Making Visitors Not Feel Like Outsiders

We lifetime churchgoers have our own lingo, with inside-the-Bible-Beltway terminology seldom used beyond the church walls. And some words, though they get used in the secular world, adopt a slightly different connotation when used in a church context. We all know that, but ingrained speech habits are hard to break.

Last Friday I attended a Communications workshop at Granger Community Church. Since they focus laser-like on unchurched people, they force themselves to use language which the world understands. Now, I don’t think it’s worthwhile to get too uptight about this stuff, but it is worthwhile to be sensitive to it. So, here are some terms they avoid at Granger, and how they replace them.

Churchy Word Replace With…
Fellowship Community
Intimacy Connection
Ministry Group
Target Guest or visitor
Go deeper Next step
Need Opportunity
Program Experience
Maturity Growth
Recruit Invite
Pulpit Platform
Sanctuary Auditorium
Foyer or vestibule Lobby

I was reminded of this a few months ago when I attended a funeral at a Lutheran church. They used terms like “chancel” that weren’t part of my church experience, and I felt like an outsider. Yes, I was an outsider. But a church shouldn’t remind someone of that. We need to help people feel comfortable, find ways to put them in their comfort zone. As Kem Meyer said in the workshop, a person’s comfort zone may be behind a cup of coffee or sitting in front of multimedia. But much of what we do in churches does not make an outsider feel comfortable. We don’t inflict this discomfort intentionally; we’re not thoughtless or cruel. We just keep stumbling into our familiar ruts, and kinda forget where other people are.

Thinking about the words we use is a nice start in helping visitors feel comfortable in our midst.

  • Janelle
    Posted at 09:18h, 06 December

    I do understand that sometimes our “language” can get in the way of accurately communicating with people. However, what you are suggesting concerns me. If I understand you correctly, you want me (a believer) to change (in this instance) my language in order to make others (unbelievers) comfortable. Since when does God tell us to change in order to become more like the world? The scriptures (Romans 12:2) clearly state that we are NOT to conform to the likeness of the world.
    Why are we so concerned with making people comfortable? I want them to know that where they are in their life is NOT where God wants them to be! That coming to know him in a personal, intimate way is imperative! I’m not going to get them to come to church by changing my behavior or language to become more like them! It’s when they see something different in me and we build a relationship that they will trust my invitation to come to church.
    Yes, discipleship IS key – but that discipleship started when I began to build a relationship with that person, showing them my life in Christ – exactly as I’m living it – mistakes and all!

  • Mike
    Posted at 09:55h, 07 December

    I agree that making people comfortable will not transform their life.
    I agree that true impact and engagement comes when they see your life transformed in the context of the relationship that you have with them.
    I agree that living discipleship is key in communicating the invitation of Christ to follow Him.
    However, there is nothing particularly spiritual or biblical about many of the English words we use to describe our meeting houses and what we do as congregations.
    If changing those non-scriptural words enables us to communicate better in 21st century English, your efforts to build a relationship that communicates the gospel will probably see greater success. They will know both what you do and why you are doing it.
    I am glad Christ came and spoke the language of man. I appreciate that the gospel is communicated in modern English today. My Hebrew and Latin are rudimentary, my Greek is less than fluent, and I really don’t enjoy 16th century English very much.
    In other words, I appreciate that the timeless message transcends language, allowing it to be communicated in action and deed in the language I know and understand.
    I agree that if we attempt to make people comfortable where the Holy Spirit is making them uncomfortable (which He does), we are doing the wrong thing. However, if we needlessly create barriers, we are impeding the work of the Holy Spirit and we must stop it.
    Okay, with a counterpoint given, I will say this: in learning the lessons of “seeker” sensitive evangelism, and in trying to extend hospitality to those outside the church, I do believe we may be at the edge of paranoia. Successful secular organizations engage outsiders all the time, and often have their own “lingo.” They merely educate people about what is meant by certain words.
    I think some of us can get so caught up in seeker-sensitive communication that we forget it is okay to teach people the meaning of new (old) words. But it only works well if you first speak the words they understand.

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