Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

When to Leave Your Small Group

When to Leave Your Small Group

Small groups, life groups, connect groups—every church has a name for those who meet together outside of the larger weekend gathering. These entities assemble around different interests, ages, and stages of life. Some meet weekly, others less frequently, but at the core, the goal is to build community.

But does that happen? Do they cross over from acquaintances with mutual interests to a support system that is more like family? Do the exchanges move beyond superficial details to vulnerable conversations and accountability? 

Sadly, not everyone gets there. Some spend years in guarded discussions, and never move into the deeper places of spiritual, emotional and relational growth. Anxious and fearful, many people spend a great deal of time questioning if they are in the right place. Some resort to taking the temperature of others, curious about if others feel the same way: lacking enthusiasm, or worse— dreading the next get-together. 

There are many reasons for walking away from what is supposed to be "the best part of the church.” We've listed three below. If these ring true for you then maybe it’s time to say goodbye to your group.

1. “Doing life" together is an idea, not a reality.  

When you first met, “doing life” together was the goal, but after months or years together, the only time you see one another is during your weekly study. Similarly, you only hear from each other the day before you're scheduled to meet as you need to confirm who will be in attendance and who will be bringing dessert. 

Small groups are supposed to be a more like a family that you actually like, and want to be with. They become regular voices in your life; they know what kind of week you’ve had, and what you’re looking forward to. You don't need to spend an hour each week going over the highs and lows because you’re already doing life together. If these are not the people you’d call in the middle of the night in the event of an emergency, then it might be time to evaluate your departure.

2. Conversations are guarded, not vulnerable. 

Everyone claims to want community and growth, but not only some are willing to do the work to have it. Those eager for change end up leading the discussions, while others nod in silence. Accountability, confession, and maturity can only happen when there is room for transparency and trust between individuals. This not only takes time to develop, but it also requires active participation by all members, not just one or two people. 

Maybe it's time to redefine your purpose. If the majority are desperate for deep connection and personal development, then perhaps those who aren't interested need to reevaluate their commitment. On the other hand, if everyone is more eager for a less intense social hour, which isn’t your desire, then maybe it’s time to find another band of people with similar goals.

3. Life has changed. 

There are many outside factors that affect our ability to stay committed and connected. If you've recently added or lost a family member, moved, lost a job, are having problems with your spouse or children, or are dealing with a different form of grief or stress, it might be time to take a break from meeting together. If maintaining the schedule is causing tension for you and your family, then maybe it's not the best thing for you in your current season. 

It's okay to admit that it was a good thing that has run its course. Everyone deserves grace to take care of their own family first. Often the relationships from the group remain and they morph into something different; with others, they fade over time. Sometimes quitting is a good thing—it frees us to say yes to other priorities. We need to remember that the right thing, at the wrong time, is the wrong thing.

Small groups are only successful when everyone is working toward mutually determined goals. It requires time and effort. And even with the most well-intentioned plan, or the most fabulous individuals, sometimes walking away is still the best option.

There are many reasons why it may not be working, far more than those listed above. Rather than consulting others, calling the prayer chain, or posting questions on social media, the best thing we can do is pray. James tells us that, "if any of you lacks wisdom, he said should pray and ask for it." Seek wisdom. Pray for discernment. Ask for confirmation. And then listen.

God promises that our Helper, the Holy Spirit, will be with us. We don't need to make emotional decisions, neither do we drag our feet if we feel prompted to change directions and do something different. If we have peace about leaving, then we should not feel guilty for obeying. There are many reasons that make walking away our very best option.


Malinda Fuller and her husband Alex have served at several churches and para-church organizations in the U.S. and Canada for over a decade. Malinda wields truth and grace through the words on her blog and has also contributed content for Relevant, Thrive Moms and The Influence Network. Malinda and Alex currently reside in Southern California, where they are homeschooling their daughters, working in ministry and trying to not complain about the continuous sunshine.

Publication date: October 5, 2016