How to Create Fellowship
In our previous post, we only scratched the surface of what it takes to make a friendly and hospitable church community. I’d like to expand that more here. The key to a strong community-life at church is pretty simple. You have to spend time together, preferably in one another’s homes, and just talk with each other.
Now, this is simple on one hand, but it can be challenging to actually pull off. It will require your time, which is always hard to give up, and it will require you to spend that time with people that you aren’t already spending it with. Perhaps most of all, this sort of fellowship will be hard because most of you have never had it.
So to help us get an idea of how to do fellowship, we’ll lay out a brief Biblical definition and then correct some common misunderstandings or misapplications. Then we’ll conclude with some practical suggestions
The word “fellowship,” in church circles at least, comes from the New Testament word koinonia. Koinonia can be translated as “communion,” “fellowship,” “participation,” “partnership,” or even “association.” It does not simply mean “having a friendly time together.” Instead, it means having a shared mutual interest (which is the definition in the BDAG lexicon). It’s something like a business partnership, only the “business” is the spiritual kingdom of Jesus.
Koinonia has the same root word as the Greek word for “common,” and so we can see one idea of koinonia when the early church shared its material possessions. They had all things in common (Acts 4:32). But the same root term shows up in Paul’s description of prayer and the spiritual unity he has with other believers:
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:3-8)
You can see “fellowship” in the expression “fellowship in the gospel,” but the same word also shows up in the expression “partakers with me of grace.” It’s a slightly different form, but it has the same root: koinonia. This means that the “fellowship” in view is a spiritual partnership that implies common interests and even common presence. What happens to Paul happens to the Philippians, even when he’s away from them. A little later Paul even says that the Philippians have “the same conflict which you saw in me” (1 :30). This is a spiritual “common” possession. This is a form of fellowship and community.
What Fellowship Isn’t
Since “fellowship” is something of an overused word, we have a lot of misconceptions. Some of these end up standing in the way of us actually fellowshipping together in our churches, and so we need to tear them down and start aright.
It’s Not Fleshly
The term “fleshly” or “carnal” can often imply sinister activities, and sometimes this is true. But most basically the word means something like “the way of the world” or “what comes natural.” For our fellowship to be “fleshly,” then, means to just do what you would have done anyway. If you’re only hanging out with your friends, then that’s not Christian fellowship. If you are only doing activities that center around your family, then that’s also not Christian fellowship. You can and should include friends and family in Christian fellowship, but Christian fellowship shouldn’t center around them.
Christian fellowship needs to center around the family of faith. This means that you should reach out to all members of your church, and you should try to get to know them and their needs. You should make sure you aren’t only talking about hobbies or current events. Try to get into deeper matters as you spend time together.
It’s Not Entertaining
I’m using the term “entertaining” in its verb form here. Christian fellowship is not entertaining guests. It’s hospitality. It’s loving people through being present with them.
What this means is that Christian fellowship is more about being with people and helping their needs than it is a beautiful presentation, inspirational ceremony, or expensive food and drink. Again, good food and fancy things can be nice, and insofar as they are helpful towards being able to be hospitable towards others, then you may use them. But they aren’t the main thing.
You also can’t use any perceived inadequacy in this department as an excuse to not spend time with people. It would be far better to have fellow believers over to your home for mac ‘n cheese around a card table twice a month than it would to have them over for steak on your fine china twice a year. Keep the main things main, and don’t get distracted by perceived notions of what hosts and hostesses should be.
It’s Not Only Fun
Don’t get me wrong here. Fellowship should be fun. And hopefully it will be fun most of the time. But that’s not what it’s all about. You need to be able to have fellowship in difficult times as well. You need to be able to talk about the things which make you sad. You should be able to mourn together.
Christian fellowship needs to incorporate prayer. It should incorporate encouragement and admonition. Christian fellowship needs to happen when it’s hard– when you are tired and when you’ve been fighting earlier in the week. Again, balance is key. Don’t exhaust yourself by never having rest time. But don’t miss the ways in which Christian community can itself be therapeutic and rewarding. Let people in so that they can help bear your burdens and bring you cheer.
Some Practical Suggestions
Somewhere C S Lewis says, “If you want to be loved, then make yourself lovable.” We can spin this a little and say, if you want Christian hospitality, then make yourself hospitable. Invite some folks offer, ask them questions about themselves, be friendly, and just do it. With that kind of spirit in mind, here are some practical suggestions for getting started.
Take the Initiative
Don’t wait for other people to invite you somewhere. Go ahead and plan maybe 2-3 times a month where you can invite people to your house for a meal or activity. If you can’t do it at home, then think of an outing, perhaps a restaurant or a park. In Central Florida, we are blessed with many outdoor opportunities. There are fantastic parks and nature trails, and we are beginning the season of the year where it’s very nice to be outside.
Think of an Activity
“Hanging out” is great, but sometimes having something to do helps keep things on track. Don’t worry if it seems goofy or dumb. The activity isn’t the main point. It’s just an occasion to get people together. Our church went bowling a while back, and I was surprised at just how much fun I had. When I first heard “bowling,” I kind of shrugged. It wasn’t that impressive to me. But once we were there, we ended up having a great time. We were laughing together, eating bad pizza, and actually caring about our scores a little bit. It was a hit.
You never know, Scrabble might work just like that. Or Jenga. Don’t take it too seriously. Have fun. Give it a try.
Mix Up the People
In order to keep this from just being a time to get together with the people you would get together with any way, make sure to mix up your invitations. Invite people from different age brackets or with different hobbies. Get them to talk to each other. Ask a lot of questions. You’ll be surprised at who you end up really enjoying and what new things you’ll learn.
Just Do It
The most important thing is to just do it. Get together with people. Talk. Learn them. Don’t overthink it. Just be around people. Spend time. Be present.
Churches don’t have fellowship because they don’t have fellowship. This works both ways. They don’t get together because they are not unified in the Holy Spirit, but they are also not unified in the Holy Spirit because they don’t get together. You can break the cycle. Get to know people, pray for them, and love them. God will do the hard work.
The communion of the saints is all about unity, and it starts with having common things, common loves, and a common life. That’s what Christian fellowship is– being around people in the Spirit because of a love of Christ.
So jump in already.