I remember the last night of the group. It was relatively the same group that had started together a year and a half before. I had led the group for a year and someone else had taken over for the following 6 months. The group had been through a lot over that year- laughing, crying, an adoption, new babies, good times, and tough conversations. I had personally baptized 5 of them. But, there we were, saying goodbye. There was some frustration, but overall, I think everyone knew it was time to move on.
Ending a group is never easy! But, regardless of the type of group you lead, there will come a time when someone will make the call that moving on is the right thing to do. In fact, if you work with any group long enough, you’re going to have to help end a group at one point or another. So, I wanted to put together some pointers to help you end a group well.
Signs you should end your group:
It feels stale. I have found that if a group stays together without growing for about a year and a half, it begins to feel stale. You can’t play any more “get to know you” games because everyone already knows everyone else’s story. It stopped growing, isn’t growing, and just feels stale.
It’s unhealthy. There’s all sorts of reasons a group can be unhealthy. It could be the leader, not enough people, group conflict, or other reasons. But, for whatever reason, the group is becoming more hurtful than helpful to the members of the group and maybe even the church.
There’s no way to fix it. Before deciding to pull the plug on a group, figure out every possible way to fix it. I’ve combined groups, changed leaders, pushed inviting others, and done church wide group promotion. Note: If there’s a person in group causing trouble- address them directly. Some might choose to end a group rather than have a tough conversation. But, by doing that you are passing on your problem to a future group and group leader.
How to end a group:
Bring the group along in the process. Make sure the leader is keeping the group updated on the health of the group. If you see the group beginning to become stale, encourage the group leader to bring this up to the group and brainstorm ideas to help them begin to grow again.
Make the decision. If at all possible be on the same page with the group leader. Hopefully you’ve exhausted all other possible solutions to growing the group so deciding to end it won’t come as a surprise. As the person coaching your group leader you’ll need to assess if it’ll help for you to attend the last few sessions that group will hold. If you have an especially unhealthy leader or group, it could be helpful to attend.
Talk about the decision with the group. Explain why the group should end. Take time to answer any questions. Go over the importance of being in a group and options for another group to attend after this one ends. Some may be sad or upset, but don’t let your discussion turn into a church or leader bashing session.
Choose an end date. The end date for your group should be pretty close to the time you let the group know. People do weird things when they know something’s ending. Some may stop coming altogether. Some may pull back and stop sharing. If it was a good group, there will be feelings of sadness, anxiety, or even anger. So, it’s better to not allow people to sit in that for too long. I suggest ending a group a week or 2 after the decision has been made and the group’s been told.
Plan your last meeting. (Make it a fun and relaxed night. Order pizza or do a potluck dinner.)
- Ask questions like: (keep it positive)
- – What was your favorite group this year?
- – What was your favorite memory from this group?
- – What will you miss most from group?
- – Has anyone in group changed groups before and can share what that was like?
If you feel like the last group will be more tense, consider having it out at a restaurant and don’t feel the need to have a super deep debrief.
It’s also to be aware that everything in this world has a life cycle. Earth has seasons. Humans grow for about 27 years and then begin a very slow decline. (I’m hoping to hit a second growth spurt in my late 30’s.) Movies, books, and blogs all have a beginning, middle, and end. (When was the last time you were in a movie and said, “Man, I wish that movie was longer!”) So, it makes sense that groups have a life cycle too. They form, grow, and then, if nothing else happens will slowly become stale. Really, the only way to give a group new life is to a group is to add new people. But, even with that, it’s important to know that the cycle will continue. I only mention this, because just as we would never blame a person for getting older, we shouldn’t look down on groups/group leaders when a group ends. Some groups burn brighter for a shorter amount of time. We should celebrate them and their time together as they move on to other groups.
If you’re interested in reading more about the different stages of a group, check out these links:
P.S. Sometimes groups have built in life cycles- like meeting for a semester or year long. It’s important to keep in mind how to end a group well in these situations too. In our groups I’ll start talking about it a few weeks out to slowly prepare people. We try to have a fun time on our last night. You always want people to leave your last group on a high note- wanting more.