Imagine my excitement when I attended my first “fellowship meal” as a young believer. More than 100 Baptists brought incredible food to my first “fellowship,” and I quickly liked this new concept!
What I didn’t know until later is that New Testament fellowship is about much more than food. It’s about coming together to provoke one another to good works (Heb. 10:24-25). It’s not about retreating from the world to eat; it’s about gathering together to be re-armed for the war. With that goal in mind, here are some ways to strengthen fellowship events–recognizing that social distancing is still a requirement in many places, and the COVID-19 crisis may change the way we gather:
- Devote time to personal testimonies. Rather than only eat, enlist believers who have endured the battle to share their testimony at some time during the event. Ask them to challenge others to be faithful in the fight.
- Read stories of martyrdom around the world. Most fellowship events are far too inwardly focused. Change that direction by telling the stories of martyrs (see, e.g., http://www.persecution.com). Challenge believers to pray for persecuted brothers and sisters.
- Take time for table prayer. At each fellowship table, enlist a prayer leader who will solicit needs from others, and then give time for believers to pray for each other. Most churches miss this opportunity to encourage one another.
- Use the fellowship time for teaching. What better time to talk about what New Testament fellowship should be? Remind contemporary believers why fellowship mattered so much in the ancient world. When believers were dying for their faith, they needed ongoing encouragement.
- Plan a fasting fellowship. I know that idea sounds contradictory, but give it a try. Gather together, but don’t eat. Instead, pray for each other. Pray for neighbors and friends who need to follow Christ. Share testimonies. Worship through singing. Encourage each other.
- Have a country-focused meal. Choose an international country, and learn about the needs there. If possible, learn if missionaries serve there. Focus the menu on food from that country. Pray that someone from your church might take the gospel there.
- Invite other believers to join your fellowship via electronic means. Technology makes it possible for us to connect with believers around the world. For example, contact a church planter in an urban center in North America, and give him time to talk to your congregation after a meal. Think about others during the fellowship.
- Have a “friends and family” introduction fellowship. Plan a fellowship specifically for friends and family who don’t attend church. Provide well-designed invitations, being up front about the goal of introducing others to the church. Invite others to join the family of Christ.
- Sponsor a fellowship meal for the needy. Come together for a meal, but prepare significantly more for the needy in your community. Work with a local shelter to provide at least one meal for its residents.
- Plan a fellowship meal for a sister church. Instead of focusing on self in a fellowship, take the entire meal to another congregation in the community. Feed them, and pray over their leadership. Encourage them with your willingness to work together in the Great Commission.
What other ideas would you add to this list?
Conclude the fellowship meal with the Lord’s Supper, using whole wheat pita bread and non-alcoholic red wine. We did that at my mother’s church. Also include a number of meat-free, dairy-free, and egg-free entrees for the more health conscious and the vegetarians/vegans in the congregation and not just salad. I am vegetarian, sometimes vegan. I have lost count of the number of times that I have had to bring a dish for myself to a fellowship meal. Church fellowship meals can be a wonderful opportunity for fellowship but they can also discourage fellowship through the choice of food that is served. Vegetarians and vegans are an unreached people group in a number of communities. In addition, it is a good idea to be mindful that more and more people are suffering from food allergies and Crohn’s Disease and must watch what kind of food they eat. Some racial-ethnic groups are lactose-intolerant. The Jewish custom of inviting a stranger to the Sabbath meal is one that can be expanded to fellowship meals. A fellowship meal can serve as an entry point into a church. Be sure that the existing church members do not give such guests the cold shoulder because they are “not like us.” I have seen that happen.
Invite people personally. Also, have a list of items people could bring if they ask, and if there is nothing needed, have them bring wine. If it is someone’s house (post pandemic) fine but is if in a church social hall, put the clergy at tables other than with the inner circle. Too often the clergy are cloistered even at a social event. They have all the rest of the week to be around the inner circle of people.
With Zoom or whatever your video conferencing platform your group or congregation uses, small groups and small congregations can have fellowship meals online. Everyone provides their own food and the group or congregation eat in view of each other. The participants encourage each other and build up each others faith. With some preparation, you can also do online communion.