When we create large and small group materials for you, I’m always putting it through what I call the  “Cale test”.  You see, I’m not just a content editor and a  developer, I’ve been a teacher and a children’s director and maybe most of all, I’m a mom of elementary-aged kids.
I wanted to share this story so you can see why I believe so strongly in recruiting and empowering small group leaders in our children’s ministries.  It’s personal.
Just last week, Cale came home from church with a big grin stretched across his face.  “Guess what, Mom? Today, Mr. Norm gave me my nickname!”
Cale’s one of the lucky ones.
He’s had Mr. Norm as a small group leader for more than 5 years now.
This man is a steady fixture in his life.
And I’m glad for many reasons.  One of the main ones is that Cale is quiet and for the most part well-behaved.  That means that at school and at church, it’s very easy for him to blend in to the background and feel invisible.
But that’s one of the blessings of smaller numbers of kids and one consistent leader.  Mr. Norm has learned each kid’s different bents and quirks over the years—he knows when to push and when to pull.
Education researchers call this “theory of mind”—when a teacher or mentor can watch closely enough to see if they get something or are confused, to figure out what motivates and interests them to keep them growing.
Getting a nickname is just another way of saying “I see YOU! I notice what makes you TICK and I love it!  You belong HERE.”
So even if the nickname is Stretch- as my long and lean son proudly told me—you claim it with pride because it was given with much affection!
We have a sweet picture that not only lives in Cale’s room, but in my mind.  It’s a shot of Mr. Norm with his hand over his heart, baptizing my son in front of many others, including family and friends.
Norm had confided just minutes before that he thought he was more nervous than Cale about the important milestone.
Cale may not say as much as other more out-going kids, but he didn’t hesitate when we asked him who he first wanted to tell about his decision to trust Jesus and follow Him the rest of His life.  “Mr. Norm.”
And later, “Who do you want to baptize you?”  Without missing a beat—“Mr. Norm.”
Years ago, Mr. Norm was a favorite four year old teacher.  In fact, many of the older kids being baptized the same day as Cale had passed through Mr. Norm’s class years before.  He still remembered their names and greeted them with a smile.
But something big happened when Mr. Norm was invited to move up with his then four year old class and continue with them through the elementary years, branching off with the boys’ later on.  At first, he hesitated– he really liked the PreK age group.  But when he heard about what a difference this consistency could make and that he could go deeper with just a few, Mr. Norm decided he’d give it a try.
And my family is so grateful he did.  What Cale will remember is someone that cared enough to show up week after week for years to laugh with him and the other kids, to tell him about Jesus and what the Bible has to do with his everyday, outside of church life.
He’ll remember that on the night before his baptism, Mr. Norm paid a special driver to get him to another airport and just barely made an international flight home, because he didn’t want to miss out on the honor (his words) of baptizing Cale and welcoming him into our church family.  He thinks Cale is worth it.
As parents, we’re expected to love our kids and to be there for them.  It’s practically part of our job description.  But when others do too…. it stands out.  It marks them.
I wish people realized how little is required for such a huge and priceless pay off.  Committing to one group of kids—someone else’s sons and daughters—for at least one year, but hopefully more, can make a world of difference.  It did for us.
What stories could you add to make a case for WHY consistent small group leaders are so crucial in our children’s ministries?  How do you vision cast this need and role?