Terry’s current deal ends next summer and he has only made one brief appearance as a substitute since he started the EFL Cup defeat at West Ham in October.
But Chelsea insist their captain has NOT been told this will be his last season at Stamford Bridge.
Terry, 36, wants to end his career at the club, despite several big-money offers to play in China.
And Conte still sees him as a vital part of his leadership team because his influence remains strong in the dressing room.
“John is our captain and I think he’s doing a great job when he played”
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte
The Blues boss said: “John is our captain and I think he’s doing a great job when he played.
“Now that he’s not playing, he’s helping me a lot in the changing room, to send the right message to the players. This is fantastic.
“John loves this club. I think it’s important now to be focused on the moment, and not thinking about the future.”
It is understood that contract talks have yet to begin with Terry, who has missed Chelsea’s last three games through injury.
But neither side regards this as unusual, and the former England captain remains hopeful he can stay at the club next season.
A Chelsea spokesman said: “It’s a little early in the season for stories like this to come out. We have discussions with players in the last year of their contract much later in the season.
“It’s not something we have discussed already. It’s not something for now.”
Conte offered Terry no assurances about his future in his press conference ahead of the Sunderland game tomorrow.
But he also heaped praise on him, and even hinted Terry could be offered some kind of coaching role to keep him at the club in the future.
Conte said: “John, knowing him very well in this period… I’m pleased a lot to know, also, the man and not only the player.
“I think, I repeat, he’s a really important player for us. If he plays or if he doesn’t play, he remains our captain.
“It’s important for him to send out the right message in the changing room, to send the right spirit of this club.
“For me, I hope to have him available to play, but also in this moment it’s important to have him in this role.
“He’s injured, but he’s helping us in these games, in every game… He comes with us, home and away, staying with us, transferring the right message. It’s very positive, very positive.
“Now it’s better to be focused on the present. I don’t like looking a lot forward.
“But John is able to do a different role in football, but now it’s important to be focused and continue to think about him playing, because we need him.”