Churches everywhere make statements, and do things that automatically place distance between themselves and those who are visiting for the first time. Let me set the scene.
It’s a rainy Sunday morning, and everyone’s trickled into the worship center a little late. The worship team was a little lethargic, and it took them a song or two to get into it. As they’re winding down the worship time, the pastor makes his way on to the platform to transition to the next part of the service, and prays a prayer. The prayer ends with the infamous phrase (to the insiders) in a louder tone: “And all God’s people said…” Wait for it – a boisterous congregation responds with, “Amen!” Have you been there?
I have, and we’ve all probably missed the guest behind us who was jolted by the unanimous thunder around them at that moment. How did they feel? More than likely they felt like an outsider, and it usually gets worse for them throughout the day. I’m not sure where this phrase or the countless other churchy phrases we use come from, but I do know they often alienate us from many guests in our churches.
Insider language creeps up so quickly in churches. We create stylish names for membership classes that don’t communicate what the class is all about or we place cool names on children’s ministry gatherings that always need further explanation. If the church should be the easiest place on the planet to connect with and grow in, then we should make sure we do everything possible to remove insider focused language.
How do you know if you have an insider language problem? Here are three things to consider:
1. You’re always explaining what everything means.
“How do I ________ here at the church?” If you’re always explaining how people can serve or get connected, you may be too insider focused. “What is the __________ all about?” Too many churches and ministries create names for classes and groups that need explaining; names should speak for themselves.
2. You’re not retaining first time guests.
If people feel like an outsider on their first visit, they’re more than likely not going to come back. Believe it or not, most churches don’t have a visitor problem, they have insider problem. When guests feel like they know what’s going on and where things are, they’re more likely to come back a second time.
3. You’re always using acronyms during announcements.
At Christ Fellowship, our favorite financial management and stewardship class is Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsey. We never – I mean never – refer to the class as FPU in a public setting. Why? No one knows what FPU stands for, especially guests. Speaking in acronyms is the simplest way to put distance between your church guests.
Our words matter. The Apostle Paul understood the importance of connecting with those outside the faith, just read his words in Acts 17. Every single thing we say during our worship services should connect with all people at every step on their spiritual journey, and communicate that ‘All are Welcome’. Take some time to think critically about what you’re hearing, and not hearing, this week at your church. Host a focus group with new families and ask them about what they experienced. Call several families who visited and never came back, ask them why.
Becoming an outsider focused church takes intentionality, most churches drift towards being insider focused without even knowing it.
Is your ministry insider or outsider focused? I’d love to hear how you stay outsider focused. Comment below.