Help! I’m in a Small Group and I Can’t Get Out!

Sooner or later it happens to almost everyone: you feel trapped in a small group that no longer meets your needs. AWKWARD!

Despite knowing you need to leave, you stay because you worry about what might happen.

  • “Will my friends understand?”
  • “Will leaving hurt their feelings?”
  • “What do I do if they beg me to stay?”
  • “What if they get mad at me?”

Photo based on iStockPhoto.com © ImesCreative (Click on this image to get your Boundaries Basics Cheat Sheet!)

While understandable and common, these fears are calmed by taking five simple steps to leave well.

Leaving is the right choice, right?

Before we jump into how to leave well, let’s make sure leaving is the right solution. Sometimes, fleeing really is not the answer and we need to put our big-girl/guy pants on and do what is necessary to stay and make things right and healthy.

Too many times, I’ve seen people leave over a simple misunderstanding, slight, or something that could have easily been addressed had it been brought to the attention of the leader or the offending party. Be sure you have given yourself and the group a fair opportunity to address your needs.

  • Are you clear as to the purpose of the group, your purpose for being in the group, and what gap, if any, exists between those purposes?
  • If it isn’t a difference in purpose, is there another type of problem? Is it the group, someone in the group, or you (or some combination) that is responsible for the problem? Can the problem be solved? If so how?
  • What would need to happen for the group to be effective for you again?
  • How much control do you have over effecting that change?
  • What steps, short of leaving, could you take to effect change?

With that being said, sometimes leaving is the appropriate solution. In those cases, how you leave can determine the  success of the transition and stave off hurt feelings and damage to relationships you formed while in the group.

Need help coming up with a strategy to leave a group that no longer meets your needs? I’d love to coach you through the process. Click here to book a free consultation session with me and we’ll have you on your way (guilt-free) in no time! BOOK YOUR FREE COACHING SESSION NOW!

How to Leave Well

If resolving the issues proves impossible, put your efforts into leaving with integrity and grace using these five steps. 

1. Communicate your plans to your group leaders and any other group members with whom you have  close relationships. Be kind and gracious in explaining why the group is no longer a good fit for you. Take the high road and don’t throw another member or leader under the bus. Acknowledge how the group has blessed and benefited you. However, be clear and direct about your plans so you don’t give the impression you are inviting them to convince you to stay. Be sure to phrase it as you are leaving—not that you’re are thinking about it.

2. Nurture relationships with those remaining in the group when it is appropriate and beneficial to do so. Just because you are ending your affiliation with the group doesn’t mean you are ending your relationships with the people in the group. Communicate your intention to maintain your friendships. If your friends know your relationship is not dependent upon your group membership, they will be quicker to wish you well in finding a group that better meets your needs.

3. Maintain healthy boundaries with those resisting your decision. Most people will wish you well and understand your need to find a better fit. If some members of the group lay a guilt trip on you or try to manipulate or coerce you into staying, it is evidence they don’t have healthy boundaries. Bone up on your boundary setting and enforcing skills and kindly, but firmly, stick to your plans.

4. Don’t drag it out. Unless you serve in a role for which a replacement is needed, you should leave immediately. If you do perform an essential task in the group, do your best to line up a replacement prior to making your announcement. If that isn’t possible, give the group leaders a reasonable time frame in which you will continue to participate and fulfill your responsibilities while a replacement is found. Then, leave at the designated time.  Don’t allow the group to hold you hostage because they won’t find a replacement.

5. Find and commit to a new group that better meets your needs. Having reflected on your needs and reasons for participating in a group, you are in a good position to evaluate the choices available to you and select a group in which you can thrive and contribute to the effectiveness of the body of Christ.

Small groups are wonderful venues in which we grow as disciples and build vital friendships through which we can minister to one another. It is not in the interest of you or the church to languish in a group that doesn’t meet your needs when you can take these five steps to leave well and flourish elsewhere.

Healthy Boundaries Help

Whether you decide to leave or stay, you’ll benefit from a better understanding of boundaries. I’ve put together a little Boundaries Basics Cheat Sheet to introduce you to this life-changing topic. Click the button below to request your copy.

Get your FREE Boundaries cheat sheet!

Question: Have you ever faced this situation? What helped you? What worked well (or not so well) in the way you left a small group? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

I hope you'll jump into the conversation by leaving a comment. I would love for each post to be like a dinner party conversation in which many people participate, each adding their own perspectives and ideas. Just keep in mind that we want to treat others as we would like to be treated, so please keep your comments constructive and on topic. Feel free to post viewpoints and ideas that differ from mine or others but refrain from personal attacks or offensive language. I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, off-topic, or which demean or belittle another member of the Making It Real community.

  • Davi

    Excellent advice, Laura! Leaving a small group is tough! Feelings are bound to get hurt (either because friends in the group will genuinely miss you or because they are taking the departure personally). Leaving by telling truth in love, letting folks know how they’ve blessed you and sharing your honest reasons for leaving can be a huge blessing to those remaining. Healthy boundaries are a must! It can really help to practice “your lines” (what you plan to say and how you say it) with a non-group friend ahead of time. They can provide feedback about how you came across. (Sometimes what we are trying to say gets misinterpreted in the delivery). An unbiased friend’s perspective can help prevent misunderstanding.

    • Practicing what you plan to say is a great idea! Thanks for sharing that helpful tip.

  • Doug

    I have a problem with being bored…this is the third group I have joined and I find myself falling asleep (mens group). I love serving for my church, Gods pantry, serving the the community, etc. But when it comes to reading the bible and listening….Im dead in the water. I am expecting some energy level that cant be met. The energy level is too low. I have come to the conclusion that the bible study isnt for everybody. I love reading the bible, but the groups dont dissect what is being said in the bible and they look at me like “what are you doing?…”
    As a programmer and analyst in the computer world, I question and ask
    everything…
    Have any suggestion?

    • Doug, you bring up a great point. Actually, I think this is very common. Different learning styles can make a huge difference in whether our experience is rewarding or makes us want to put our head through the wall!

      Since you know what type of Bible study you prefer (more analytical and detail-oriented), survey the options available to you at your church. Do any of the existing groups offer a study that is a better fit? If so, get connected to that group.

      If not, talk to your pastor or person in charge of discipleship at your congregation. Ask them to help you find a suitable study and connect you to like minded disciples. If you’re willing to take the initiative, you may be able to create a group that better meets your needs.

      You might enjoy the Disciple Bible Study and Christian Believer studies (https://www.cokesbury.com/forms/DynamicContent.aspx?pageid=1142&id=295.) These feature experts in the various books of the Bible and/or doctrines and are more rigorous and academic than the typical fare offered in most Sunday School and small group classes. But they also focus on putting what we learn into action. It sounds like you are an action-taker, so I think you would like that aspect, too.

      Another study you might enjoy is Precepts by Kay Arthur. These inductive studies take a book by book approach and really dissect the text in detail. Participants mark up the text, look up cross references, definitions, etc. It is very detail-oriented.Check out the examples and get more information at http://precept.org/about_inductive_bible_study

      Even if your church doesn’t offer those, you could probably find a church in your area that offers these types of studies. You could try it out or borrow their materials to assess whether you might like to offer one of these at your church. Both of those programs offer training for new leaders.

      I bet there are others in your congregation who are longing for a study like you are describing. It just takes someone being willing to coordinate the effort to get it started.

      I hope this is helpful. Please follow up and let me know how things work out for you. I will be praying for God to guide your efforts and lead you to just the right study.

  • Car

    Laura,

    I want to leave my care group (woman) because they hurt my feelings so much and I felt that they have push me down. I have been to this care group for many years. However, I felt so tired and drain everytime I come. I tired many time to connect and my faith have grown. However, i know they treat me different compare to other girls because at times they me brush off When I said things. My once close friends treat other girls by being kind and showing love but when it comes to me, she just push me down or just ignore me. I haven’t been going for two months because i have been hurt so many times. I brought my sister once to see how I felt with my care group. She understand and told me to make mutral feeling with them before I leave. However, how can I do that without hurting them? I don’t want to join the other care groups because they gossip about me so I refuse to go. Help me!!

    • Car,
      I’m so sorry you are having such a miserable time with your group. It sounds as though there is an high level of toxic relationship issues in this group. If the other groups in this organization (not sure if this is a church or school or other type of organization) also have problems with relating in a godly, healthy manner, it may be best, if possible, to change organizations and find a healthier place to worship and/or study.

      I highly recommend you discuss this situation with a mature Christian outside of this organization which is causing you such grief. A Christian counselor, pastor, or another trusted adult who exhibits healthy, godly relationships in their own life would be able to offer you some new perspective and assist you in formulating a plan for removing yourself from this toxic environment.

      I will be praying for you! Check out the Resources page on my site for how to located a Christian Counselor. You might also find the articles about boundary setting helpful. Just click on the links to those in the above article.

  • Golda

    I told a friend who doesn’t belong to the small group I am part of (hereon referred to as outsider friend) that I want to leave the small group I belong to. I have been feeling like always self-censoring what I share in the group because there is one lady who always has a passive-aggressive, smart-alecky put-down to the things I say. Several years ago, on our second time meeting, this same lady (critical lady from hereon) yelled at me right before a program we were attending was starting, just because I asked her a question, which she felt would entail a conversation that was ill-timed. Granted, that was true, but I found her response incommensurate to the offense. She could have just nudged me and told me to shush up. Why yell? She has told people (in front of me) that my sport is for people who aren’t really super coordinated. She has warmly/excitedly greeted people I walk into the meeting room with, and not greeted me at all. Once she has told other people, that she prefers being friends with people who go with the flow and are not uptight about things (I have some health concerns and cannot do a lot of things my peers are into). She tells people that my blog doesn’t glorify God, and has told others that people (of course she meant me) needed to lighten up about their (meaning my) position about not seeing a certain movie that I believe, based on my Bible studies, is full of heresy. I have tried reaching out to her by making her posters for her big event (she didn’t even attend my other event) and she didn’t thank me for the posters. Well, now that i think about it, I should have made the posters for God’s glory and not because I wanted to be appreciated. I have given her a gift for her birthday and I’ve seen her bring some other item just like it to our meetings and i can’t help but feel rejected/intentionally spited. I’ve seen her from afar seeing me then rolling her eyes. She has started to invite other people (in front of me) to events that she knows I won’t be able to attend. On my birthday (yikes, this was so hurtful), she came wearing wrinkled, old clothing and she came late. She brings food to our potlucks that she knows I am allergic to. I also like to hang out with the pastor’s kids whom she despises with reverse snobbery. Her unkind comments have affected me so much that I made sure my FB posts are unseen by her. She even has comments about the prayers I ask for in the group!

    These days, her tactic is to post passive-aggressive jabs about people having a victim syndrome not being a part of a Christian mentality. That a victim mentality is pride-based. I believe our small group leader agrees with her about the victim syndrome. I don’t have proof that her attack was on me per se. But who else could it be?

    I have brought this problem to the small group leader many years ago, hoping that I could biblically approach critical lady (Matthew 18:15) but the small group leader advised me to pray about it some more. I believe that if we were living in the US or some other Western country, confronting critical lady would probably have been encouraged. But we live in Asia where people don’t discuss the elephant in the room; in fact, people like to walk around it. Maybe that’s why the dgroup leader wanted me to pray about it. I honestly don’t know.

    Lately, I have been feeling more and more that I want to leave, but how do I tell the leader without making her feel that it is her fault? I don’t have an excuse such as moving to a group for married couples because I am still single; or moving away. I no longer feel safe to share how I feel in the group. I was told by outsider friend that self-censoring/practicing what I want to say and leaving out important things just so I am not offending critical lady each time I open my mouth in group sharing is not being transparent and is not helpful for a person to be growing in the group. I have a few people I can trust in the group, but I don’t want to cause them to sin or to take sides.

    Should I try one more time to ask my group leader to help me open up to the girl? Just to have closure?

    One time, I was fasting and I was lead to a study about trials——and how one trial led to the healing of a sick person in Acts. When I read this, I thought about whether or not, this verse applied to my situation. Was the sick person her? Me? The small group leader? All three of us? Did this mean I had to stay in the group for the healing of the sick person as I went through this trial? And if so, what do I do if the small group leader once again tells me not to approach the girl/tell her how I feel/speak the truth in love?

    One other friend says she would “ghost” the group, but I feel like I wouldn’t want that done to me if I were in the position of the small group leader, especially since I’ve been with the group for a while.

    Should I, like outsider friend who doesn’t belong to the small group but trains others about small group dynamics is advising, leave?

    In all this, I give thanks that I have not stopped doing my quiet time daily and I continue to attend big group worship.

    However, because this continues to happen, I always felt like no longer wanting to attend meetings, or wanting to have some kind of truthful excuse for being absent.

    I don’t know if my small group leader noticed anything, but she posted something in our group about not severing ties with people you have relationships and forgive forgive forgive. I agree to forgiving, but I also want to be heard and not criticized/put down all the time to the point that I get stomaches whenever our meeting day comes around and I don’t have a valid excuse to be absent.

    This early I am also already researching about other small group schedules, but before making a commitment I am praying about what my next steps should be.