Small Christian Communities

Imagining Future Church

Edited by Robert S. Pelton, C.S.C.

From the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies

As the Church seeks to understand its life and mission in an increasingly secular context, the worldwide experiences of small Christian communities offer significant insights into the Church of the future. This book presents the findings of a theological consultation held at the University of Notre Dame in 1996 among 45 theologians, pastoral leaders, and lay members of small communities from five continents.

What emerges here is a careful, candid, and positive view of how small communities can enrich the life of the Church by drawing together people of diverse cultures and economic situations for spiritual renewal based on a sense of mission to the poor and the excluded. The theology and lived experience presented here offer profound insights into finding and living the reality of Christ in the contemporary world.

This book demonstrates how and why the formation and fervor of small Christian communities may well be the leaven for the Church of the future.

Robert S. Pelton, C.S.C., is professor emeritus of theology and concurrent professor in the Kellogg Institute for International Studies. He was coordinator of the International Consultation on Small Christian Communities on which this book is based.


“. . . The voices present . . . [are] from such culturally diverse places as Latin America, North America, India, Asia, Australia, and East Africa. Christologies and ecclesiologies emerging within local communities [provide] the theological focus. Careful attention to group dynamics in various types of forums [provide] the method. The quest for inculturated, grass-roots expressions of Christianity [provide] the goal. The resulting volume is informative, imaginative, and lively. Many of the discussion-framing themes represent the type of ‘bottom up’ approach associated with liberation theologian Leonardo Boff and with contextual theologian Robert Schreiter. These themes include an option for: the poor vis-à-vis the privileged; popular religiosity vis-à-vis more formal varieties; orthopraxy vis-à-vis orthodoxy; the revolutionary Jesus vis-à-vis the comforting Jesus; and community vis-à-vis institution. Other recurring themes include an emphasis on the cross as a sign of contradiction, on the ‘people of God’ as a key theme of Vatican II, and on the need to leave behind ecclesial structures that are no longer needed. There are moments when the suspicious reader may wonder to what extent these themes truly represent the experience of people in small Christian communities and to what extent they represent the biases associated with a particular academic school of thought. Fortunately, the responses and interchanges manage with some regularity to go deeper than any preconceived ideologies to explore geniunely the faith experience of various peoples. Of particular interest are reports from East Africa expressing inculturated ecclesiologies that focus on the Church as a family of God and on Jesus as ancestor and as elder brother. . . . A useful sociological study of small Christian communities in the United States adds to the worth of this valuable little book. This work belongs in the library of every college that offers courses in theology. It could be used as one text among others in a course on church, and also as a reading for introductory courses, parish groups, or for any type of small Christian community.”—Horizons