read this one, I felt like I was reading a book that helped me grow closer to the Lord.”
That’s Aaron. He’s 9 years old, and he’s describing his reaction to a publication he found in his teacher’s magazine crate: Focus on the Family Clubhouse.
Debuting in February 1987, Clubhouse continues to deliver inspiration and smiles to thousands of children ages 8 to 12 every month. Issue after issue, readers find recipes, jokes, Bible verse puzzles, insider information about Adventures in Odyssey audio dramas and hilarious adventures involving a character known as Average Boy. But unlike most other kids’ magazines, Clubhouse’s central focus is to help readers grow in their faith.
In January 1988, Clubhouse was joined by Focus on the Family Clubhouse Jr., geared for children ages 3 to 7. Because many Clubhouse Jr. fans are pre-readers, the magazine includes developmental puzzles (letters, counting, shapes), rebus stories and plenty of content intended for a parent and child to do together. Over the years, both award-winning magazines have grown with their readers, and vice versa. “We get letters from parents who got Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. as children, and now their kids are reading them,” says Jesse Florea, the senior editorial director for both magazines.
In print and online
In an age of digital devices and online content, some parents may be over-looking magazines as a great option for their children.
“The dangers of too much screen time for kids are well-documented,” Jesse says. “Kids need a break from screens; Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. are that perfect break.” There are other “retro” advantages to print magazines as well. On paper, it’s easier to do a maze, circle hidden objects or complete a coloring page.
“Plus, kids love getting mail that’s specifically addressed to them,” Jesse adds.
But the Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. staff also realizes there’s value in online experiences. Both magazines have dedicated websites that provide extra content including seasonal recipes, crafts and activities.
The main thing
Each issue of Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. emphasizes a monthly theme concurrently promoted by Focus on the Family. For instance, the January magazines include age-appropriate pro-life messaging to support Sanctity of Human Life Month. The staff also creates downloadable guides with talking points and discussion starters to make it easy for families to dig deeper into the monthly theme.
Just as evangelism is at the core of Focus on the Family’s overall mission, Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. routinely invite readers to pray and accept Jesus as their personal Savior.
“The last couple of years, we’ve received an average of 100 letters from readers responding to the invitation to ask Christ into their hearts,” Jesse says. “We send a free Bible to every new believer who writes in to help them begin their walk with Christ.”
The Official Average Boy Podcast, with comedian Bob Smiley from Clubhouse, offers a funny and faithful take on important topics, including: prayer, witnessing, salvation, healthy habits, overcoming fear, getting organized and obeying parents. A discussion guide is also available for families to do a year’s worth of weekly devotions together.
Meeting the challenge
Another distinctive of Focus on the Family’s kids magazines is the level of connections with the audience. For instance, each August marks the special Members’ Magazine edition of Clubhouse. Everything appearing in the magazine is written and illustrated by readers.
Then there are the summer challenges. Readers are encouraged to get in shape, sharpen their reading skills or reach out to a hurting world.
One of the earliest challenges dates back to 2005 when Clubhouse Jr. promoted a Sock-It-To-Em campaign, asking readers to send in socks for Russian orphans. The goal was to collect 5,000 pairs.
“We received 65,000!” Jesse says. “Whenever we give our readers a challenge, they always surpass our expectations.”
Some of the other challenges:
- Raise money to buy Bibles for kids in Africa
- Read 2,000 pages of books during the summer
- Serve the local community
- Share the Gospel with at least three people
Then there’s the annual challenge for kids to share their love for God’s Word with their schoolmates. Every October, Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. encourage readers to participate in Bring Your Bible to School Day. Both magazines feature stories about children who took part in the previous year’s event. Last year, more than a half million students participated.
“We want to help parents in encouraging their children to stand strong for Jesus in a culture that’s more and more antagonistic toward their beliefs,” Jesse says. “Whether it’s Bring Your Bible to School Day or sending in 65,000 pairs of socks, our readers are fearless!”