I recently overheard a pastor describing all the things his church is doing to be “missional” in the community. Listening to his conversation, I shuddered at his choice of words.
If missional means going to the people in ways they understand, I’m afraid this leader loses the intended audience the moment he opens his mouth.
Words matter. In fact, the words we use can draw people closer to Jesus—or push them away.
Some of us have been marinated in churchy language for a lifetime. Some of our words have no meaning whatsoever to the non-churched. (Some have no meaning to a lot of the churched people either.) And some words actually have negative and unhelpful connotations to our missional audience.
Many of the words we use “inside the shop” are good terms with rich meaning—to us. But using them outside of our ecclesiastical clique often hurts our cause. They aren’t “bad” words. They just don’t translate well to regular people.
In my work with our teams at Group Publishing and Lifetree Café we’ve ruled out words that we know don’t communicate well with those outside the Christian clique. Here are a few of those:
• “The lost.” Even those who are looking for God find that term insulting.
• “Saved.” Even if people have a clue what someone is saved from, they often associate the term with that weird sidewalk preacher on a soapbox.
• “The Word.” What “word”? Is it a four-letter word?
• “Narthex.” Or any other churchy word that describes a place or practice that is unknown outside our circles. Most of these terms sound like skin diseases.
• “Burden.” Sounds like bad baggage. A very negative word for a good cause.
• “Parish.” You die there?
What’s your favorite bit of Christianese jargon?
If we wish to help people follow Jesus, we must choose language that communicates well beyond our little clubhouse.