This is part 4 of a 9-part series on attending church from a visitor’s perspective. You can read the original post to get a better understanding of David’s experience visiting churches for the first time.
Within a week or so of moving to the South, I had a flat tire. My roommate, who was from India, took me to a local garage to get the tire patched. Out of the shop walks a character right out of your strongest stereotype. In order to get at the screw piercing my tire the mechanic proceeded to bark some directions at me in a language I couldn’t understand. By the contorted expression on my face he concluded that I didn’t understand him, so he added some confusing gestures to his drawl. Only after my Indian roommate translated (English being his sixth language, not counting Southern Drawl) could I follow his directions. At that point I realized I was an outsider.
Few things make people feel like an outsider more than the language used around them. If this is true, how does the language we use in church make our visitors feel? To avoid excluding people we have to pay attention to verbose nomenclature that we use in our worship service–since this is the way most people are introduced to our church.
There are two basic categories of obscure words we use–ancient and Christian-ese. Ancient words are the most obvious examples but are difficult because we think we know what they mean, but have a hard time coming up with a clear definition. For instance, a song might sing to “Jehovah”–which we know as a name for God. It’s beside the fact that this is a mistransliteration of “Yahweh” that comes to us via the German language–what do you think this word makes your first time visitors think of when they visit? Probably the people who woke them up on Saturday morning in order to hand them a tract.
The King James Bible has had an immense influence in our culture, and it continues to influence even the most contemporary church service. If you’ve ever been in a church that has tried to sing, “As the Deer,” you know what I mean–half the church “pants” for water while the other half “panteth.” Not only is this awkward for a visitor, but it is confusing too. This goes for the “thees” and “thous” as well. You might consider King James English more poetic or pious than the common vernacular but, since none of us speak in this way any longer, it excludes our visitors.
- Learn more about how to welcome church visitors with this massive collection of resources and blog posts.
- Walking into a church for the first time can be scary. Check out Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Visitors by Jonathan Malm for practical ideas and perspective on first-time guests.