While working with a wonderful church team recently, I asked the team what they might offer as a handoff (next small step after an initial introduction to the church through an outreach event) that wasn’t “come to worship.” With the best of intentions and purest of heart, one woman lovingly replied, “But they just don’t know how much they would bless us if they came to worship with us.”
Frankly, I had to pause for a moment to make sure I responded with the same love and kindness that she had to my question. My gut reaction was to point out that our neighbors are not there to bless us. Instead, if we are to build relationships with our neighbors, we would want to be thinking more about how we might bless our neighbors. After pausing to collect my thoughts, I first acknowledged how much she and the church team obviously desired to see new neighbors attending their worship service. I went on to ask what might happen if we were to reverse engineer her comment and consider how we might be able to bless the neighbors. She paused for a moment and then her eyes suddenly became very large as she realized what had happened. The church is so used to expecting people to come to us and be a part of what we do, she had not even realized she was still stuck in that paradigm even though that was the topic of the small group.
It isn’t that church people are not trying to reach new people. It isn’t that many churches are working hard. We just often get stuck in our methods still believing the methods of bygone days and years might still work. We also forget that we often speak a foreign language to the unchurched people who now represent most people. Another church group I was working with talked about inviting the neighbors to the hanging of the greens or Epiphany. Much of our U.S. population would likely not understand what they were being invited to if you mentioned those events. If a seeker or a person new to faith were to show up for worship, they might also hear unfamiliar churchy words like narthex, prelude, doxology, tithes, acolyte, chalice, liturgist, pulpit, chancel, etc.
And we do not even realize we do it. We have lived sometimes our whole lives hearing and speaking these words that they seem like “normal” everyday words to us churched people. But, for those outside the church, these are foreign words that often make our neighbors feel disconnected and uncomfortable. If we wouldn’t use the word in the local grocery store, we probably should minimize the use of the word anytime a potential new person could be listening. Or if we feel we must absolutely use these “churchy” words, we need to define them to bridge the gap.
As we prepare to receive guests during this Advent season, be mindful of your church language. You never know who is listening. Don’t allow our church language to be a barrier for building relationships with new people. Your grocery store language will do quite nicely!