When I was a hospice chaplain I remember the first time I heard a nurse say, “The patient is SOB.” I thought, “What did she call the patient?” I later discovered SOB is medical jargon for “Shortness of Breath.”
All industries and organizations develop their own jargon. The purpose of jargon is to improve efficiency in communication for insiders, but if you are an outsider jargon can make you feel alienated or even worse, unwanted.
Just as there is medical jargon there is church jargon. If guests need an interpreter to understand your church jargon then you are communicating they are unwanted.
Here are three simple ways to show guests you want them to feel “in the know.”
1. Don’t assume people know the speaker.
Most churches are good about introducing guest speakers, but what about when the pastor or pastoral staff speak? Guests do not automatically know who is the pastor or who is on staff.
Clue guests in by saying something prior to the message, like, “We are excited that today’s message will be delivered by our Senior Pastor.” or “If you are a guest, you picked a great day to come because our Student Pastor is preaching. So consider yourself a young person today.” Statements like these don’t need to stand alone. They can be made during the announcements or by a worship leader right before the next song.
2. Don’t assume people know your denomination or denominal leaders.
Every denomination uses acronyms for events and titles for leaders. These terms may work for organizational and promotional purposes to insiders, but guests should not have to understand your denominations org-chart (that’s corporation jargon for who’s in charge 🙂 ).
When referring to events hosted by your denomination offer a brief explanation. “HYC is December 28-30. HYC stands for Holiday Youth Convention which is a two-day youth conference hosted by the denomination our church is affiliated with. To find out more go to our website.”
When referring to denominal leaders explain their title. “Our District Superintendent will be preaching for us next week. The District Superintendent is an elected minister who helps provide leadership to our network of churches within the state.”
Most guests don’t know the difference between a presbyter, superintendent or the Pope, nor should they have to. Do you understand the difference between a field supervisor or a regional representative at your local bank? I don’t and honestly organizational titles do not communicate importance anymore. Everybody’s a vice-president. So clear the smoke for guests and talk in terms they can relate to when it comes to denominational-speak.
3. Don’t assume people know the Bible.
The Bible is full of expressive language. Many of these expressions are not meaningful to a biblically uninformed listener. I recently had a new comer to church ask me what is “Shekinah”? He had listened to a 45-minute message in which the speaker frequently used the word but never referenced it’s meaning. Several religious words like holiness and doctrine no longer find their way into the vocabulary of a typical person. When’s the last time you head the word doctrine used in a commercial?
Make sure you are are not communicating that guests should have passed a biblical literacy test in order to understand the message.
It helps to take the pressure off by saying things like, “Doctrine is a word that has fallen out of use in everyday language, so if it’s new to you don’t worry about it. Today people say things like “best practices” and thats basically what we mean by doctrine.” Will that kind of a statement satisfy every theological itch for an insider? No, but it will respect guests by inviting them to stay on the same page with the message.