Does Anyone Have a Better Word Than “Fellowship?”

I think we need a better word than "fellowship."  That is such a "church-y" word. When is the last time you used that word outside of a church context? What do you think unchurched people think when they hear that word?

Someone help me!  What other words could we use that outsiders could connect with – when talking about relationships that are built through time, care, and accountability?

How would we translate "koinonia" in the 21st century?

DOES ANYONE have a better word than "fellowship?"

42 comments
  1. not terrible… but i’m not sure that has the “power” of the word “fellowship”… to outsiders community is the neighborhood you live in… and in our culture – they likely don’t even know the name of the person 3 houses down…

    ???? not sure…

  2. I do not think that we should continue to alter things that pertain specifically to God and His people for the sake of sinners. I believe it is very essential that true believers of Christ ought to be viewed as different. Titus 2:14 and 1 Peter 2:9 make it very clear that we (the Church) are a peculiar people. We are to be seperated from the world. We are not like the world. If outsiders don’t want anything to do with Christ simply because of things like the word ‘fellowship’, then chances are they are not being moved by the Spirit of God at all, but by emotion. God is sovereign, and He already has His elect chosen since the foundation of the world. His chosen WILL receive Christ regardless of words like “baptist”, “bible”, “church” or even “fellowship” being done away with or left alone.

    Are we supposed to not ever use the word ‘fellowship’ again around others? Will we be labeled as bible-thumping, legalistic, homophobic, fundamentals because we use the word ‘fellowship’?

    Personally, I think the word is fine the way it is.

    • It’s pious and religious statements like this that cause people to RUN from God. We are called to represent Christ in the world by His Spirit. The FRUIT of the Spirit (or, result of living by the Spirit of God) is Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, GENTLENESS, faithfulness and self-control. AND, it’s the KINDNESS of God that leads men to repentance. If God so loved the WORLD, don’t you think you might also? I mean, if changing one word could cause people who have NO understanding of the things of God to feel more attached to a community of people, then why not change it? We are renaming our “Fellowship Hall” and calling it the Family Room. It doesn’t cause God any harm to bridge the gap between “Outsiders” (your word) and believers. Have you forgotten, that is exactly what Jesus did by dying on the cross. If He could sacrifice so much to reach people, the least you could do is change a few culturally irrelevant words. Blessings, Kev

  3. It’s not like the word fellowship is inherently Godly. By altering it “for the sake of sinners”, we are not taking something sacred and soiling it. Instead, we are simply revising the translation, in the context of our culture, to make the meaning more apparent for those held back by the easily removed stumbling blocks of ignorance and misunderstood vocabulary.

    For instance, we accept that Bible translators should be able to update versions of the Bible to make texts more clear when meanings in the English language shift. Look at Matthew 19:14, as a good example of this. In the King James Version, it says “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me.” That’s an incredibly archaic use of the word suffer that could mislead and confuse.

    It can be tough, but I think David Whiting is doing the right thing to pursue, again and again, the Truth (capital T) in scripture with the correct language for the time and culture… not using traditional words.

    Alternatives to fellowship? shared life? camaraderie? alliance? deep relationship? intimacy? companionship?

    That’s a tough one David!

  4. You don’t know me so I will introduce myself. My name is Carol Pabst and our family was once part of the membership at North (excuse me for referring to you that way). My husband and I now live in Aiken, SC and are heavily involved in a new church plant here.

    I am responding to your question on the word “fellowship”. I have to disagree with your tenant that it is such a churchy word. It is widely used by us, true, but I have used it quite frequently in conversation among friends and acquaintances (would you believe that is not found in Websters Collegiate Dictionary) who may or may not be churched. What I have noticed is that because it is not an overused word in their vocabularies, they respond to it favorably, as though it were a breath of fresh air and quite comforting. Granted, I am in the senior age group so that may be my problem.

    I will be interested in what you come up with.

  5. Carol –

    I have no doubt that the word is favorable among an older and southern crowd. I may not come up with a better word. I just think it sounds strange to young, unchurched, Northerners like my neighbors…

    By the way – I’ve heard your name many times around here in the most positive of ways. Thanks for the input.

  6. Jay & Josh –

    Great discussion! Jay, I totally side with Josh on this one.

    Remember, Jay, we are talking about an English translation for a Greek word. I’m just suggesting that 100 years ago – everyone in our culture understood the word “fellowship.” It is my opinion that the word is losing its English-world comprehension. And our job (as teachers of the Gospel) is to “make it plain.” I’m not interesting in getting rid of “Koinonia”; I’m interested in finding the best way to give the sense of what that word REALLY means in English. Maybe “fellowship” is it. But it seems to me that it is a confusing word in our culture.

    We are a “peculiar people” (again, a very KJV word). I think that was a GREAT word to describe us in the 17th century. I think “peculiar” has a predominantly negative connotation in the 21st century. Which I don’t believe Peter was attempting to get across with the use of that word. Which is why no modern translation that I know of uses “peculiar” in 1 Peter 2:9. Thanks for illustrating my point! 🙂

    We are to be separated from the world, but I don’t think that the means of that separation is the use of the English language.

    I believe there are some English words that are very ancient that we must use to teach important Bible concepts (justification, sanctification, propitiation), but each time I use them – I explain them. “Fellowship” may be one of those words. I’m just asking to see if it is. AND if it is a word we must use (because we don’t have a better one) – I hate that its definition isn’t self-evident in its usage.

    Your argument that “they are not being moved by the Spirit of God” is particularly troubling. Do you really believe that embracing and using the word “Fellowship” is a sign of the Spirit’s work?

    I embrace the doctrine of Grace – just like you, Jay. But your final arguments sound rather “hyper” to me. My mind instantly goes to Acts 15:19 – “We should not make it hard for those who are turning to God.” I don’t think the use of the world “fellowship” is a Spirit-infused word. It is simply an English word that is less common and understood in our culture. Or so it seems to me.

  7. I love the word “fellowship”. I have been kidded at work about that word. I just suggested last week that we re-name the break room the “Fellowship Hall”. It went over pretty well. “Fellowship” has turned into a good natured joke.

    I constantly use church phraseology at work; it breaks the ice and gets people thinking. I will often use the “s” word as well (sin). That word is a whole lot more uncomfortable than fellowship. Perhaps I am in a somewhat different work environment; people around here are pretty loose and open minded about virtually everything. It also helps that most of my co-workers have some sort of religious background.

    BTW, you are 100% correct in saying it it a “churchy” word. I just happen to love using “churchy” words and find that they are a great, and often humorous venue in which to have meaningful discussions. The next time you use “fellowship” with your neighbor, his puzzled response will allow you to explain further and hopefully make way for a good dialogue.

  8. Good point, Jim. Although you can’t TRULY have biblical fellowship with co-workers who aren’t believers. So in a sense… it is redefining the word… 🙂 But I know what you mean. Maybe the word makes more sense to people than I think. Although I get tired of defining words all the time…

  9. Hey David…what is fellowship…growing up in the church all my life, when we would talk about “fellowship” it had 2 meaning:

    1. Hanging out with those in the church that we already had a relationship with

    2. An attempt to get better acquainted with some we either did not know or only new on the surface.

    So, if those are the meaning…then here are some words/phrases that have meaning to me:

    1. Hang time…I want to hang out with those I love being with
    2. Doing life together…is that not what biblical Koinonia was? Was it not the early church doing life together?
    3. Relationship
    4. Socialization…is that not part of what is driving social media

    Food for thought…thanks for making my brain hurt this early on a Saturday 🙂

  10. Tim –

    Great thots! I think you bring up a great point. Even the way we use the word “fellowship” today has lost the power of the Greek word “koinonia.” When I grew up – it was used just as you describe. It wasn’t used for deep, deep relationships of accountability and sharing our deep burdens. It is used for having fun and getting to know each other better.

    I think “doing life together” is probably the closest idea of biblical koinania… We talk about “sharing life” at Northridge – as our way of describing it.

  11. Greetings Pastor Whiting,

    Thou art correct; I have been too general with my use of the word “fellowship”.

    Could we still use the word, and remove the phrase and concept of “potluck dinner” instead? I am getting to be a fussy eater in my old age.

    I am glad you had journey mercies on your trip.

    Looking forward to seeing the brethren Sunday.

    Jim

  12. I personally like “doing life together” or “sharing life.” I’ve had non-Christian friends say “I like that” after hearing me talk about doing life together with friends from church — it’s a completely accessible phrase, but still fresh.

    Aside from letting newcomers understand quickly what we’re talking about, I think a shift away from “fellowship” has benefits for Christians as well. “Fellowship” perhaps has a more specific meaning than “koinonia.” We think of fellowship as being something you do when you’re actually with other Christ-followers (usually socializing), whereas “sharing life” includes things like praying for each other, emailing to see how things are going, etc. I’m all for broadening our boxed-in notions of koinonia to include more daily activities, and I think choosing a term like “doing life together” challenges people in the church not to limit our koinonia to small group meetings and church services.

    A side note: in academia and medicine, “fellowship” is still used quite frequently, usually for a funded research, education, or teaching opportunity.

  13. Try using the Microsoft Encarta Dictionary, the first dictionary for the internet age. Most words I have found have more than one meaning. You will find many meanings for word FELLOWSHIP and many meanings for word SUFFER also. Suffer may mean “tolerance” as Jesus used to the disciples “suffer the little children to me”,(tolerate the little children to me), Fellowship may mean “sharing of common interests, goals, experiences or views”. Those are just a couple words’ meanings I picked out that I related to those two words.

  14. Joan –

    The problem is – dictionaries provide definitions that aren’t commonly used by people. How a dictionary defines a word doesn’t mean a lot if it isn’t a common understanding of the word.

  15. Well, it’s not *completely* unused outside of church culture. See the movie, “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring”. That movie also provides a pretty good definition of the word through the actions of the “good guys.”

  16. Nate –

    Another great point! Maybe my bigger struggle is what was mentioned earlier by one of the comments… that churches typically use it in a very casual manner (potlucks, talking in the lobby after a service). That’s no more fellowship than watching the movie “Lord of the Rings” is part of the “Fellowship of the Ring.”

    Rarely is the word used in the same way as “The Fellowship of the Ring.”

  17. “chillaxin”? You know as in we went to church and chillaxed. LOL! But really the “fellowship” comes when you are involved in small groups and have a “family” type connection with people. I dont know any non-church people looking for “fellowship” BUT i know LOTS of people looking for love from their “family”!

  18. Good tread on the topic (some of these are funny, but they bring to light the common misunderstanding of the word):

    http://ask.metafilter.com/85801/Fellowship-What-Am-I-Missing-Besides-Christian-Salvation-I-Guess

    Not sure we’ll be able to replace the word itself. Perhaps we can adjust to the situation and fill in the blank with a more appropriate explanation for the individual(s) we are speaking with. As far as I know “hang out” and “chill” are still pretty commonly used in most arenas. Although I can’t remember the last time my grandma said she wanted to “chill”…

  19. Actually, I like “fellowship”..and I was “unchurched” for the first 35 years of my life (im now 41)..so as a long time “outisder”, I dont really find it terribly “church-y” at all.

    although..I might not yet be church-y enough, because im not quite sure exactly what “fellowship” is referring to specifically, in the church-y context..I interpret it as “a group of Christians gathering together for worship, friendship, education (sunday school and adult bible classes) and generally living as a “christian community”…is that basically the meaning you are going for David? or am I missing something?
    is the word mostly referring to *internal* interactions? or does it also relate to interactions with the non-Christian community?

  20. I like the idea of fellowship, we often don’t do it well. Other words are good and say the same thing, interaction with others to show the LORD’s love.

  21. How about we just make up a word. One-another-ing. Oneanothering! Hey, other people make stuff up why can’t we. Alright, maybe not:)

  22. Fellowship—comraderie (sp?),— connection/connecting, ???

    Did you try Roget’s Thesaurus?

    Interested to know what word you choose.

  23. How about the phrase “Family Life”. We often here churches call their “fellowship centers” Family Life Centers. Our church abbreviates it and just refers to that room of the church as the FLC. If you are going for a phrase that encompasses biblical fellowhip, then I would think that “Family Life” could be used to describe what is going on when God’s people gather to encourage one another and learn about each others lives. You could refer to fellowship time as family living time or some other variation of that phrase.

  24. I’m months late on this, but I found this blog post by googling “not using the word fellowship”- and these are some really great thoughts!

    I’m in my mid-20s and pursuing a career in ministry, but I did not grow up in the church and was introduced to Christian culture as a teen. There are def some wacky things in it that really weirded me out at first, so I appreciate your sensitivity to the issue of making our language accessible to those not “socialized” into our little subculture.

    Someone pointed this out already, but my first thought when I read your question of what unchurched people would think when they hear the word fellowship: Lord of the Rings, all the way. I have no problem with LOTR, but do we really want something we believe to be a significant, relevant part of the Church and of Christian life to immediately bring to mind a fantasy book and movie series that takes place in another world? I don’t think so.

    I really like the phrase “doing life together.” I think that speaks to my generation in a way that fellowship never could.

  25. haha I clicked on this link because I wanted to find another word or phrase to use for the clearly outdated word “fellowship” (especially for younger, non churched people) and it develops into this “I like the word just fine argument” Pretty funny.
    Its what I call ‘Christian community debates’ – those that are only applicable to church people. Anyway…..
    Finally as you keep going down people actually started answering the question – thank you to those 🙂

  26. Hi,
    I believe when you reference the deep relationships and accountability as being the attributes of the fellowship you know, you are really combining several aspects of the relationships we are called to have with fellow Christians. See, fellowship should be more related to encouraging others or rousing passion in others. Discipleship is the next level of our relationships. This, I believe is where the idea of deeper relationships and accountability come in to play.
    So, if you are looking for a word that captures all of that, you probably will not find it. As you said, family is close to what you mean. That is because a family relationship is one much greater than just encouragement or surface-level help. No matter what the family circumstance is (Christian or not), you are being discipled to follow a certain lifestyle. If you are going for a word that captures just the fellowship part of the five purposes of the church (Rick Warren), than something like encouragement would be what you are looking for.

  27. In Singapore, some churches use the words – discipleship, cell group, life group interchangeably with the word fellowship 🙂

  28. As I’ve gone through all these comments it’s always some type of bickering. Well I settled my heart on this a long time ago. It’s the drawing Body of Christ nothing churchy about that. I do say Fellowship sounds better than church cuz I hate the word church it’s not in Scripture it’s some made-up bogus thing from some mook. So there there’s my comment.

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