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When I Stopped Getting Christmas Presents

by Gina Abbas

I love gifts and I love Christmas. But there came a time when I stopped getting presents from my youth group kids. It was our last small group gathering before Christmas break. Complete with Christmas trees lining the student room stage, hot chocolate being served in the student cafe, and Christmas carols blasting from our Spotify playlist. A ton more sugar was about to be dispensed as I dismissed students from large group to small group Christmas parties.

Several of my dearly beloved middle school students headed to small group parties with a gift in each hand. Specifically, two gifts. And not a single one was for me. Hannah, a 7th grader, excitedly told me about the gifts cradled in her arms. “This one is for Rachel, and the other one is for Sara.” Gifts for her small group leaders. That is the moment I knew we had created a Lead Small culture. When Sara and Rachel and dozens of other small group leaders received Christmas presents, and I didn’t, I knew something awesome was happening here. They were the pastors. They were the loving adults who stepped up to lead and care for their few more effectively than I ever could from a tricked out stage.

How do you know when you’ve created a Lead Small culture? Here are a few questions I use to evaluate whether or not I am actually creating a Lead Small culture:

Can I fade easily into the background?

Of course someone has to make sure everything happens and see that ministry environments run smoothly, but at the end of the day are small group leaders the big deal? Are they the people students look for and hang out with when they enter our ministry environments?

Show me the gifts/texts and I will show you the true “youth pastors” or whatever you want to call them.

Are small group leaders the people student’s text on a bad day, hang out with after school, and bring Christmas or birthday gifts to?

Who do parents contact first?

Are small group leaders the people parents have on speed dial when a family crisis comes up or who gets a text when Bryce wins the MVP award and his mom wants to gush about it?

When a youth group is dependent on one personable or charismatic person to “bring in the kids” or be all things to all people, your influence rapidly diminishes. Because you can’t effectively connect with more than a few kids, no matter how much of a superstar your church thinks you are.

This past spring a few of my 8th grade girls wanted to get baptized. Guess who they wanted to baptize them? (Pssst . . . it wasn’t me.) It was Angie, their small group leader who’s been with them every Sunday since 5th grade. When you’ve created a Lead Small culture, it’s the small group leaders who get Christmas gifts and are asked to step into those big moments in a student’s life.

It may take a little humility, but if you want to create a ministry that has a reach beyond just you, take some time to evaluate the culture you’re creating.

And if you’re looking for more info on creating a Lead Small culture, check out the book here!

Gina Abbas lives with her three kids and Star Wars loving husband in Michigan. She can be found decoding Taylor Swift lyrics or shooting foam finger rockets at her children. She is on the ministry council for the National Network of Youth Ministry, representing women in youth ministry. Gina loves middle-schoolers and is the 7/8 middle school pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church. And sometimes she cooks, but rarely ever from scratch.

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