This tends to be a touchy subject for many group leaders in churches across the country. The words “end” and “split” can both have very negative connotations attached to their meanings. They are the easy words, the two words that first come to mind when people talk about this subject, but they shouldn’t be. I believe that splitting a group is really a matter of biblical discipleship. If you are discipling your group members the way that Jesus commands, you won’t be splitting—you’ll be replicating, reproducing or multiplying. Any of those three words will work just fine for this context.
So how do we know when we need to step aside or replicate our small group? Allow me to give you three answers to your question.
- If the group you lead isn’t producing spiritual fruit, chances are you aren’t leading well. It’s time for a reality check. As a lay leader, you have the responsibility as a shepherd of that group. You are a leader. If your group members aren’t discipling others, the group is in decline (or plateaued), and that can be a sign of poor leadership. Seek guidance from other leaders. Seek guidance from your pastors. Pray. Ask God to give you clarity on what He has for you next. Perhaps it’s stepping aside to experience a season of rest to abide in Him. Maybe it’s allowing another leader to lead for a period of time. It could mean that it’s time for you to relinquish leadership duties and be a group member instead of a group leader. Or perhaps it means that the few people who remain will be better served in another small group under other leadership.
- If the group you lead is experiencing rapid growth and it’s no longer possible for many of the group members to participate in meaningful conversation, it could mean you need to create two or more groups. How this replication is implemented can be a big benefit to those you lead—or it can be detrimental. Don’t announce to your group that a new class is being formed and assign members to the new class. Instead, allow people to have some autonomy and ownership. Make sure you have a plan well ahead of time to introduce to the group. Let them know that you thank God for the growth you’ve seen, but that you feel it’s best if the size of the group is limited to around 20 so they can properly be discipled. Educate your group members on when the transition will take place (make sure it’s not the next week, or even the next month, who will lead the new group and give group members an opportunity to ask questions). Focusing on biblical community here is of utmost importance.
- Most importantly, if you have clear direction from the Holy Spirit that you are to end or replicate your group, follow that lead and make it happen. If you feel convicted to step aside, do it. The last thing those you lead need is to be led by a group leader who has a heart that isn’t in it. You’ll be doing a disservice to them, to yourself, and to God. On the contrary, if you are convicted to replicate your existing group into two or more groups, follow that lead as well. Gather your other leaders (or potential leaders) and talk about how you’ve been feeling and how God has convicted you. They’ll offer their input and introduce some ideas you haven’t thought of on how to implement a new group or groups moving forward.
Don’t be afraid to make a decision one way or the other. Not everyone may understand, but the Lord knows what He is doing. Don’t isolate yourself in either decision. Seek wise counsel. Pray fervently. Listen to the Lord. He will guide you.