Insiders or Outsiders

In my recent article for The E-ncourager, I wrote about the messages we communicate in our bulletins, newsletters, websites, etc.  One of the points I stressed in helping get our message across better is to keep the guest in mind.

Recently, I attended a Baptist Men’s Day worship service.  The service was led by laity and it was obvious that the person who was doing the welcome that morning was very new at this.  Naturally, he spoke about the work of Baptist Men in the church and then invited everyone to come to the “Region 4 Rally” being held at another church.  I had no idea what a “Region 4 Rally” was and I’m sure there were other people sitting the pews with me who were wondering about it as well.  It was not until I looked in the bulletin and noticed that he was talking about a Baptist Men’s Mission Rally that everything clicked.  If he had called it that in the first place, then chances are that people like me, and others who were guests that day, would understand what he was talking about without having to sit in bewilderment.

It’s  instances like this when I talk about keeping the guest in mind and not use language that only “insiders” – people who attend your church – would understand.  I was looking at our local paper and noticed ten different instances where churches used acronyms or names where I’m sure the people of that church would know what they were, but your average person would not.  If you’re trying to attract new people to your place of worship, then it’s important to use “outsider” language that they would understand.

Here are some tips to keeping the guest in mind…

Explain your Sunday School classes – Chances are, if your church has been around for more than 50 years, you have Sunday School classes that are either named after influential people in the church’s history, have obscure names, or are called Adult I, II, and so on.  While there’s nothing wrong with how we name our Sunday School classes, some people may have trouble with which class to go to.  In times like this, it’s helpful to have a sheet available to guests that have 1) the name of each Sunday School Class, 2) age range and or gender, 3) brief description of the class, and 4) the type of literature used.  The same idea can be used for children’s choirs – give the name and age range for each choir.

Invite someone not a part of your church to read your bulletin – It’s helpful to have a fresh set of eyes read the bulletin and giving them freedom to ask any question about something that they don’t understand.  This will tell you immediately if you’re using any insider language that needs to be explained, and will cause you to think differently about how you word announcements in the bulletin.

Don’t use acronyms unless you’re willing to explain what they mean on a regular basis – It’s cool that you came up with a cute name for a group of young women that meet twice a month for Bible study.  It’s even cuter that you’ve made the name into an acronym.  It gets annoying, though, when people come up to you asking what that particular group is because you provide no other information about the group beyond the acronym.

Visit other places of worship and go to sporting events and notice the difference – Marketing departments for sports franchises are pretty good at communication because they want everyone attending their event to know what’s going on.  Listen and how they phrase events and communication information, then go to other places for worship (when you can) and see if you can understand every event that is taking place.

Most importantly, it really does come down to us thinking like someone who has never come through the door of our church before.  What would they think if they saw what was written in our bulletins, brochures or websites?  Would they be able to understand all the events your church is doing?  If not, then we may need to rethink how we phrase what’s going on in our churches.

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