The longer I coach small groups, the more I see that groups have a birth, a life (productive or otherwise) and should have a death. However, I don't see nearly enough groups committing suicide when the job's done or they were never able to create a biblical community that enjoyed transformation.
This is where a good coach uses his or her skills to help the group close in a positive, profitable way.
I will often visit a stagnant group (asking the leader for fifteen minutes just after worship to talk with the members) and ask a question which I know will baffle the members:
"What is your group's kingdom-building strategy?"
Usually, one of the members or the leader asks me to clarify the question. So, I'll rephrase it:
"I want to support you in your efforts to make a difference for Christ in your world. Tell me the plans you have made to serve the unchurched around you and involve them in your lives. Then, I can pray specifically for you as you pursue it and even help you along the way."
As a coach, I never visit a group and ask a small group questions to which I do not know the answer in advance. I already know this group has no plans to reach out or do anything except show up for meetings from time spent with the leader. So, this line of questioning is purposely offered to create a sense of urgency within the members.
When I get blank stares or people dance around the question, I tell them I would like to visit the group in a month's time and ask the same questions, challenging them to fast and pray and ask God why they are still together as a small group. The first six months were used to bond as friends. The next six months were used to bring God into the mix. However, if a group isn't reaching out to unchurched people after a year's time, I gotta wonder if this group of people has no intention of ever doing it and they should move on to be members of or lead other groups.
Now I know what you're thinking. How do you disband a group without becoming the hatchet man?
I learned a long time ago that closing down a group is a nasty thing to do to a group of people, even a stagnant group of people who don't really like the group, but care about the other members of the group. So, I just work very hard over the course of six months to encourage people in that group to start a new group with a few members, visit another group that has members that desperately need someone with their life experience or training or ability, etc.
Moving just two or three families out of a stagnant group, while helping those who remain to do more outreach will give the group an amazing story to tell... if they all participate.
All this to say, I have visited a group and asked them the questions above, and revisited a month later and they never prayed and didn't fast and never heard God on any outreach plans. Or, they formed some plans and were too lazy to do them. So, I go back, and with the leader's permission, I ask the members, "Are we done here? Is it time to close this group? You are the members of the group. You decide!"
Of course, this hits them like a ton of bricks. A few will be honest and say they think the group has achieved all it can achieve and the member's time would best be used elsewhere. Others will get very upset that this is even being discussed because they hate change and don't care if the group remains stagnant.
Even if the group doesn't commit suicide, the question I pose (Should you put a fork in it and call it done?) stirs the members to think differently about their group. I may not be their favorite person that week, but I am doing what I should be doing as the group's coach.
Coaches, after all, help their team work together to win the game and then the series, and then the championship.
How well are the coaches over your groups doing in the area of challenging complacent group members to do something different to get different results?