The book also does a good job of pointing out the challenges and false assumptions that often derail a church's experience with small groups. For example, I wish every church could get a good grip on the following advice from Chapter 2: "The journey of starting groups in your church is not a quick fix. A healthy church and staff team is, obviously, beneficial to any new opportunity's success. But the success is based on more than a healthy staff. It requires prayer, planning, relationships, and a culture that is open to trying something new."
Finally, because Eddie has "been there" as a small-groups practitioner within a church, he does a good job of highlighting the problems and difficult decisions that often slip under the radar with other groups-related material. For example, many churches and small-group leaders are regularly tormented by the need to find, acquire, or write quality curriculum—something that seems simple but is in reality a complicated process. Connecting in Communities does a good job of addressing that issue, along with several others.
Because Eddie is a practitioner, he often illustrates his ideas by using stories and experiences from his own church and ministry. This makes sense, of course, and is usually helpful in terms of explanation. But there are times when Eddie comes across as assuming that the decisions and practices of his church are the "right" ones.
For example, he advocates an apprentice plan as a method of helping groups multiply in a way that does not cause "heartburn, lost friendships, and sleepless nights." However, he does not seem to seriously consider that a church could opt for "closed" groups that do not seek to multiply or divide.
I also thought it was interesting that each chapter contains a section written for small-group leaders. The book as a whole is definitely geared toward pastors and ministry point persons, after all, and there was a bit of dissonance for me when the audience switched abruptly to individual leaders and then back to pastors.
Finally, because this book focuses on the basic elements of a small-groups ministry, there is a lot that gets left unsaid and unaddressed. Fortunately, Eddie does include a recommended reading list in one of the appendices that is very helpful.
If you are a pastor or church leader wondering how to implement a small-groups ministry in your church, Connecting in Communities is one of the books you need to dig into before you get started. It will help you, it will help your church, and it will help the people who eventually participate in every small group you launch.
If you have been doing small groups as a long time, I am willing to bet that this book will be a useful refresher—a way to objectively look at your ministry and ask: "Are we doing as well as we should be? What important elements are missing, and how can we add them?"
I hope you will see for yourself.
—Sam O'Neal is managing editor of SmallGroups.com.