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Basic Communities in Mark

Basic Communities in Mark

Jesus Christ
Oral and written tradition
The Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel of Mark
The Gospel of Luke
The Gospel of John
The meaning for today

From ‘Notes on the Formation of the Gospels’, by John Wijngaards;
published in Background to the Gospels (Bangalore & Ann Arbor 1981)
and Together in My Name (London 1991).

In our own days the Church has tried to promote the formation of natural local Churches, the so-called ‘basic Christian communities’. The Second General Latin American Bishops’ Conference (Medellin 1968) characterised them as follows:

The basic community forms

the primary and fundamental core reality

of the Church.

On her own level,

she should take responsibility for the

deposit of faith and its propagation,

and also for worship which expresses faith.

She is the embryo of the Church’s structure,

the focus of evangelisation and,

in our own days,

nerve centre for human progress. (Integrated Ministry, no 2)

In 1975 Bishops came together in Rome for a Synod on evangelisation. One of their conclusions was that the Christian communities at grassroots level should be strengthened at all costs. However, such groups should not be allowed to drift away from communion with the larger Church. Pope Paul VI summarised the Synod’s recommendations in his encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975). He highlighted the following features as signs of healthy communities:

  • They seek nourishment in the Word of God and do not allow themselves to be taken over by one-sided political polarisation or fashionable ideologies.
  • They remain firmly attached to the wider local Church (parish or diocese) in which they are inserted.
  • They preserve sincere links of communion with the pastoral leaders which Christ gives to his Church.
  • They strive to grow continuously in responsibility for their neighbourhood, in Christian liberation and missionary zeal.
  • They show themselves in everything truly ‘Catholic’ and not sectarian.

The Pope then defines basic communities in this way:

A basic Christian community is

a focal point of Gospel preaching and living.

It supports the wider community,

i.e. the local Church,

and is a sign of hope

for the Universal Church.

(POPE PAUL VI, On Evangelisation in the Modern World, London 1975.)

The Bishops’ Conferences of East Africa also endorsed the need for rediscovering and strengthening the local communities of faith.

  • ‘The Christian communities we are trying to build up are nothing else than the grassroots incarnations of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
  • The Church is the sacrament of love and of God’s universal grace. It is the world community of those who believe in Jesus’ resurrection. It has the Pope as its head . . . . But this universal Church must also be present to Christians as a reality in their own local surroundings. It must be a local reality as much as a universal one. The local Church is the Christian community in each place.
  • The small Christian communities are the means through which the Church reaches out to the every-day life and needs of the people.
  • In these communities the Church shares deeply the life situations people undergo. In these communities believers can have a realistic experience of the Church as a new way of being together. (African Ecclesiastical Review 5 (1979) pp. 265-272)

In the complicated world in which we live, it may prove impossible for us to be part of such an ideal basic community of faith. Most of us belong to a larger structure, the parish. This fulfils some of the functions of the local Church (preaching, common worship, local apostolate), but often falls short in other aspects. It may not provide, for instance, the support of a small group to which one can ‘belong’ and with which one can share one’s spiritual search or apostolate (a function eminently fulfilled in the basic community).

For this reason the parish structure often needs to be supplemented with additional subdivisions: neighbourhood groups, pastoral groups, prayer and action groups, Bible groups. In the gathering of each of these groups the ekklesia comes alive in a special way. Here too the Bible can be discovered here in a new way.

Helpful books in English are: A.HOPE and S.TIMMEL, Training for Transformation. A Handbook for Community Workers, Gweru (Zimbabwe) 1984; P.BRENNAN, The Evangelising Parish, Allen (Texas) 1987; J.MARINS, The Church from the Roots, London 1989.


  1. Is the group in which you meet ‘a basic Christian community’? If not, which functions of such a basic community of faith does it fulfil? Have you, as a group, recognised these functions and endorsed them by common agreement?
  2. Can you formulate the basic theological reasons why the Gospel should be reflected on and discussed by a community, rather than being just the object of private study?
  3. How would you interpret the symbolical meaning of these stories in the light of a small Christian community?

Jesus and the disciples in the boat (Mark 4,35-41)

A great storm arose. Waves beat into the boat so that it began to fill. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.

Jesus and the disciples at home in Capernaum (Mark 9,33-37)

Jesus asked: ‘What were you talking about on the way?’ They were silent. They had been arguing about who was the greatest.

Jesus and the disciples away from the crowds (Mark 6,30-32)

Jesus said: ‘Come, let us go away by ourselves to a lonely place. There you can get some rest’.

Is it far-fetched to apply the widow’s two-penny contribution (Mark 12,41-44) also to people’s reading of the Gospel?

I tell you she has put in more than all the others, for she, out of her poverty, gave everything she had.

John Wijngaards

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