Small groups have at least one thing in common with middle school daters and pints of Graeter’s in my freezer: they can’t be expected to last forever. Of course, commitment to your group is critical. Group members can’t sharpen one another without time and the willingness to deal with discomfort. However, it is unlikely and perhaps even unhealthy to assume you will “do life” with the same eight people until Jesus comes back. Sometimes some relationships lack the right fit for solid discipleship. We are called to love everyone in the church, but we can’t dig deep with everyone we meet. Let’s be willing to reset our group when it doesn’t make sense for shared spiritual growth.
So, here are three reasons your group might want to consider a cordial break-up, in order to build new relationships with other group members. Remember, this doesn’t mean you can’t all go to heaven together—just that maybe you should “see other people” until then.
The Group is Stale
This is like the dating couple whose relationship hasn’t grown in a while and they think the answer is to get married. If every Wednesday evening is stale, don’t just keep showing up because “that’s what good group members do.” Good groups members help one another grow in holiness. Some churches actually reshuffle their groups every year to avoid the stagnation that results from processing the same things with the same people every week. Be honest with your group if you don’t see growth. It might be time to break up and start new groups.
The Group is Inwardly Focused
This group likes to hang out but never seems to impact the community around them. Being inwardly focused doesn’t necessarily mean your group doesn’t love people. It could mean that your group doesn’t love the same people the same way. It may not mean you don’t share the heart of Jesus. You may just have different burdens. If a third of the group is burdened for young mothers, a third of the group is burdened for prisoners, and the other third is burdened for executives struggling with broken families, it might be a challenge to consistently serve together. This is like the dating couple with quality chemistry that can’t decide whether to farm in Idaho or do dentistry in Botswana. Break up and go do what you’re called to do with a group that shares your calling.
The Group is Awkward
Many small group relationships begin like blind dates or arranged marriages. Sure, everyone has the same Spirit, but everyone also has different backgrounds, senses of humor, and favorite TV shows. Some groups just don’t click, and the belief that you have to click because you are the Bride of Christ is false. You have to love. Sometimes loving is helping someone find a group they can like. If everyone can’t wait for the group to dismiss, break up and find groups you enjoy.
Living in community is too crucial to force it when it isn’t working. If your group is stale, inwardly focused, or awkward, share one last pint of Graeter’s, break up, and move on to a group in which you can grow.
Brandon Hiltibidal is a former church planter and multi-site pastor, and he is now part of the Groups Ministry team at Lifeway Christian Resources. He and his wife have two little girls. You can read about his group ministry and his girls on Twitter: @bmhiltibidal.