Introduction to Small Christian Communities



Small Christian Communities

Love in a Small Christian Community

Leadership in a Small Christian Community

Networking Small Christian Communities


"They devoted themselves to the apostles' instruction and the communal life, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." —Acts 2:42

This is an introduction to forming small Christian communities. These communities appeal to those who are zealous for evangelization, love the Church, and have "gone through the mill" in church renewal. In about .thirty years of working to renew the Church, I myself have been involved in countless groups, committees , and programs. I have come to a point where I don't think the Lord is calling me to merely put on more programs but to form the basic structure of, that is, the small community. Although this type of community is not popular in an individualistic, secularized world and church, it is God's will. Therefore, even if it starts small, it will flourish by God's grace.

Life in a small Christian community is simply our baptismal brotherhood and sisterhood lived out practically with a few people. We share God's word, the Eucharist, prayer, our possessions, our gifts, time, and meals. We share daily life.

These communities are:

  • approved and encouraged by the universal Church.
  • Biblically based.
  • historically proven to be a leaven for world evangelization and Church renewal.

These communities are basic Christianity. We can devote our lives to forming them and know that we are building something that will last.


"You will know what kind of conduct befits a member of God's household, the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of truth." —1 Timothy 3:15

The following quotations from Pope John Paul II, and Pope Paul VI indicate how the Spirit is developing small Christian communities and that the Church approves and encourages the formation of small communities.

Communautes de base (basic communities) "will be a hope for the universal Church to the extent:

  • that they seek their nourishment in the Word of God and do not allow themselves to be ensnared by political polarization or fashionable ideologies, which are ready to exploit their immense human potential;
  • that they avoid the ever present temptation of systematic protest and a hypercritical attitude, under the pretext of authenticity and a spirit of collaboration;
  • that they remain firmly attached to the local Church in which they are inserted, and to the universal Church, thus avoiding the very real danger of becoming isolated within themselves, then of believing themselves to be the only authentic Church of Christ, and hence of condemning the other ecclesial communities;
  • that they maintain a sincere communion with the pastors whom the Lord gives to His Church, and with the magisterium which the Spirit of Christ has entrusted to these pastors;
  • that they never look on themselves as the sole beneficiaries or sole agents of evangelization — or even the only depositories of the Gospel — but, being aware that the Church is much more vast and diversified, accept the fact that this Church becomes incarnate in other ways than themselves;
  • that they constantly grow in missionary consciousness, fervor, commitment and zeal;
  • that they show themselves to be universal in all things and never sectarian."

"On these conditions, which are certainly demanding but also uplifting, the ecclesial communautes de base will correspond to their most fundamental vocation; as hearers of the Gospel which is proclaimed to them and privileged beneficiaries of evangelization, they will soon become proclaimers of the Gospel themselves" (Pope Paul VI, On Evangelization, 58).

"A rapidly growing phenomenon in the young churches — one sometimes fostered by the bishops and their Conferences as pastoral priority — is that of 'ecclesial basic communities' (also known by other names) which are proving to be good centers for Christian formation and missionary outreach. These are groups of Christians who, at the level of the family or in a similarly restricted setting, come together for prayer, Scripture reading, catechesis, and discussion on human and ecclesial problems with a view to a common commitment. These communities are a sign of vitality within the Church, an instrument of formation and evangelization, and a solid starting point for a new society based on 'civilization of love.'

"These communities decentralize and organize the parish community, to which they always remain united" (Pope John Paul II, The Mission of the Redeemer, 51).

"Because the Church is communion, the new 'basic communities', if they truly live in unity with the Church, are a true expression of communion and a means of construction of a more profound communion. They are thus cause for great hope for the life of the Church" (Pope John Paul II, The Mission of the Redeemer, 51).

"So that all parishes of this kind may be truly communities of Christians, local ecclesial authorities ought to foster...small, basic or so-called 'living' communities, where the faithful can communicate the word of God and express it in service and love to one another; these communities are true expressions of ecclesial communion and centers of evangelization, in communion with their pastors" Pope John Paul II, {The Lay Members of Christ's Faithful People).

"Internal to the parish, especially if vast and territorially extensive, small Church communities, where present, can be a notable help in the formation of Christians by providing a consciousness and an experience of ecclesial communion and mission which are more extensive and incisive" (Pope John Paul II, The Lay Members of Christ's Faithful People, 61).


"The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the assembly that meets in their house, send you cordial greetings in the Lord." —1 Corinthians 16:19

The saying: "There's no place like home," is one of the basic principles of God's word and plan of salvation. In the Old Testament, the home and the Temple were the most important places of worship and celebration. The Passover, the greatest of all Israelite celebrations, was held in homes. Jesus made the home not only a center for worship but also His base for evangelization. He told His apostles: "Look for a worthy person in every town or village you come to and stay with him until you leave. As you enter his home bless it" (Mt 10:11-12). After Pentecost, the early Church met in their homes daily for the breaking of the bread (the Eucharist) and shared meals (Acts 2:46). This resulted in the manifestation of signs and wonders, break-throughs in economic sharing, and wildfire evangelism. "Day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47). All the churches for the first 300 years of Church history were homes. Saul persecuted the Church by breaking up these home-meetings, dragging men and women out of house after house, and throwing them into jail (Acts 8:3). Peter was saved from execution through an all-night prayer-vigil at the home of Mary, John Mark's mother (Acts 12:12). Lydia, the first convert of the Western world, made her home a church (Acts 16:15, 40). Priscilla and Aquila had the most famous home-based community in history. They strengthened Paul to return to full-time ministry (Acts 18:2-5), converted Apollos, and empowered him to minister in the Spirit (Acts 18:26). All the churches of the Gentiles owed a debt of gratitude to Priscilla and Aquila and the congregation that met in their house (Rm 16:4-5). Other notable communities were those of Nymphas (Col 4:15), Titus Justus (Acts 18:7), Gaius (Rm 16:23), and Philemon (Phlm 2). The home-based community was seen as a training ground for leadership in the early Church (1 Tm 3: 5, 12).


"But they were searching for a better, a heavenly home." —Hebrews 11:16

The home-based community is directly contrary to the trends of our American society. The home is usually considered insignificant today. We are an extremely mobile society, constantly changing residences and jobs. We jump from apartment to apartment. We even eat on the run, picking up "fast foods" at drive-through windows. Home is a layover, a sleeping room. But Biblically, home is where the action is (Prv 31:10ff). It is the center of community, business, education, social services, entertainment, and more. It is the center of life.

Our technology has made it possible to begin an experiment. Our independent life-style is unprecedented in world history — totally experimental. We have no idea how it will turn out. Early indications are frightening. According to our new life-style, home-makers have meaningless lives, and children are see as a great inconvenience to their parents and a hindrance to living the "good life." There seems to be nothing sacred in life — including sex, love, marriage, family, and community. Talents and skills which have been traditionally valued are now considered unimportant. We are taking an extreme risk in the most basic elements of life. We may be creating a Frankenstein world.

In such an alien environment, the concept of a community may sound and idealistic, but these have been formed as a matter of course throughout Church history and today hundreds of thousands of communities are flourishing throughout the world. These remain the principal center of Christian life, even in the twentieth century world. In South America, Africa, and the Philippines they are called "basic communities," in Russia and China "house-churches," and in Korea and America "cell groups." The terminology used in official Catholic documents is "church of the home," "domestic church," "communautes de base," or "basic communties."

There are some differences indicated by these various names. Basic communities usually emphasize social change by the power of Christ's gospel. Church-homes are focused on building up marriage and family life. Cell groups are designed to evangelize the world by multiplying new groups. However, these are not significant differences, and the communities have one major thing in common. Wherever they function, there is an evangelistic explosion that is much greater even than at the first Pentecost. Miraculous evangelistic success in Africa, South Korea, Russia, and China are attributable to God's power working through small Christian communities.


"The way we came to understand love was that He laid down His life for us; we too must lay down our lives for our brothers." — 1 John 3:16

A Christian community is different from families and groups in at least four ways. First, each committed member of the community must be under Jesus' lordship and open to the Spirit, although others can visit and participate in various aspects of the community.

Second, a small Christian community has ecclesial, Biblical standards for brotherhood and sisterhood as its ideal. It is not only a support group, prayer group, or study group. In a community, we are trying to be one as Jesus and the Father are one (Jn 17:21). We want to love each other to the point that we will lay down our lives for one another (1 Jn 3:16). We hope to so identify with each other that if one suffers we all suffer and if one is honored we all rejoice (1 Cor 12:26).

Third, a small Christian community is similar to an extended family. Twelve adults are usually the maximum number before the community branches off to form a second community. Like Jesus' twelve apostles, this community is small enough to be personal and large enough to have many varied gifts for the upbuilding of all the members. The community often centers around two or more Christian married couples and their families. Sometimes the community can form around a single person, as may have been the case with Lydia and John Mark's mother. The community includes single people, single parents and their children, godparents, relatives, neighbors, or anyone called to share in family life. Not all members must live under one roof, but all the members should be trying to share daily God's word, the Eucharists, prayer, time, possessions, and meals with at least some of the community's members.

Fourth, a home-based community is an "intentional" community. Many families and groups of friends are living a Biblical community life but, because they are not aware of it, they will probably not plan for continuity of leadership and branch off into new communities. Thus, they will not have their full impact on society and probably won't last until Jesus's second coming.


"One who has no love for the brother he has seen cannot love the God he has not seen." —1 John 4:20

God's love motivates us to form Christian communities (see 2 Cor: 5:14), and through these communities we grow in love for God and one another.

There are four major relationships in love, life, and community.

1. CHILD-PARENT — By God's design, the first relationship for all human persons is to honor, love, respect, and obey our parents. If we live this relationship according to God's will, our lives will go well (Eph 6:2-3), and we will have a good foundation for all other relationships. A good relationship with our parents is a prerequisite for the brotherhood and sisterhood relationships in communities. In turn these community-relationships will further motivate us to love, honor, and obey our parents no matter how old we are. Even if our parents have died, we should be at peace with them and have forgiven them for anything they have done against us.

2. BROTHER-SISTER — The relationships we have with brothers and sisters constitute over 99% of our relationships. Brotherhood and sisterhood have been radically transformed by our Baptism into Jesus' body (1 Cor 12:13). We are brothers and sisters in Christ in a way that transcends our relationships with blood brothers and sisters. In Christian brotherhood and sisterhood, we learn to love in the fullness of God's grace. Without good brother-sister relationships, we have no foundation for the vocation of marriage or the single life in the Lord.

Brotherhood and sisterhood are so important that the devil tries to rob us of them. He has cut down the size of our families so that many people have little experience of relating to blood brothers and sisters. He has also moved up the age for romantic relationships so that brother-sister relationships are left to the first few years of life. Furthermore, in our warped society, we can view even brothers and sisters in Christ as competition.

We have let ourselves be robbed of significant brother-sister relationships because we have yielded to the flesh and stifled the Spirit (see Gal 5:17). Our flesh (our human nature) values individualism, independence, and self-centeredness. We must break with this worldly nature if we are to value brotherhood and sisterhood. By living our Baptism, we must keep our old nature buried and choose to be crucified to the world (Gal 6:14).

3. HUSBAND-WIFE — In addition to the bond of baptism, the bond of Matrimony holds communities together. Marriage and family life are often the training ground for leadership in communities. Husbands and wives must understand and live their complimentary roles of sacrificial love and submission so they can lead their community in living according to the same principles. Married couples must put a high priority on praying together daily. This helps them participate in the prayer of the community.

4. PARENT-CHILD — Parents must take initiative in making their children disciples of Christ. They should "bring them up with the training and instruction befitting the Lord" (Eph 6:4). They should raise their children as if they were Mary and Joseph raising Jesus. Parents are the primary educators of their children. Because of this, many Christian parents decide to home-school their children.

The discipling of children by their parents is part of the discipleship by the whole community. Children of single parent families are given full parenting through the support of the community (Sir 4:10). Godparents take an active role in discipling their godchildren. Older men disciple younger men (1 Tm 1:2; 1 Pt 5:13). Older women spiritually adopt younger women (Ti 2:3-4). The result is accelerated growth in holiness for the members of the home-based community.

In summary, because the brotherhood and sisterhood we live in Christian community should strengthen all our relationships, those in communities should be able to answer "yes" to the following questions:

  1. Do I love my parents more?
  2. Do I have meaningful Christian relationships outside of marriage and immediate family.
  3. Can I relate to people of the same sex without competition or jealousy?
  4. Can I relate to people of the opposite sex without romantic overtones?
  5. Do I pray daily with my spouse?
  6. Are my marriage and family life under Biblical principles?
  7. Am I discipling my children for Jesus and am I really in charge of their education?

There are many other criteria for quality Christian relationships, but the answers to these questions will clearly show whether we have let the Spirit pour out the love of God in our hearts (Rm 5:5).


"Beloved, you are strangers and in exile; hence I urge you not to indulge your carnal desires." —1 Peter 2:11

If we believe we are "beloved," we become aware of being strangers and in exile in this world. Then we believe that Jesus chose us out of the world (Jn 15:19), and we become alienated from the world and desirous of Christian community.

When we were baptized, we received a new nature. This makes us different from the way we were before and different from most of the people in the world. If we live our Baptisms, we become aware of our alienation from the world. Then we seek to be in community with those who also have a new nature and are thereby becoming aware of their alienation from the world. The most important concern for forming Christian community in the Western world of the twentieth century is the necessity of radical alienation from the world, that system which refuses to acknowledge Jesus' lordship. Without this, we are so involved in a non-Christian community that Christian community seems superfluous at best.

The Holy Spirit takes us to the cross, proves the world wrong (Jn 16:8), and crucifies us to the world (Gal 6:14). The apostles did not develop in Christian community until after they received the Spirit. The Spirit surfaces our alienation from the world by spotlighting the irreconcilable differences between God's kingdom of light and Satan's kingdom of darkness. Here are a few of these differences:

Identity in Christ Identity in things
Sunday as focus of week Weekend as focus
Parents as primary educators School or state as primary educators
Human life as sacred from conception The absolute authority of a woman to kill anyone in her body
Sex only in marriage "Safe sex" without marriage
Church as community and worship Church as only an obligation custom
Suffering valued Escape from suffering, often through alcohol, drugs, overeating, and other compulsions
Brotherhood/Sisterhood Friendship based on business, sexual attraction, or common interests
Christian fellowship Parties
Forgiveness and mercy Lawsuits and justice
Spiritual warfare Technological warfare
No artificial birth-control Birth-control and abortion
At least weekly fasting Maximum pleasure, dieting if necessary
Large families "Nuclear" families or no families
Work for God, not money Work for money and self
Persecution Popularity
Holydays Holidays
Simple life-style Consumerism
Limited or no TV TV as center of life
Service-oriented Entertainment-oriented
Tithing and almsgiving Spending and/or savings
No debts Credit cards, loans, and debts
Praise Gossip and self-centered conversation
International brotherhood/sisterhood National interests
Clothes that cover the body Clothes that draw attention to parts of the body
Men and women as equal and different Unisex
Family meals together frequently Drive-through
Death as the beginning Death as the end

The Spirit must show us these and other differences between the Christian life and the world, or we will not separate from the world and see the need for the brotherhood and sisterhood of Christian community.


"With a leader to break the path they shall burst open the gate and go out through it; their king shall go through before them, and the Lord at their head." —Mic 2:13

Supernaturally gifted leaders are necessary for forming small communities. The Lord will give a leader everything necessary to form a Christian community.

Leaders should:

  • have the vision of God's plan for the community.
  • help people become more aware of their baptismal alienation from the world.
  • give the Church's teaching on small communities by using the Church's official documents and especially the Bible.
  • unite the community with other communities, the parish, diocese, and universal Church.
  • recognize the gifts of each member of the community and delegate responsibilities.
  • maintain God's order in the community.
  • inspire a zeal to evangelize and serve in the community.
  • strengthen the unity of the members of the community with each other by praying for God's grace and fostering a "continual interaction" among the members of the community (The Lay Members of Christ's Faithful People, Pope John Paul II, 20).


"The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I do not need you.' " —1 Corinthians 12:21

The small communities of the early Church were not isolated but rooted in the Temple or synagogue. "They went to the temple area together every day, while in their homes they broke bread" (Acts 2:46). "Day after day, both in the temple and at home, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news of Jesus the Messiah" (Acts 5:42). Even when official Judaism became hostile to Christians, they stayed in the synagogue until they were expelled in 85 A.D. In addition to their roots in Judaism, the early Christian communities were united with one another in a network of support, teaching, and accountability.

Today's communities should not be islands to themselves. They should be rooted in the universal Church by all the community members being under the authority of their pastors. Pope Paul VI stated that "basic communities" should "remain firmly attached to the local Church in which they are inserted, and to the universal Church thus avoiding the very real danger of becoming isolated within themselves." Communities should "maintain a sincere communion with the pastors whom the Lord gives to His Church, and with the magisterium" (On Evangelization in the Modern World, 58).

The relationship with the local churches and their pastors is an invaluable help to communities. However, we need another structure to network and foster home-based communities because:

  1. Sometimes the pastor of a parish is unable or unwilling to do much to help the community.
  2. Even if a pastor of a parish supports Christian community, he will probably not stay at that parish for more than a few years. Thus, there is no assurance of continuity in leadership of a small community. This is a serious problem because the leadership in a small community is so important!

Therefore, most communities are in a dilemma. They need a larger structure 1) to impact the world, 2) provide good leadership training, and 3) protect themselves in spiritual warfare. But they probably have nowhere to turn.

We at Presentation Ministries want to serve your community by offering you the opportunity to join a network of communities. Contact us if the Lord leads you to do so:

Presentation Ministries
3230 McHenry Ave.
Cincinnati, Ohio 45211
(513) 662-JESU

Further resources: Presentation Ministries offers the book, Building Small Christian Communities, There are 12 half-hour video programs which go with this book. We are willing to come to your city to train leaders to conduct these seminars.


Nihil obstat: Reverend Robert L. Hagedorn, June 24, 1996
Imprimatur: † Most Reverend Carl K. Moeddel, Vicar General and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, July 1, 1996