Note: This article is excerpted from our resource, When and How to End Well.
To have an end, something must have a beginning. Seems elementary, yet often the beginning of moments are forgotten while the end of moments are capitalized upon. As small-group leaders, it is important for us to focus on the beginning of our groups to know the joy in ending them.
End has many definitions. One Webster definition of end is: "an outcome worked toward." As a leader, you have encouraged, rallied, and led your group to "an outcome worked toward." For a season, you have helped members grow spiritually and personally while offering them a variety of tools that will enable them to continue to grow. It is now time to celebrate the opportunities you and your group have had for spiritual and personal growth. In doing so, you offer your group a chance to focus on the beginning, where each was personally and spiritually, so that they can celebrate where they are currently.
Although your group may be coming to a close, the following activities are designed to create an atmosphere of celebration so that you enjoy the end by remembering the beginning.
New Season Resolutions
Since the late 1920s, "Auld Lang Syne" has permeated New Year's celebrations in America and other parts of the world with its beautiful tune of remembrance and friendship. No New Year's is complete without this anthem and setting resolutions. Why should it be any different for small groups?
To celebrate the friendships that have formed as well as spiritual and personal growth that has occurred, provide a New Year's type celebration for your group. Find fun hats and noise makers and provide a delicious meal. Celebrate the season you've had together.
After everyone has eaten, have members reflect on how far they've come spiritually during your time together. Challenge them to write a resolution for the new season to come and encourage them to continue incorporating the tools they have gained from your group so that they can achieve their resolutions.
Once the resolutions have been written, members can share and discuss them. With goals in hand, gather together in a circle and lift up those goals to the Father in a silent prayer or as a joined prayer. Begin this new journey together in prayer.
The opening ceremony of the Olympics is a powerful reminder of a race well run. It also reminds us that no race is run alone. It is not one person who carries the torch, but several.
As your group comes to a close, help members focus on the continuing race. Provide an evening of food and fun and a little memento of the journey shared. For example, print one or two pictures of your group for each members as a reminder of the joy you've shared. Write out Hebrews 12:1-2 on the back of the pictures.
A leader I know once provided a unique gift for his group. He purchased old running shoes (a shoe for each group member) from Goodwill and added sayings, memories, or other things to the shoe that would be unique to each member. Once the items were added, he wrote Hebrews 12:1-2 on top of the shoes. He presented each member his or her shoe allowing members to reflect on the race behind, the race ahead, and the knowledge that they aren't running alone.
A Season in Review
As a new year dawns, many media outlets and businesses do a year in review. Small groups can do the same. Put pictures from your time together on the big screen. Use a program such as Windows DVD Maker or Video center or Mac Media Center to easily put together a slide show of pictures from your group to remember and celebrate the time you have enjoyed together. You can even share the slideshow with your members (by burning it to DVD or sharing the file online) as a keepsake.
There does not have to be a birthday, engagement, or wedding in order to celebrate. The life we are living together and the "abundant joy" God provides us is enough reason to celebrate. To end a small group well, go out laughing and cheering the life you have lived together throughout the season.
There are many ways to end in celebration. For example, have a cookout and play some games. Alternatively, host a potluck, go to a restaurant, or see a movie. Choose a fun way to spend time together and celebrate the friendships God has formed among you.
Pay It Forward
One of the greatest ways to end your group is to challenge and encourage your members to become leaders. You can ease their fears of leading by reminding them of the relationships formed and how the end result (their growth) was worth your time and energy of leading. Let them know that fears are natural, but that you've learned it's all worth it. Explain that they now have the privilege of impacting and changing more lives.
Ending a group does not mean that your time together was not worth it. In actuality, it means that your time together has met its goal—the "outcome worked toward"—and now it's time to begin a new season of life. Celebrate all God has done in your lives through meeting together and help group members gain excitement about what God has ahead of them.
—Peri Gilbert is Small Group Coordinator at The Simple Church; copyright 2013 by Christianity Today.
1. What group activities of celebration have you participated in? What did you like or dislike about them?
2. Which of these ideas do you think could work for your group? Why does it stand out to you? What are other creative ways you could celebrate?
3. How might incorporating setting goals for the future help your group members say goodbye to your current group?