When you have close, mutually nurturing relationships with other people at your church, it’s more than just “community.” It’s “koinonia.”
As a result of Bible passages such as John 17:11-18, Christians often take up the rallying cry that we are “in the world, but not of the world.” One practical outcome of this attitude is that Christians often feel that they need to have their own words for things. For example, a group of non-Christians who have committed themselves to supporting each other through life and learning and growing together as steadfast friends might refer to their group as having camaraderie or esprit d’ corps. But a group of Christians in the same situation might describe their group’s internal relationships using this Greek word from the New Testament: koinonia.
Koinonia literally means “community” or “common table,” and Christians use the term to describe the ideal sort of community and mutual support that the Bible instructs Christians to strive for in their churches. In an effort to practice this “koinonia” or community living, Christians have come up with the Christianese terms koinonia group (sometimes shortened to k group), koinonia meeting, and koinonia time to describe different ways they try to have “koinonia.”
But by far my favorite of these “koinonia” combos is koinonitis. This is when Christians get so wrapped up in their church relationships that they stop interacting with non-Christians and other people outside of their tight-knit church community! This term was coined by Peter Wagner, a long-time missionary and best-selling author. If you look at the citations for 1979 and 2011 in the definition of koinonitis below, you can read quotations from Wagner’s books in which he first introduces the term and then 30 years later admits that the term didn’t get as popular as he had hoped. Very interesting!
With regard to the use of Greek in Christianese, as you can imagine, it’s hard enough for visitors to a church service or church social to understand what’s going on when Christians are using English words in a Christianese way. How much harder do you think it is when Christians start dropping Greek words into their conversation without a second’s hestitation! If you use Greek words to talk about your faith, always be ready to explain just what you mean!
Finally, it must be stated that Christians have all these alternative words (like koinonia instead of community) not just to be different from everybody else. For the most part, Christians use these special words in order to be precise when referring to concepts that are found specifically in the Bible.
Koinonia is by no means the only Greek word that Christians will drop into conversation at the drop of a hat. Recently here at the Dictionary of Christianese we looked at definitions for kairos moment, I agape you, and sloppy agape. (Christians use Hebrew words in their Christianese too, and we’ll have some of those soon.)
Are you familiar with the term koinonia? Does your church refer to its small groups as koinonia groups” or “k groups”?
koinonia n. \koi-noh-‘nee-uh\ [Greek koinonia ‘community; fellowship’] A prevailing ethos of openness and trust in a congregation or *small group.
Sometimes used attributively (as in 1970 citation).
See also *Greek words; *koinonia group; *koinonitis.
• 1955 Religion in Life XXIV. 59 : It is especially vital that the church should be a loving family, eager to welcome the new members with joy, and to incorporate them into a real koinonia. 1961 Trueblood The Company of the Committed 107 : Wherever there is human tragedy there is a chance for real koinonia, the New Testament word for the fellowship of caring. If the Church understands its character, and therefore its business, it will always watch for ways in which affection based upon common need can become redemptive. 1968 Goodman Rocking the Ark: Nine Case Studies of Traditional Churches in Process of Change 165 : Our group has 14 people, and we feel real koinonia only with three or four of them. We haven’t shared real personal problems in our group. 1970 Conners Stranger in the Pew 26 : They are fostering a true koinonia relationship in which members of the congregation relate to one another on a deeper level, forming a Christian community which in spirit unites people who have diverse backgrounds, ethnic origins, and economics levels. 1975 Reid Praising God on the Las Vegas Strip 51 : Originally their purpose was to get to know each other better, to pray together, and to share their personal spiritual struggles. The spirit of koinonia was contagious; others asked to join them and they began meeting regularly on Tuesday nights. Before long the wives wanted to experience what the men were sharing; so they formed a women’s K-group as well. Soon other groups were forming, and the church was moving forcefully in the direction of koinonia. 1980 The Wittenburg Door (Apr.–May) 13 : Koinonia. That’s where the power of the church is. I believe that Biblically every Christian is accountable to every other and responsible for one another. 1986 Ridenour How to Be a Christian Without Being Perfect 36 : Loneliness and plastic fellowship gnaw at the souls of many who seek honest, open relationships in true koinonia. 2009 Smith A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church 122 : The church operating in koinonia, true community, is the antidote to this poisonous industrial model.
koinonia group n. [See *koinonia] Sometimes abbreviated K group (see citations for 1959 etc.). Syn *small group.
See also *koinonia meeting; *koinonia time; *koinonitis.
• 1959 Annual Meeting of the Synod of Wisconsin of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. vols. 108–110 52,54 : That churches consider the “strategic importance” of small groups, not only for Bible study and prayer but also for strengthening the witness of the Church, and that the Koinonia Group Program be a continuing evangelism emphasis…. It is believed that the “K” Groups will stimulate new interest in development of personal Christian living through Bible study, discussion, prayer and fellowship. 1960 Minutes of the General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. II. 16 : The laymen, in turn, will become the nucleus of group meetings in local churches and in neighborhood gatherings, to be called “K” groups. (“K” stands for Koinonia, a Greek word describing the beloved fellowship, the Christian community). 1961 Raines New Life in the Church 68 : A strategy for conversion within the church is koinonia groups. (We called them Bible study groups in Aldersgate Church.) 1963 Williams Where in the World? Changing Forms of the Church’s Witness 13 : Thought and experimentation seem to be proceeding in two directions: First, there is the development of “small group” life (often called koinonia groups)—places where opportunity is given for the discovery of self-identity in the free and open meeting of persons. 1966 Taylor An Introduction to Christian Education 189 : Emphasizing the need of every human being for an honest, accepting, trusting relationship with other persons, youth and adults in countless churches are forming small koinonia groups…. These small groups emphasize the unity of persons in God’s love and the necessity for ministering to one another and to the world. 1967 Clark, Malcomson, Molton The Church Creative: A Reader on the Renewal of the Church 22 : Many who join First Methodist clamor to go into a koinonia group. Composed of twelve to fifteen people who meet biweekly in various homes for devotions, Bible study, and the sharing of experiences and concerns, koinonia groups enable people to study on a programmed basis, to learn to know other people in depth, to share in their joys and sorrows, to pray for common concerns—in short, within the structure of a large church, to experience the fellowship of a small, committed group of Christians who seek to minister to one another. 1968 Goodman Rocking the Ark: Nine Case Studies of Traditional Churches in Process of Change 165 : Larry and Marie Fitzhugh invited half a dozen other couples to their home to talk about the possibilities of starting a set of small groups, which they termed “koinonia groups.” … By fall, a general invitation was issued through the church bulletin for everybody to sign up for a “k-group” if they wanted to. 1969 Boyd The Underground Church 142 : We must think more in terms of the Church in small koinonia groups. Faced with a Church which so often is building-centered—our money, time, and life are sometimes centered around Church buildings and organizations…. we are saying that a return to the cellular structure of the church is a necessity for its life. 1973 Olsen The Base Church: Creating Community Through Multiple Forms 104 : She needed and got support, love, and acceptance, which I think she never could have gotten from a counselor, at least not to the same extent she had her needs met by a Koinonia group. 1977 Ducey Sunday Morning: Aspects of Urban Ritual 160 : The merger of the two congregations also gave rise to the institution of Koinonia groups. In order to build up personal relationships among the members of the two congregations—most of whom did not know one another well—the members of the new congregation agreed to met in groups of no more than twelve, composed of members of both congregations. 1979 Proctor The Born-Again Christian Catalog: A Complete Sourcebook for Evangelicals 48 : Regular fellowship with other believers is one of the major keys to personal Christian growth, and perhaps the best way to experience this fellowship is to get involved in a “koinonia” group. A koinonia group—taken from the Greek word used in the New Testament to denote the spiritual fellowship of the early Christians—concentrates on communal prayer, solving personal problems, sharing spiritual experiences, and some Bible study and meditation. 1980 Kreider The Christian Entrepreneur 134 : The small group within the congregation [is] often referred to as the “K group,” after the Greek word koinonia meaning communion, association, or partnership. Applied to church life this has resulted in the formation of groups of eight to twelve members which meet regularly (often weekly) in homes for intimate spiritual communion and participative sharing in a common religious commitment. 1983 Hestenes Using the Bible in Groups 26 : Often these are called Christian growth groups or “koinonia” groups. Focus: discovering the possibilities to be realized in living as a Chrisitan through personal sharing, discussion Bible study, an emphasis on active discipleship and praying aloud. 1990 Warner New Wine in Old Wineskins: Evangelicals and Liberals in a Small-Town Church 173 : Traditional activities—choir, Sunday school, summer camps, scout troops, progressive dinners—were reinvigorated. And distinctively evangelical activities—a telephone prayer chain, a men’s breakfast group, Bible-study groups, and especially Christian “Koinonia” groups—blossomed. 2002 Jeter, Allen One Gospel, Many Ears: Preaching for Different Listeners in the Congregation 6 : Koinonia groups sometimes convene around life situations (e.g., single people). 2002 Amstutz Threatened with Resurrection: Self-Preservation and Christ’s Way of Peace 39 : During my seminary years I helped organize a new student K-group (K for koinonia, Greek for community). We became accountable to one another in all aspects of our lives, especially as we processed our various calls to ministry. 2010 Wiersbe On Earth as It Is in Heaven: How the Lord’s Prayer Teaches Us to Pray More Effectively 109 : The Greek word koinonia—translated as “fellowship”—has made its way into our English vocabulary because of “koinonia groups.” 2010 Nelson A Mennonite Woman: Exploring Spiritual Life and Identity 164 : In addition, one should note that “K-groups” (interactive fellowship and personal sharing) were designed to foster spiritual growth and development.
k group n. Abbreviation for *koinonia group
koinonia meeting n. Syn *koinonia group.
• 1964 Raines Reshaping the Christian Life 55 : Sunday worship and koinonia meetings became filled with deeper meaning. 1976 Lavin You Can Grow in a Small Group 83 : The koinonia meetings should be a good core…. After an hour and a half of dialogue and sharing, we have coffee and concluding conversation. 1984 Yagel Living with Yourself and Other Imperfect People 87 : When we walk back home through the woods, weary from a day of ministry on the Ropes Course, the fellowship we experience is as deep—if not deeper—than what we experience in our koinonia meetings. 1994 The Moravian vols. 25–27 4 : Kyomo’s study on servanthood changed my attitude to the point that I was actually looking forward to our Friday koinonia meeting. After a short devotion we paired off and washed each other’s feet. 2004 Andrews The Bride and the Broken Wineskin 179 : Types of assemblies: home churches, koinonia meetings, fellowship groups.
koinonia time n. A time of personal sharing and prayer among a group of people, often regularly scheduled.
• 1982 Denning We Are One in the Lord: Developing Caring Groups in the Church 38 : One family I know has a “koinonia time” during each evening meal. It’s a time to catch up on the day’s activities. The father usually begins by answering two questions: What was my high point today? What was my low point? Then each family member takes a turn. It’s also OK to pass. 1982 Ogilvie When God First Thought of You 158 : We used these verses from 1 John as the basis of our Bible study and prayer in the koinonia time which precedes our business meetings. 1988 World Christian: Today’s Mission Mag. VII. 106 : Since 1970, much friendship evangelism in Japan has taken place as summer workers and short-termers teach conversational English classes in homes and local churches. Daily classes and interactions and weekly “koinonia” times provide relaxed settings for Japanese and American youth to share their lives.
koinonitis n. [Greek *koinonia ‘community’ + –itis ‘suffix meaning malfunctioning, diseased’] See various senses.
C. Peter Wagner (1930- ), a missiologist and best-selling author, is credited with coining the term.
1. An introverted attitude on the part of a church such that its members devote attention to their existing relationships with each other instead of engaging in evangelism and other means of inviting new people into their congregation.
See also *fellowshipitis; *holy huddle; *koinonia.
Orjala Get Ready to Grow: A Strategy for Local Church Growth
76 : People like the church so well that there is danger of koinonitis
, as Peter Wagner calls it, or overdeveloped fellowship, in which people so enjoy the “nice” people of their own congregation that they fail to go out and bring in the “new” people God wants in His church. 1979
Wagner Your Church Can Be Healthy
87 : But in larger churches which have many fellowship groups, this kind of koinonitis may constitute a practically invisible barrier to growth. Fellowship groups or congregations should be identified and examined. If koinonitis has become a problem for any of them, it needs to be dealt with, if the church is going to regain health. 1988
Larsson How Your Corps Can Grow: The Salvation Army and Church Growth
40 : Fellowshipitis, also known as “koinonitis” or “closed shop” or “fellowship saturation,” refers to the disease of over-active fellowshipping in the corps as a whole or in any of its constituent groups. It is too much of a good thing. 1995
Warren The Purpose-Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message and Mission
138 : It’s easy to get what Peter Wagner calls “koinonitis”—developing such a close-knit fellowship that newcomers are afraid or unable to break into it. 1996
Mahaney, Somerville Why Small Groups?: Together Toward Maturity
78 : “Koinonitis” is a kind of “disease” we catch when we start loving koinonia
too much—for example, to the exclusion of evangelism—and thus become ingrown and selfish. 2011
Wagner Wrestling with Alligators, Prophets and Theologians: Lessons from a Lifetime in the Church: A Memoir
180 : I optimistically thought that the names of these diseases, like “ethnikitis” or … “koinonitis” or “hyponeumia” would become technical terms used throughout the whole church world from then on, but sadly they never did!
2. A narrower version of the previous sense, in which a church’s introverted attitude is blamed specifically on the church’s use of *small-group ministry.
See also *koinonia group.
• 1982 Christianity Today XXVI. iss. 12–20 22 : We sometimes hear that a church was killed by koinonitis. What has happened is that churches have added on small groups as another program. 2002 Foltz Healthy Churches in a Sick World 221 : Small-group fellowship enhances true growth, but Koinonitis occurs when people are consumed by those internal relationships, so their ministry focus moves inward.