Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge

by Etienne Wenger, Richard McDemott, and others. Harvard Business School Press, 2002.

Research in corporations documents the benefits of allowing or cultivating "communities of practice"—groups organized across product lines, across types of expertise lines, and across distance—to support new approaches to problem solving. We believe these benefits may also apply to congregations.

The "communities of practice" model has three components: domain (content knowledge), community (group membership and cohesion), and practice (applying knowledge to problem solving). A vibrant congregational committee might meet the definition of a "community of practice" as a group of people who (1) share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic; (2) find value in their interactions; and (3) create new opportunities for learning. This social fabric of learning creates a sense of belonging and promotes new approaches to critical issues. Later chapters in the book present tips for cultivating communities and include diagnostic tools for dealing with community disorders.

Small group ministry initiatives, committee structures, or coalition building efforts with other congregations may benefit from this book's seven principles for cultivating communities. Congregations that seek to enliven membership by encouraging social and learning movements—and that have savvy leaders who can translate from these business applications—will find a framework upon which to base their transformative efforts.