Small Christian community may mean different things to different people, but participation in some form of small community is becoming an increasingly meaningful way for people to participate in parish life.
In past years, churches hoped to grow simply by bringing people in the front door. Investment in warm welcome and quality worship is certainly essential. Still, many churches are finding that people who enter the front door can easily drift unnoticed out the back door. Involvement in small faith-sharing groups is proving to be among the most effective ways for parishes to close the back door and encourage spiritual growth which in turn leads to a vibrant parish.
Can both small and large parishes benefit from small Christian Communities (SCC’s)? Here is what people from those SCC’s reported in last Nov./Dec.’s Today’s Parish:
For both big and small parishes SCC’s add “a sense of community,”
- especially for newly merged parishes
- SCC’s often satisfy the laity’s desire for a “deeper relationship with God” and a more effective presence in family, work and world
- SCC’s helped them express their faith and “be more aware of the presence of God” in their lives
- SCC’s helped make the connection between their lived experience, Scripture and church teachings
- a feeling of connection with the larger parish
- a fuller participation in the Sunday liturgy, given an understanding of the readings beforehand
- a “network of prayer and concern in place.”
- a deeper commitment to serve others.
For small rural parishes, when there are limited funds for catechetical resources, parish libraries or speakers and a fear of driving the roads at night or going long distances, SCC’s provide an excellent way to meet in homes, share books and DVD’s and contribute to adult faith formation. In general, SCC’s brought new life to the parishes. As one sister from a small rural community notes: “…faith sharing in a small community can change a person’s life. The faith sharing stories are a means of conversion… I can say honestly that faith sharing completely transformed my spiritual life – and I had been a nun for over twenty-five years at the time.” Consider the dimensions of small Christian communities and the benefits for parishes now which are offered by Brother Robert Moriarty who directs the Pastoral Department for Small Christian Communities in the Archdiocese of Hartford, CT:
Not every parish can have an extensive network of small faith-sharing groups. Brother Robert Moriarty challenges our preconceptions about such small groups when he observes that perhaps the task of a parish is not to require all parishioners to attend additional prayer meetings each week.
- It may be enough to build one or two minutes of quiet and reflection into the existing activities.
- It may be enough to start group meetings with the question: What did you have to go through in the last 90 minutes to get here today?
- It may be enough to just allow each other to be human together for a few moments before we get to it. It may be enough to ask families to pause once in each week of Advent to consider the question: Beyond the obvious gifts, what else do we want for the family this Christmas?
- It may be enough to ask the sport coaches at the parish school to invite a discussion once at the beginning and once at the end of the season of the question: Beyond winning and losing, what does it mean to be on a team?
- Perhaps the choir can ponder one line of each song that is practiced for Mass each week.
- Or maybe it would be valuable to ask members of parish ministries to periodically discuss when their ministry was most rewarding and why that happened.
- Ask those in the buildings and grounds committee to answer: What has happened in this building that has meant something to you?
It is less important that the discussion be explicitly religious and more important that people take the time to honor the lives of one another. Most groups can do it in less than ten minutes.
- Invite those present to take just 30-45 seconds of quiet time
- Ponder a focus question for 60 seconds (e.g. How have I been affected by my activity with this group? or How have I encountered God while doing this activity?)
- Share for two or three minutes in groups of 2 or 3
- Read one line from the Gospel of the upcoming Sunday
- Take 30 seconds to consider what that says to you right here and now
Parishes recognize that people have their days filled with rich spiritual experiences. We need only invest the time to call to mind these events and consider the precious insights contained within them. Growing in faith requires intentional reflection and sharing. Small Christian Communities provide the opportunity and tools to discover and share these great treasures of our lives.
JustFAITH Engaging Spirituality
North American Forum on Small Christian Communities
Paulist Evangelization Ministries
Companions in Christ: A Small Group Experience in Spiritual Formation. (Dawson, Gerrit Scott; Adele J. Gonzalez E.; Glenn Hinson, Rueben P.; et. al. Nashville, TN: Upper Room Publ. 2006)
Small Christian Communities: A Vision of Hope for the 21st Century. (Kleissler, Thomas A.; LeBert, Margo A.; McGuinness, Mary C. New York: Paulist Press, 1997)
Sticky Church. (Osborne, Larry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 2008)
Longing for the Holy: Spirituality for Everyday Life, (Rolheiser, OMI, Ronald. Plainfield, NJ: Renew International, 2009)
Unbinding the Heart. (Reese, Martha Grace. Danvers, MA: Gracenet, 2008)
For more information about small Christian communities contact:
Office of Parish Life
795 Main St.
Buffalo, NY 14203