If you’ve led small groups longer than a little while, you’ve probably had people leave. Maybe they’re seeking a new church or a different kind of experience. Maybe your group was not a good fit for some reason. Maybe they want to launch their own group. Whatever the reason—people leaving is inevitable.
Even when people have good reasons, this process can be one of the more awkward parts of leadership. In the groups I’ve led, people have left for all of the reasons above and there is still some measure of awkwardness in each parting. So how should group leaders navigate this part of group life? Be gracious and encouraging.
For many, this might be the most difficult part. When you share your life with someone, and they move on, it can be difficult to not take the leaving personally. Though it’s a natural feeling, resist the urge to feel wounded, and seek to be gracious. The goal of group life is move closer to the Christian life, and if people are stepping into a situation where they feel they will have a greater opportunity to grow, we should be happy for them.
But what if the people are leaving for no real reason at all? Still be gracious. People have their reasons, and even when you do not agree with them, you need to be gracious. Once again, the goal of group life is ultimately to lead people towards Christ. We want people to see him through our actions, so we need to treat people as He would treat them.
Next, you need to be encouraging. Christians are not meant to walk through the Christian life alone. Particularly when people leave for seemingly no reason at all, we need to urge them to be involved somewhere else. If you find that people are leaving because they “want some time off”, ask questions to try and see what is behind that attitude. Church is not meant to be just another activity.
Recently, Thom Rainer wrote about Four Key Attitude That are Killing Church Attendance. You may be able to identify some attitudes of those around you in that helpful post. Dr. Rainer points out that often when people shrink back from involvement in church it is for unbiblical reasons. As a leader, you have an opportunity to have a conversation with these folks and help them evaluate some of their reasoning. We can still be gracious while encouraging people to consider their reasons. Naturally, some people will not be open to this kind of conversation, but in my experience, more people than you would think are open to talk.
If your group is simply not a good fit because demographics, focus, meeting time or some other reason, you can encourage people to be involved in another group. All group leaders would serve their churches well if they simply took the time to familiarize themselves with other leaders and other groups in the life of the church. That way, you can always be connecting people to community. Hopefully that’s why you began leading in the first place.
Leading has its ups and downs, people leaving (even for good reasons) can be a downer. Hopefully you now have some handles for navigating one of the trickier situations in group life.