The Words We Use Matter
We all know that what we say matters. But do we take that fact seriously enough? How careful are you about the particular verbiage you use in your church communications? Particular words can carry subliminal or even subconscious meaning—sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. That’s why our churches need to spend more time focusing on the language we use to communicate certain ideas, thoughts, and practices.
When we speak or write, our words convey meaning, intent, and purpose. When we’re thoughtful, our words express our planned meaning, intent, and purpose. When we’re not, our words can carry unintended messages.
Think about it for a minute: when you hear the word “visitor,” what do you think of? What about if you hear the word “guest”? Often these terms are used interchangeably, but they really can convey two very different meanings. A visitor is someone who’s just visiting, like a tourist. But a guest is someone who as been invited in, prepared for, and welcomed.
When we’re purposeful with our language and take care to be intentional, in even the smallest detail, we honor not only our message, but the receiver.
Meet People Where They Are
Churches, and church staff, sometimes get stuck in the trap of using “insider language.” It’s rarely intentional, and can often be traced back to a desire to communicate concisely. For instance, when addressing first time guests from the stage, your pastor might find it easier to say “Find more at The Commons” than to say “You can get more information in the gathering area outside the auditorium and to the right, what we refer to as ‘The Commons.’” But easier isn’t always better. When it comes to communicating a message to first time guests, it is particularly important to think about things from their perspective.
Another place where “insider language” often creeps in is the bulletin. Review this week’s bulletin. Where could you use more inclusive language for new people? Where might you need to explain things a little bit better?
It’s important for us to meet people where they are, and some times that means we need to change the words we use to make sure everyone can understand our meaning, intent, and purpose. This is true in relation to a person’s knowledge of our building or ministries, but also in relation to our exegesis of Scripture and even our theological assumptions.
Make a Quick Sheet
One of the easiest ways to be intentional about clear communication, is to create a language “quick sheet” for church leadership, staff, and volunteers. It can be a simple list of terms that your church does (or does not) use, maybe even with a short explanation of why. Here’s a quick example of how one church lays out their language guidelines:
This quick sheet should be easily accessible to the whole team, and should be updated and adapted over time. When everyone is on the same page, it helps make sure we’re all communicating clearly and effectively in every area of ministry.
What language is your church intentional about using? Where do you need to work on this?