The Importance of Fellowship (Rethinking Church #23)

Today we consider the third component of the church gathering, fellowship. I don’t know what comes into your mind when you hear the word fellowship. Perhaps you think of a time for coffee, donuts, conversation before or after the formal worship service. Or perhaps a monthly or quarterly potluck meal after the worship hour. Or even more informally, hallway conversations before worship services begin or after they conclude. These occasions can produce fellowship, but I have something else in mind. The English word fellowship translates the New Testament Greek word koinonia, which can also be translated sharing or participation or communion. The Christian idea of koinonia is that of many people sharing in the experience of Jesus Christ and being united with each other by their mutual participation in him. John speaks of personally seeing, hearing, and touching “the word of life.” But he wants others also to experience this life and have the joy of sharing this life with them:

“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship [koinonian] with us. And our fellowship [koinonia] is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete” (1 John 1:3-4).

Paul speaks of the Lord’s Supper as a participation or sharing in the body and blood of Christ and then connects this experience to the unity of the participants:

“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation [koinonia] in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation [koinonia] in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf” (1 Cor. 10:16-17).

The church as it is described in the New Testament is a fellowship, a shared life in Christ. Christians met often in small gatherings to eat, pray, study, and worship together. As we can see from Paul’s discussions in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11, they shared in the bread and wine in honor of Christ. They knew each other intimately and were supposed love each other as brothers and sisters. Their meetings were designed to encourage and strengthen each other to live a life worthy of the name Christian. Their unity, love, and holiness served as a witness to Christ. When one of their number began living immorally, they knew about it, took it seriously, and attempted to intervene. If all else failed, they would refuse to allow this immoral person meet with them (See 1 Cor 5:1-13). And that refusal was made simpler because they met in private homes, not public buildings. The individual’s spiritual welfare and the integrity of the community’s witness were at stake.

In my life as an individual believer and as a church leader I have rarely found true fellowship in the gathering of a traditional church or parachurch. You can meet with a hundred or several hundred people once or twice a week in a big stage-focused assembly for years without getting to know anyone intimately. Few people know your struggles, needs, or interests. You may never hear others’ individual expressions of faith. Fellowship, sharing, and community take time, and we don’t have time to experience real fellowship with hundreds of people. At minimum, then, a traditional church, if it recognizes the need for fellowship, must put a high priority on getting everyone in a small group designed to promote fellowship. However, some people may need to make the small group their primary church gathering and the big church a secondary one.

I mentioned above the need to intervene in the lives of Christians who are trapped in immorality or other sins. This becomes almost impossible in a big church as I discovered as a church leader. Often my fellow leaders and I discovered problems only after it was too late to help. Also, it’s difficult to confront people with their sins if you don’t know them, they don’t know that you love them, and you have not invested time in their lives previously. And in our litigious age church leaders are concerned about getting sued for invasion of privacy. All this adds up to the secular ethic of “mind your own business.” This is not fellowship!

What would the church gathering look like if we designed it for maximum benefit in worship, instruction, and fellowship?

Next Time: Do traditional parachurch churches have a future in a post-Christian culture increasingly hostile to the Christian gospel and ethics?

8 thoughts on “The Importance of Fellowship (Rethinking Church #23)

  1. Charles A Hanson

    My wife and I have communion (koinonia) everyday. Time to pray for family and friends. The Lord said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Everyday is a new day in the Lord. Try it, your thoughts of the Lords Passion will change in a most remarkable transformation.


  2. ifaqtheology Post author

    Wonderful practice! During this pandemic my wife and participate in communion at least once a week. We spend at least 30 minutes reading Scripture, meditating on the passion, and praying. Your message has inspired me to do this more often! Thank you!


  3. JAC

    Your articles have stirred a memory of my journey as a minister in this fellowship. My best experience of koinonia was in our house church in Florida after leaving a 250 member church in West Texas. We sat in a circle to share, pray, discuss scripture, commune, sing, and praise God. Sometimes 30 of us sat together, with the kids in the middle, sharing our faith and our lives. I supported myself at a day job, but struggled financially. After about a year I took a coaching/teaching position at a Christian college. We tried to find that same fellowship in our home but the traditional church and college expectations never allowed us to regain that fellowship. I have since left the college and minister part time for a congregation of about 25. Its a great “little” group of believes that share their lives and faith during class time but the Worship hour Is “structured”. Maybe its the seating and empty space? Thanks for your articles, I have believed and held these same views since my days at ACU and ministry in West Texas and Florida and now in SW Ohio…..


    1. JAC

      I forgot to add that we ended our time together each Sunday with a meal that ended our koinonia. It often lasted 3-4 hours and usually allowed us to plan to get together with others that evening.


  4. ifaqtheology Post author

    Dear JAC: Thank you for this reflection and history of your journey. It touches me deeply, and reminds me of the unity of heart and mind that Christ and the Spirit can create in people who have never met. May the Lord continue to bless your ministry and mine until the day when we are brought to that complete unity with all God’s people (Eph 4).!


    1. birdman1001

      There are aspects of some fundamentalism that reject small groups and cherish the churches of the 1950s and 60s. The focus on form retards the intimacy you’re referencing (and which scripture references). Still, the rapid changes so many of us are experiencing instill nothing short of an angst that the ungrounded, even long-time members, use unconsciously as a basis for rigidity.


  5. Dr Jonne Smalhouse

    Hi Ron.
    I forgot to mention upon this very thread that on more than many occasions i’ve visited a large evangelical church in a near city.
    Quietly slipping in ‘later on’ and joining the back few rows (sometimes even alone)… only to look along those rows to recognise a plethora of like-minded ‘grinning” in-cognito clergy friends…!
    Do i need to say more?
    God Bless.
    PS. Love this essay (obviously).



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