The Unhealthy Fellowship Called Koinonitis

Okay, it's not a real word. It's not even a word that is original with me. Koinonitis is a play on koinonia, the Greek word for "fellowship." Koinonia typically refers to a healthy fellowship among people, where each person is placing the other's needs before himself or herself.

If koinonia is healthy fellowship, then koinonitis is unhealthy fellowship. Koinonitis means that the interest of self is pervasive in the group. "My" interests trump the needs of others.

Koinonitis and the Church

It is ironic that one of the most common places we see koinonitis today is the local church. That group of Christians, one would suppose, would always be more concerned about the needs of others than the needs and comforts of themselves. Surely self-interest does not place in the church! The latter statement, of course, was made with just a hint of sarcasm.

After over two decades of serving, studying, and consulting with local churches, I have seen untold examples of koinonitis. And the tragedy is that this affliction is keeping numbers of churches from being the Great Commission, missional church that God has called them to be.

How can we detect koinonitis in the church? Perhaps a few questions can help in the diagnosis of this "illness" in local churches.

Symptoms of Koinonitis

When I have my annual physical examination, I have lab work, measurements of my weight, blood pressure and pulse rates, and my physician asks me a series of questions. My doctor is very good about integrating the subjective questions with the more objective medical work that is done.

Likewise, we can ask several questions of people in local churches. And the more "yes" responses we get, the more likely the church is afflicted with the unhealthy fellowship that I call koinonitis. Let's look at a few of those questions:

    * Are most of the budget dollars of the church primarily used for meeting the needs, preferences, and desires of the members rather than those outside the church?
* Do many members demand that others conform to their preferred styles of music and worship?
* Is there a pervasive attitude in the church that says "My tithes and offerings give me the right to have my way and my say?"
* Does "the way we've always done it" trump the need to change to reach the community and the nations?
* Are church business meetings times of rancor and divisiveness rather than times of confession and celebration?
* Are the pastors and the staff of the church perceived by many of the members to be a personal pastoral caregiver?
* Is church membership perceived to be more of a right than a responsibility?

The list is not exhaustive, but these few questions alone can provide clear indications whether the church has healthy or unhealthy fellowship. How do you think your church fares in this diagnosis?

From Koinonitis to Transformation

In the weeks ahead you will be hearing more and more about "Transformational Church," a LifeWay project led by Ed Stetzer and me. You will hear stories of incredible hope and promise in many churches. Though Dr. Stetzer, the LifeWay team, and I will be describing several facets of churches that have experienced transformation, we can already tell you that there is a prologue to each of these stories.

The prologue is simple but profound. Church leaders and members began asking how God could use them for His work. They no longer viewed the church as the organization designed to meet their needs. Instead, they sought the face of God to become radical Christians seeking to serve Him and others.

If you think your church is afflicted with the unhealthy fellowship called koinonitis, the first step toward health is neither a program nor a strategic plan. It is a time where we repent of our selfish desires and comfort and sell out to the gospel of Christ.

Then, and only then, can true transformation and healthy fellowship begin.