Have you heard of the “fog index”?
The fog index (specifically, the Gunning Fog Index) is a measure of the readability of English writing. It is based on the number of words in a sentence, and the number of those words that are “long” words. The fog index number corresponds to the number of years of formal education typically required to understand a particular text after a first reading. For example, a fog index of 12 means that the reader would need the equivalent of a high-school education (12 years of school, or 18 years old) to understand that text. For near-universal understanding, the recommended fog index is 8 (eighth grade). You can actually find a fun index calculation tool at this website; just enter a sentence to calculate its index.
Educators are generally aware of the concept of the fog index, but it’s also a helpful concept for ministry leaders. In the church, we too often assume a certain level of shared language and understanding. But if people have not grown up in a church (or in our particular church or tradition) or attained the same level of theological education, they can get lost in the fog of unfamiliar concepts and terms. We toss around words like “justification” and “sanctification” and “atonement” and even “worship” and “mission” and assume that everyone understands what those words mean. We talk about being “seeker sensitive” (fog alert!) but our words reflect the exact opposite.
What is your church’s fog index? Do people need a certain level of church familiarity and education to understand what you’re talking about? Or do you communicate appropriate to the level of the people in your audience, helping them grasp concepts so they can learn and grow?