Some new friends recently visited our church, which always makes me extra-sensitive to first impressions and how we might come across to newcomers. But even though we’ve only been at our current church for six months, it’s easy to assume familiarity: that everyone understands what we’re talking about and how we do things.
One area where it’s particularly easy to slide is “insider lingo” — terms that make perfect sense to those of us on the “inside” but are meaningless to visitors.
Some of these are part of Christian subculture, such as “fellowship,” “doing life together,” “give the Lord a praise offering,” and “born again,” or theological terms such as “carnal,” “sanctification” or even “gospel.” Others are specific to a particular church. For example, we may know exactly where the “narthex” is, but what about someone who is new to our church, or to church buildings in general? What about names of buildings, groups, programs and classes? When we say, “Talk to Pastor Mike,” does everyone know 1) what Pastor Mike looks like and 2) where to find him?
We understand what these words and phrases mean and assume everyone is familiar with our terminology, but that assumption can be confusing at best or alienating at worst to those to outsiders.
During the interview process for his first pastoral position out of seminary, Dave and I had a conversation with a staff member at the prospective church. We heard terms like “the Dellwoods” and “outdoor worship” and “One Plus One” but had no idea what they meant until we finally asked. We learned that “the Dellwoods” were two houses on the church’s property, used for Sunday School classes; “outdoor worship” referred to a series of outdoor services held (on the back porch of one of the Dellwoods) during the beautiful midwestern summer; and that “One Plus One” was a class for young married couples without kids.
What insider lingo do you use (and need to either explain or change) at your church?