What I’m about to say may seem ridiculously basic. Ready? Here goes:
Mmhmm. Call me Captain Obvious.
OK, but seriously. If you’ve been in the church communications world for much time at all, you likely recognize that everything communicates something. That’s why we get wrapped up in conversations about adding diaper changing stations to the men’s restrooms and eliminating those front-row, “Reserved for Pastor” parking spaces. That’s good stuff. But how long has it been since you assessed the actual words your church is throwing around? Here are my current pet-peeves:
Push, as in, “We need to push people into Membership Class” or “We need a volunteer push for Vacation Bible School.” The problem is that people don’t want to be pushed into anything. They don’t mind being invited, encouraged, or even challenged. But pushed? No thanks. I know, I know, none of us would ever use those words from the pulpit or in our bulletins. But if we’re using them in staff meetings or leadership gatherings, they influence how we approach people and challenges.
Insider language. This has been covered by dozens of blogs—like this one—but I wanted to offer it up as a reminder. Review your communication through the eyes of someone who has no idea what you’re talking about and fix what could feel exclusive. Better yet, have someone review it who really doesn’t know. In addition to words specific to your church environment, be careful with “church words” in general—even words you think people probably know … like gospel. Yes, really. I’m not saying you shouldn’t use such vocabulary at all; I’m only suggesting that we not leave people in the dust with it. Oh, and decide you hate acronyms and eliminate them. No matter how cute they are.
Talking about “the unchurched” as if they’re not in the room, as in, “Be sure to invite your unchurched friends!” and “Movie Night is a terrific evangelism opportunity!” Imagine being a first-time guest reading those words. Might you think, “Ummm . . . so what exactly is going to happen at Movie Night?” Perhaps this will be more controversial than I expect, but if you’ve developed an invitational culture in your church, and if you’ve provided invitational tools (e.g., a good website, message series postcards, e-vites), your church family won’t require such direction, and your guests won’t be wondering about the possibility of an altar call at a swimming party.
Sermon. You ever looked up the definition of sermon? It’s a “religious talk” or a “long lecture on behavior.” Oh boy! Consider using message or teaching.
!, as in the exclamatory statements tacked on to every announcement. “Don’t miss it!” “You’ve gotta check this out!” “Stop at the Information Desk to learn more!” “It’s a must-see family event!” Exclamation points aren’t inherently evil, of course, but if we overuse them—and the phrases they tend to accompany—a couple of things happen. First, people become overwhelmed. They’re busy with life in general, so how can they possibly fit in all of the “You’ve gotta!” stuff? Second, our brand suffers. Why? Let’s be honest: Are we really delivering on all of those exclamation points? Is that business meeting really not-to-be-missed? Will our families actually have the time of their lives? By the way, using multiple exclamation points actually is evil.
Please know that I share these thoughts from a place of humility. I’ve goofed a time or two or 147 in this regard. Early in my church communications journey, I was responsible for writing copy for a direct mail piece advertising our facility’s grand opening. I’m a wordsmith, and so I described our children’s ministry program as loud. Yup. Not energetic or engaging. Not even fun. Loud. Eek.
I could share more of those gems, but I’d rather know yours. So how about it? What words are you purposefully using—and not using—in your environment?
- 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.