Outside of community we don’t feel fully validated. If we are honest with ourselves, what we experience on our own is really made authentic when we share in it with others.
Life just doesn’t seem to work when we feel alone.
The Church understands this, and for years, especially if your church was founded before 1985, they have used this funny word for it: fellowship.
Fellowship is a word to describe time spent in community, but it beckons us a little deeper. It’s community that acknowledges it is a part of the larger story.
Through fellowship we join in the cosmic, mysterious and historical sort of relationship with each other that the Church has been known to foster and provide space for.
Unfortunately, the term fellowship also brings to mind images of dusty old fellowship halls, potlucks and casseroles. Spaces and social situations where we were meant to dress up and be the very best version of ourselves.
For some of us who have been hurt by the church, the word fellowship is a cringeworthy reminder of a painful season of our lives. If you have no previous experience in the Church, it likely sounds like a dated way to describe time together.
One thing we can all agree on, fellowship sounds Christian. That’s because it is.
However, it’s an overused term that’s been highjacked by stuffy version of Christianity for too long. So this is an attempt to reclaim it.
To begin, let’s look at some of our human needs:
Crave Meaning and Community
Like never before, people are interested in serving others. We seek out movements that evoke change in the world. We have discovered that the way we spend our time and resources can actually make a difference and that there are changes worth investing in.
People want the time that they have on this planet to mean something. We also want to stand for something together and in that regard we have plenty of places to look for like-minded community.
There are apps, websites, phone lines, mailers and bulletin boards looking to connect others with the same interests, so they can meet together and do what they are passionate about. We are clicks away from community and we’re saturated with offers of it.
This is an abundant time to find your community/meaning and this is where churches seem to be missing the mark.
A friend said it best, “People didn’t stop going to church, they just started calling it brunch.”
Brunch is a Sunday morning hit, but more than its coincidental timeslot it provides a unique depiction of community that the church should be taking notes on.
At brunch, or any other gathering around a table, people are finding meaningful conversation around topics they are passionate about. And these topics don’t need to be submitted to a pastoral staff or via comment card. People can speak freely about real issues going on in the world and can do so without fear that they need to have all the answers.
Brunch offers the ability to catch up with friends and meet new ones. It’s a table where all are welcome.
That sounds a lot like what a church should be, so why isn’t church like that?
The key to our brunch-church dilemma, can be found in our old friend fellowship.
The Real Meaning of ‘Fellowship’
Fellowship offers us a way to come together, surrounded by meaning. Through it, we gather under the assumption that God is at work among us and we’re invited to jump in. Even if we’re at brunch eating $12 omelets. If we’re doing so through the lens of fellowship, we can recognize that when brunch is over, we are still a part of something greater than ourselves.
We are still following Jesus, and we are still the church.
The conversations we have in fellowship carry with them the context of a larger story: All of the good we want to do in the world and all of the change that we can make happen matters because in fellowship things like justice, love, and empathy are implied. Meaning and community become intertwined and there is no reason to think of them separately.
We need spaces for fellowship. We need churches where we can explore our faith as safely and as openly as we can at a table over a meal.
Spaces where we don’t have to put on the best version of ourselves because we are already known and loved.
In the spirit of this sort of authenticity, church can be a safer space. One that we can return to if it’s burned us or one we can walk into more confidently if we have no prior experience with it at all.
I’m praying for that kind of church, I’m praying for fellowship.