We have found that a church’s vocabulary is extremely important when it comes to the welcome factor. The language used inside many churches is incredibly different from that in the outside world.
We lived in southern Germany, just across the border from Basel, Switzerland. The Swiss speak what is called “Swiss German”, which started out as High German, but has evolved into a separate dialect that most German speakers can’t understand.
It’s the same way in most churches… they use a language that is so different that most visitors don’t understand it. Many pastors, teachers and church leaders have been in church so long that they speak a language that I call “God talk”. Besides the all-too-common “Hallelujahs”, “Glorys” and “Praise the Lords”, they talk about “who you are in Christ”, and use words such as righteousness, holiness, sanctification and other such words as if everyone should know what they mean. But these often only serve to remind visitors that they are outsiders.
I’m not against these words… you’ll find them all throughout the Bible! But we need to think through how to put spiritual principles into common everyday language. The best way to do this is through illustrations/object lessons/word pictures. And we need to explain biblical words such a “Hallelujah.”
Learning a new language
People shouldn’t have to learn a new language to come into a relationship with God. There were two types of Greek language in use in Jesus’ day: that of business and politics –- basically “high-brow” Greek. Then there was the other, more “earthy” type which was used for everyday things such as shopping, conversation, etc. This is what Jesus and the Gospel writers used.
It was important to them to connect with their hearers. They understood that if we don’t connect with them, our message won’t either. We need to do those things that enable us to get the Word of God deep into the heart of those that attend our services.
Another thought, we need to use inclusive language, rather than language that separates… sinners, saved, heathen and pagan are all words that serve to reinforce the stereotype of Christianity as a religion of snobs. I don’t see the Jesus of the Bible using this type of language, except with the self-righteous Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. Actually, the “sinners” loved hanging out with Him, as He did with them.
We need to make our language as welcoming as possible without compromising the truth of the Word of God. We want to remove anything that will detract from the life-changing message of the Cross. We want to do everything we can to help people to discover the goodness of God… that’s what will lead them to repentance!