In his insightful book on loneliness and spiritual growth, Samuel Natale argues that in the United States at least, loneliness exists as a serious and growing problem.19 In an increasingly mobile and hostile world, where loneliness and alienation are universal sources of human suffering, settings where individuals can experience a sense of belonging and neededness are more important than ever. The group experience, emphasizes Natale, is a powerful tool for intervening in both chronic (inability to relate to others) and situational (disruption of social interrelationships) aspects of loneliness.20
Not only can the church provide solutions to the problems of alienation and fragmentation, it has an unparalleled opportunity and responsibility to respond to the pressing relational problems that a harried generation possesses. The church has the potential to be an alternative community that models God’s intentions for relationship and fellowship. Indeed a unifying theme of the Old and New Testaments is God calling His people into a community of faith. At the very core of human nature as created by God, argues Ray Anderson, is community. Existence in co-humanity is logically prior to any occurrence as discrete individuals.21 T. S. Eliot writes, “There is no life that is not in community. And no community not lived in praise of God.”22 Adds Gareth Icenogle, “Scripture begins and ends with God calling humanity into relationship with the divine community and with one another.”23
Harley T. Atkinson, The Power of Small Groups in Christian Formation (Eugene, Oregon: Resource Publications, 2018).