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Koinonia: what does it mean?

by Kirstine Davis

Suitable for Key Stage 3


To explain the term ‘koinonia’, which refers to Christian fellowship with God or other people.

Preparation and materials

  • You will need the PowerPoint slides that accompany this assembly (Koinonia) and the means to display them.

  • Optional: you may wish to have a dictionary available for the students to look up the definition of koinonia.


  1. Ask the students to raise their hands if they have heard of the word ‘koinonia’. You may wish to ask if anyone can define the word.

  2. Optional: you may wish to ask a student to look up the definition of koinonia in the dictionary.

    The dictionary definition of koinonia is ‘Christian fellowship or communion, with God or, more commonly, with fellow Christians’.

  3. Show Slide 1.

    Explain the points on the slide, emphasizing that koinonia can be translated from Greek into the words fellowship and communion. There is also a sense in which koinonia means community, working together for the common good of other people.

  4. Ask the students, Why is koinonia important?

    Listen to a range of responses.

    Suggest that koinonia is important because it encourages us to:

    - think about others
    - follow rules that are designed to make the community work better (for example, not running in the school corridors)
    - work together as a team
    - have less conflict and a more peaceful environment

  5. Show Slide 2.

    Explain that ‘ubuntu’ is a word used in parts of Africa. It means ‘I am because we are’. It is about the essence of being human and encompasses hospitality, caring about others and the willingness to go the extra mile for the sake of another.

  6. Explain that the following story was related to a journalist in South America. Although the story is not from Africa, it sums up the idea of ubuntu well.

    The Ubuntu Story

    An anthropologist (someone who studies the habits and customs of different tribes) had been studying a Brazilian tribe, and had often worked alongside children. As he was preparing to leave the tribe, he played a game with the children. The anthropologist had bought lots of sweets, which he placed in a basket that was tied to a tree. He drew a line on the ground and asked the children to wait behind the line. He explained that when he said, ‘Go!’ the children should run to the basket as fast as they could. The first to reach the basket would win all of the sweets.

    The anthropologist shouted, ‘Go!’ but to his surprise, the children took hold of each other’s hands and ran together towards the tree. When they arrived at the tree, they shared out the sweets between them.

    The anthropologist asked the children why they had done this. A young girl piped up, ‘How can one of us be happy if all the others are sad?’

    The anthropologist was amazed. He had studied the tribe for several months, but he felt that he suddenly understood something special about its members.

  7. Show Slide 3.

    Ask the students, How can one of us be happy if all the others are sad?

Time for reflection

Remind the students that the word ubuntu has a similar meaning to koinonia. Both words contain the essence of the young girl’s question: ‘How can one of us be happy if all the others are sad?’

We can’t have real friendship and fellowship with each other if we are not helping other people to find happiness. We need to be a community that works together for the good of others.

Show Slide 4.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, ‘You seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in community, in belonging.’

Ask the students to think about the following questions.

How can we help others to be part of this community?

Pause to allow time for thought.

How can we keep to the rules to create peace?

Pause to allow time for thought.

How can we try to make sure that everyone around us is happy and that no one is left out or sad?

Pause to allow time for thought.


The prayer of St Francis (Make me a channel of your peace) (Come and Praise, 147)

Publication date: March 2019   (Vol.21 No.3)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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