This is part 5 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.
Besides ancient language we also exclude visitors with our Christian-ese. These are words almost exclusively used in Christian circles. These can include theological terms, religious words and various other words that are not found in our everyday vernacular.
Sometimes we are well meaning, but we use pious words that might exclude people by making them feel less righteous. “Bless” is one of those words. I am still shocked when someone tells me, “Have a blessed day.” I guess it feels like they are pointing out to me how good of a Christian they are–and implying that I am less pious than they.
Especially excluding are words that we use to describe our attempts to introduce others to Christ. When we use words such as “missions” and “evangelism” around our visitors, we are creating an “us vs. them” dichotomy since visitors aren’t engaged in the outreach. I once saw a church that admirably started serving people in their neighborhood. To identify themselves, and their church, they got T-shirts made which read, “This Church has left the building.” I think that’s an attractive message to non-Christians–saying that they aren’t a cloistered group of people only interested in themselves.
Unfortunately their message was undermined by a cute note on their shirt that read, “Gone Outreachin’.” As Christians we know that outreach is an important part of our walk with Christ, and we do it out of love and concern for those that don’t know Jesus. However, when a non-Christian is told that they have been “outreached” it only reinforces their feeling of exclusion.
You might think I am making a big case out of nothing. You might say that the worst that can happen is that a visitor thinks these words are “weird” and get over it. However, once someone uses that pejorative to describe you they have made a chasm between themselves and you. They have acknowledged that they are an outsider and will not be able to fit in. Isn’t that the opposite of the message we are trying to convey?
- 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.