A dear friend got me hip to this distinction recently and I’ve immediately adopted it. I don’t get really excited about a lot of things, but this got me going. Here’s why.
Communities are comprised of people who share a common activity or interest. The tap dance community, for example, is comprised of people from all over the map geographically, idealistically, and sociopolitically. We all share a common interest, but the differences in our value sets and our lack of a robust communal imagination, often build friction in our community.
Fellowships, by contrast are groups of people bound together by a common conception of life, relationship, and values. The thing that frames a fellowship is an over-arching way of life that affects every pursuit. Fellowships can have people with common or disparate interests, similar or dissimilar personalities. Fellowships actually tend to function more robustly if the members do have differences. What is common is the imagination of the kind of relationship they all are aiming for, with each other and the world around them.
We need to be careful we’re not using the language of community and actually looking for, or assuming we’re in a fellowship, or vice versa. This is especially true now, when there is a lot of talk about a community and a lot of need for fellowship.
Communities and Fellowships each serve a purpose, and are both good. We just need to know how to tell the difference and know which one we’re in.