The Power of Language

The words we use matter.

As communicators we have the power to craft a story and stir emotion with the sentences we write. I was reminded of this as I read an excerpt from Bill Hybel’s book Axiom. He shared how his team decided on the language to use when presenting the church’s vision to the congregation. Here’s what he said about the compassion element of Willow Creek’s vision:

Then came compassion. But instead of just saying we were going to “be compassionate,” (big yawn), we said we were going to “unleash unprecedented amounts of compassion into our broken world.” When people heard that phrase during Vision Weekend, they applauded for sixty seconds straight. We had struck a deep chord with the congregation, mainly because of the careful selection of just two words, “unleash” and “unprecedented.”

So what makes language powerful? Here are five elements I came up with:

  • Visual. Yes, words can be visual. Are the sentences you construct crafting a story people can see in their minds? In the above example, isn’t “unleash” far more visual than “be?”
  • Unique. It’s easy to write sentences that sound like something you’ve already heard. That’s probably why so many churches use such similar language. Instead, flex your creativity. Write something that sounds different than what you normally see or hear.
  • Concise. Saying more with fewer words is art. It’s tougher to consolidate than to babble. But simple, clear communication will always be more effective than paragraphs of unneeded text.
  • True in tone. Picking the right words for the appropriate situations is important, too. Vision casting might sound different than what goes in your weekly email. If you’re a casual congregation, “high-church” language will seem out of place.
  • Strong. Be bold. Say something meaningful. Stir emotion. Remember, strong isn’t overbearing. It’s choosing to say something that motivates people to take action. By choosing the word “unprecedented,” Willow Creek took a stance and set a high standard for what they wanted to do.

How about you? Anything you would add to this list?

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