Documentary filmmaker R. Scott Cooper moves his family from Los Angeles to Athens, Georgia, after being hired to make a film about the dwindling influence of Christianity in America. Upon arrival, he learns that his producer, Ballard, intends to make a cheap hit piece rather than an objective documentary. Scott turns the job down to protect his journalistic integrity, but financial difficulties force him to negotiate with Ballard, who deceives Scott into believing that he will, in fact, tell an honest story.
To dive deeper than a public worship service will allow, Scott and his wife, Mary, infiltrate a small group at a local church, finding a group of imperfect people doing their best to live for Christ. As the Coopers’ relationship with their group grows, Ballard isn’t pleased with the direction of the documentary and exposes their infiltration, leaving viewers to see how the small group will react to such an intense betrayal.
R. Scott Cooper (“Coop”) ships his family from LA to Athens, Georgia, chasing down a filmmaking job that’ll keep his family afloat. Ballard, his film director, wants Coop to create a documentary that tears apart the local church, calling out hypocrisies and smearing the name of Christianity. Though Coop isn’t a believer, he’s hesitant to take Ballard’s vindictive offer. Nonetheless, the need for money wins out, and Coop goes undercover in the church to dig up the truth of these Jesus followers.
To better understand church life, Coop and his wife, Mary, attend Sunday services at a local church and join a small group. At first, things are stereotypically awkward. The small group members sit in a circle and ask everyone to share their testimony. Coop and Mary bumble their way through uneasy introductions, but as the weeks go by, Coop and Mary find a relentless, steady community amidst this small group. As Mary prepares to have her second child (a scary experience for her pregnancy history), her small group is there. While Coop finds himself in a hostile situation on a mission trip to Guatemala, his best friend from small group is there. Life begins to make more sense as Coop and Mary stay connected to these Jesus people.
Redemption seems like it will be a smooth-sailing process for Coop and Mary, but when Ballard leaks Coop’s unedited footage, Ballard exposes false information about the small group. With reputations dented and trust broken, Coop and Mary face a group of Christians who rise to the occasion, forgiving because Christ forgave them. Through this un-humanlike forgiveness, Coop and Mary see Christianity for the beauty that it truly is, providing a true testimony that they can freely share.
Small Group is an unapologetically honest look into the church, especially its small group niches. Yes, lots of small groups are hosted in a circle, and yes, people eventually ask you to get personal about your testimony, but this vulnerability creates relationships with people that will hold you accountable, encourage you, and give you a reason to hang onto Jesus when you honestly don’t want to. It’s faith at its realest, with small group members who don’t mind cracking jokes and letting loose.
Though some of the jokes in this film include references to getting high or peeing oneself, these elements serve as satirical jokes that hold no weight. On a more serious note, Coop rescues a little girl from being sexually abused in Guatemala, and though there are no graphic scenes, this portion of the film will serve as a way for parents to talk with their older children about human trafficking. When one of Coop’s small group friends sees what is about to happen, he exclaims, “Oh, hell no,” and fights off the sexual predator. Again, sin is not glorified, but the reality of the everyday Christian serves as the primary theme.
Another serious element of the film is Mary’s pregnancy. Not to serve as a spoiler, but rather, a trigger warning, Mary’s pregnancy does not carry full-term. While no gore is present, Mary and Coop lose their baby, which might cause sensitivity for certain viewers.
However, Small Group gives Christians the chance to be human. It provides a breath of relief and the raw reward of grace all in one story, and because of the redemption, forgiveness, and friendship, Small Group is Dove-approved for Ages 12+.
The Dove Take:
When a filmmaker and his wife join a small group for the sake of disproving Christianity and all its church-y quirks, they learn the truth about redemption, grace, and friendship.