Celebrating what God has done
Whether you’ve been together for ten weeks, an entire year or somewhere in between, your small group will eventually have to face its final meeting. Most of us don’t know how to say good-bye well or easily. Here are some ways to plan a good wrap-up to your time together.
Wrap-up can happen at the end of the year, the end of the semester, or even at the end of a particular study series. It’s a time to step back, evaluate, appreciate and celebrate what God has been doing. Whether your group will meet again next week or won’t be together again until heaven, you’ll want to make the most of this phase of small-group life.
As long as we live on this earth we will experience times of separation and the ending of relationships. If wrap-up is done well, we can avoid a sense of incompleteness or unfinished business. The group members can enjoy remembering and celebrating what God has done in their season of life together.
The ending of a group will mean something different to each person and to each group. It can be a painful and sad experience, as well as a celebration, all at the same time. For some it will bring a sigh of relief. For others, endings may be more matter of fact. But no matter how people feel, there are some universal questions that should be asked in this phase: “Was it worth it? How have I changed? What did God teach me through these relationships about himself and others? About myself? Is there any unfinished business or the need for reconciliation?”
Three aspects of wrap-up
The three major parts of wrap-up are evaluation, appreciation and celebration. Evaluation looks at what worked and what didn’t. How well did our meeting time work out for most people? What about the place we chose to meet? How about the topic? What was most appreciated? What could have been done differently? The leader must be prepared to invite and welcome honest, helpful comments, even those that may be critical. Thank people for their honesty.
Appreciation involves telling one another what you’ve valued most about becoming friends and being in community together. One way to do this is to have each person take a turn being “it,” with the others telling that person what they have most appreciated about him or her. We seldom take time to give words of affirmation and appreciation, so this may be a new experience for you and the members of your group. It may even feel uncomfortable to have so many positive things being said about you. But this is one of the treasures of being in a community of faith and friendship.
Celebration is remembering what God has done within the group and among the members. Plan time for group members to tell of God’s faithfulness and work — even work that is still very much in progress. Send each other out in joy if your group will not be together again.
Time well spent
Marcus’s group was meeting for the final time after a year together. During the year Josh and Kayla had not grown very close, though there wasn’t noticeable tension or conflict. At this last meeting Marcus gave the group time to express appreciation for one another. Josh, who had led a few studies earlier in the semester, didn’t offer any words of appreciation to Kayla. He didn’t say anything at all. Kayla was hurt, and then realized she couldn’t think of anything to say to Josh either. She dreaded her turn, but began to pray that she could see Josh through God’s eyes. Suddenly she knew one thing she appreciated about Josh: his careful preparation for the studies he had led. She told him how much she appreciated that. Then she thought of more things she appreciated about Josh. She had more to say than anyone else! It was an exciting moment for everyone. After the meeting, Josh and Kayla chatted away like old friends. He was overheard telling Kayla things he appreciated about her. This might never have happened without planned closure.
Another form of celebration is to pray Paul’s prayers for each other, inserting your own names. Here’s an example from Philippians 1:9-11:
“And this is our prayer [for you, Jamie]: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ — to the glory and praise of God.”
Some other verses to consider are:
- Philippians 1:6 or 3:12-14
- Ephesians 1:17-19 or 3:14-19
- Colossians 1:9-12
- Romans 8:38-39
- Isaiah 43:1-5a
- 1 Peter 5:6-7
- any of the Psalms that fit the occasion.
Your role as leader
In this phase the leader takes a lot more initiative, preparing the group for this meeting, planning activities which will help them evaluate, appreciate and celebrate. Don’t wait until exam week for this. Most people will be too tired and preoccupied. Choose a time when the group can reflect leisurely and celebrate without distractions.
Remember that it is God who began a good work in the lives of each person in your small group, and it is he who will be faithful to complete it. Be sure to value what people say and to affirm where each is in his or her journey with the Lord and with the group members. Remember, too, that God knows where each one is in the process of knowing and following him and in being able to receive his grace and demonstrate his love to others. You will always live in the tension between planning to help your group move along and waiting on the Holy Spirit to initiate personal growth and spiritual friendships. Pray for and love your group. Delight in God’s love for you and your friends. It will be worth it!
— Sara Keiper