Principles of Community

This website is devoted to discussion of radical Christian community as a means of evangelization, and to the promotion of local community-building attempts. As time goes on, we will continue to learn from one another’s experiences and insights.

To aid the discussion, we’ve made an initial attempt at drafting a list of principles for community building. The list is provisional and will be improved as we continue the conversation.

Thanks to all those who have helped us to develop and clarify these principles! 

Christian communities range from vowed groups that share everything in common to informal groups that meet for prayer and fellowship. While we discuss many kinds of community, our focus is more on the informal end of the spectrum. These proposed principles in part reflect this emphasis, though many of them would be relevant to any kind of community.

WHAT? To be effective, such communities should be: 

  • Living from an encounter with Christ: Culture is no substitute for a personal relationship with Christ. In fact, culture must flow from a personal encounter, or it is inauthentic. 
  • Poor: Gospel Poverty is the only way to live a truly Christ-centered and socially just life. This is a difficult and complex topic, largely because there are so many conflicting definitions of the word “poverty.” Gospel Poverty is not “Destitution,” the lack of basic material goods, nor is it merely “Detachment” from material goods. Fr. Dubay’s book Happy Are You Poor is a beautiful explanation of the meaning and value of Gospel poverty; see a summary on our website here.
  • Mindful of the Poor: The Church has a preferential option for the poor, and communities should aid the poor both in their own areas and abroad as far as possible.
  • Just: The members of such a community must have a commitment to living with justice for all and not exploiting others in any way, or they become part of the problem instead of the solution.
  • Obedient: If these communities are composed of Catholics, should not defy Church leadership in any way and should strive to fully live out every teaching of the Faith, realizing that none of the various political and ideological positions current in today’s world fully represent Catholic teaching.
  • Living a true Culture of Life: Every human life is sacred, and communities should work to safeguard lives from all threats, including abortion, racism, discrimination, euthanasia, and destitution.
  • Economically Communal: The community members should be open to sharing material goods with one another; if we are all “one body” in Christ, it would be strange indeed if we refused to share our possessions with one another. In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis quotes St. John Paul II as saying “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone.” The material solidarity of Christian communities has always provided a prophetic witness, reminding others of this universal destination of human goods. On the other hand, communal ownership of property (particularly real estate), is a potentially risky first step for a new community. Shared ownership can lead to power struggles and infighting if the community is not yet tightly knit and well organized, and communities may find more success by gradually building up to this level of sharing. 
  • Outward focused: The communities should be tools for the corporal works of mercy, and carry out the spiritual works of mercy by welcoming all in Charity. 
  • Tolerant of diversity: Details such as liturgy or educational theories must not become the defining mark of a community, or it will degrade into a clique. 
  • Radical: In everything we do, we need to follow the Gospel; if doing so puts us out of step with our current society, then so be it. 
  • Non-Reactionary: These communities should be living in the present, not the past, and should be looking forward in expectation of the Second Coming, instead of wasting time on nostalgia. The tradition of the Faith is a living, growing tradition, and so the answers to modern problems can’t be found by reenacting the past; in fact, a focus on the past can lead to an atmosphere of unreality and isolation, and the rejection of inspired developments in the tradition. This does not mean denigrating the traditions of the Faith, but it does mean taking seriously the Gospel warning about making the “traditions of men” more important than the “commands of God.”
  • Unifying: In everything they do, community members should attempt to heal the divisions of today’s world instead of exacerbating them.

HOW? To avoid the numerous pitfalls of community building, communities should be:

  • Organic: A very “intentional” community may be the desired outcome, but a more organic, loosely organized approach might be a better way to get there. Communities that develop gradually, incorporating the individuals and structures that already exist in a given area, may have a greater rate of success than those which develop more “artificially.”
  • Open: There should be no hard lines defining or bounding them; there should merely be a gradient of commitment between the dedicated core and the surrounding wider community, and a gradient of distance between similar communities. In particular, there should be no hard line between community members and the Church they belong to; community members must worship with the wider Church and not see themselves as separate.
  • Small scale and decentralized: While such communities can and should be replicated widely, there should be no overarching organization that directly controls them. We’re trying to spread ideas and share models, not create an organization or promote a ridged blueprint; such top-down organizations tend to violate the principle of subsidiarity, which cautions against larger organizations usurping the roles of smaller ones.  
  • Possibly Urban: Most of us find ourselves in cities, and more importantly those we wish to evangelize live in cities. Also, organic and gradual development of a community is much easier in a city. Of course, if one already lives in a rural area, this doesn’t apply.