We live in a world fraught with loneliness, risk, and uncertainty. Neighbors no longer know neighbors. Christians can sit across the pew for years without entering one another’s lives. No matter how many friends we have on Facebook, we still feel isolated. We are in a crisis of community.
Enter Small Groups. In The Church and the Crisis of Community: A Practical Theology of Small-Group Ministry, Theresa Latini argues that small groups have been the church’s response to the fragmentation and uncertainty we face. Small groups are both a response and a symptom of our current struggle for intimacy and security. Small groups are caught up in the same dynamics that they seek to address. Using her training as a practical theologian, Latini offers a critical reflection on the small group movement in order to ground this church practice in the action of God. She offers description and interpretation of the present moment, substantial theology, as well as practical steps for implementing more faithful small groups in a congregation. In doing so, she offers a gift to the church and all who care for the fractured communities we live in.
By itself, her methodology is worth the price of admission. Her four-fold practical theological task (descriptive-empirical, interpretive, normative, pragmatic) empowers her to integrate insights from the social sciences with an expansive theological vision. Latini neither sacrifices her theology on the altar of science, nor dismisses the insights given to her by these secular disciplines. Theologically, she presents a thoroughly Trinitarian and Christ-centered vision for the church that absolutely sings. In reading it, one is reminded of the joy and possibility for true koinonia through the grace of God. God’s action makes it possible, and we are invited to participate.
If you are unfamiliar with sociology or psychology, there are a lot of terms to learn. Regardless, I highly recommend this book for any pastor or lay person seeking to more faithfully cultivate community through small groups.