Imagine on the day of your small group, texts, Facebook messages and emails start rolling in…
“It’s been a crazy week. Won’t make it tonight.”
“Forgot my husband has a thing tonight. We won’t be there.”
“I’ve got the flu. Better stay home.”
“My car died. I don’t have a way to get there.”
As group leaders setting aside our time to prepare for and be present for our group members, it can get discouraging when cancellations start coming in. It can be even more frustrating to receive these messages on weeks that have been hectic. Maybe your family has an event invitation you declined or you’re not feeling so great and would rather not be there yourself.
The easy thing to do is to cancel the group meeting, but is that the best option?
When is it in the groups best interest to cancel, and when is it wise to stick with the plan? Here are some considerations that can help us decide.
- How many is enough?
There have been times when almost everyone in the group messages me that they will not be coming that week. It’s even worse when that sinking feeling nudges you that people won’t be coming and you have to track down responses.
You start thinking about letting the rest of the group know you are canceling. Ahhh, a night off. No getting the house ready. No getting bundled up on a cold winter night. You can just relax! It’s a relieving thought.
But, here’s the trouble… The few people who are planning to attend are being faithful to the group and to your leadership. When you cancel on them, you undermine their commitment. Why not meet as planned? Postpone the study if you’d like. Bring out the goodies. Ask about their lives. These small nights have been some of the most meaningful and relationships-building moments I’ve experienced in groups I’ve led. Often, I’ve found out things from their lives and stories that they would never have shared otherwise.
- Hectic Schedules
What if as leaders we’re the ones having a crazy week? If something important comes up that conflicts with our group time, here are questions to consider before canceling:
How can I work around it?
If I’m married, can one of us stay with the group and the other go?
Is there a co-leader or table leader that would be capable and trusted to lead?
If there isn’t time for your usual preparation, can someone else facilitate?
It might feel uncomfortable – for them or you. And of course, there are other priorities in life that arise. But consider this… The trust, openness and commitment of your group members is based on being able to rely on your commitment and consistency – even if their attendance isn’t as consistent.
- Willing But Unable
What about when weather, transportation or babysitting issues arise? Depending on the format of your group, there are creative options to consider here, as well.
Is there someone in the group nearby and comfortable enough carpool?
Can the location or host home be moved for that night?
Could you use Skype or FaceTime to include the group member in the meeting from their home?
There’s a time when these exceptions cause stress of overcompensating and unhealthy boundaries. However, occasionally making the extra effort to include a group member in unexpected circumstances shows them how much their presence is valued.
- Everything Awry
I had a co-leader once comment that on the day of our group meetings everything that could go wrong would go wrong. He’d wake up in a sour mode. There would be a traffic jam on his commute to Toronto. Conflict would arise at work out of nowhere. Technical glitches would interfere with the study he had prepared. The last thing he felt like doing each evening was leading our group. Yet by the end of the meeting he would be on a high after seeing what God was up to in each of the group members’ lives.
Soon, he noticed the pattern.
The rest of his week would be fine, but something repeatedly felt off on the Thursday of our group. We quickly remembered “our battle is not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12) and “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10). Instead of relying on what he felt and experienced that day to determine his readiness to lead the group that night, he made another choice. He started the day in specific prayer against an enemy who didn’t want our group members to experience victory and hope in their lives.
Is the heaviness or unfortunate circumstances of your day causing you to consider cancelling? Thankfully, we have another perspective! Set aside moments to put on the armour of God mentioned in Ephesians 6. When we exert our spiritual authority in Christ and ask the Holy Spirit to show us how He wants to show up in our groups, we not only see God at work in ways we didn’t expect, we grow in our own relationship with Jesus.
That said, there may be an occasion when we have no other option but to call off a night. No problem. But for the health of our group relationships and culture, we can do our best to make canceling and rescheduling a rare occasion or re-evaluate a group rhythm that works for that season of the group.
Reflection: When is a time you appreciated a group not being cancelled when it could have been?