Visiting a new church is stressful. It’s not easy to walk into a new, unfamiliar environment. Chances are, to alleviate some of the pressure, your potential first-time guest will want to get an idea of what he can expect. So, he’ll swing by your website to check things out.
Talk to the hand…
Now, if your aim is to make new visitors to your website and church feel at ease, you must take great care to ensure that your presence online accurately reflects who you are offline. So, it’s natural for you to want to communicate your message using terms and phrases you’re familiar with.
But, whether it’s building or room names, ministry acronyms, member pseudonyms, or terms unique to your denomination, the “insider language” your local body uses to communicate with one another, may be off-putting to those attempting to enter the conversation for the first time.
There’s also a school of thought that using certain words and phrases related to the Christian faith, creates a barrier for those who aren’t familiar with them. Advocates of this idea suggest that churches should make it their priority to create Web content that’s more “non-believer friendly” by replacing words like sin, salvation, repentance, and faith with less “churchy” alternative expressions.
So how can we solve this problem? What’s the best solution?
As we use our websites to serve and communicate online, how can we balance remaining true to our identity as a local body of believers in Christ, with helping our visitors to feel less alienated and more warmly welcomed?
Here’s an idea: add a Lingo Page to your church website!
In this first of two posts, I’ll step you through the what, why, and how (with examples) of creating one!
What’s a Lingo Page?
The Lingo Page isn’t a new idea, but one inspired by the print publishing world.
Dictionary.com defines a glossary as
A list of terms in a special subject, field, or area of usage, with accompanying definitions. Their purpose, for example, at the back of a book, is to explain or define difficult or unusual words and expressions used in the text.
A Lingo Page on your church website accomplishes the same purpose. You use it to define and explain terms specific to your local body, and to the Christian faith, in general.
Why a Lingo Page is better than “word swapping”
As I said earlier, some have suggested that using certain Christian words and phrases—a.k.a. Christianese—creates a barrier for those who aren’t familiar with them. Proponents of this idea point mostly to non-believers as the ones who are alienated by the so-called “insider” language Christians use to share our faith.
They suggest that, in all of our communications, words like sin, salvation, repentance, faith—even worship and Holy Spirit—should be replaced with less “churchy” alternative expressions that they claim are much more meaningful.
This topic deserves a more in-depth treatment. But, that’s not what this post is for. However, I’ll say simply that I think this idea falls short. Here’s why.
Non-believers do not understand Christian jargon, and they never will. That is true. Some may feel uncomfortable or even “turned off” by some of the terms and phrases. True again. To others, the Bible may even seem like nonsensical gibberish. That is absolutely true.
But, the non-believer’s discomfort with, and inability to understand, the Bible is not a problem of antiquated or inferior words and messaging.
In his commentary of 2 Corinthians 4:3, John MacArthur notes,
The false teachers accused Paul of preaching an antiquated message. So Paul showed that the problem was not with the message or the messenger, but with the hearers headed for hell (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:14). The preacher cannot persuade people to believe; only God can do that.
Words do matter. But, merely using more “neutral”, contemporary, or accommodating phrases and terms will not inspire understanding. It also won’t move people to believe the message of the Gospel. Only God can do that.
Church website content should communicate …and serve
One goal of the content we create for our website is to communicate who we are as a local body. We want to be authentic. We want our church website content to accurately reflect online what people can reasonably expect to experience offline.
However, developing our content using “religiously neutral” language will not sustain a visitor’s confidence if, when they arrive at our churches and Bible studies as first-time guests, they encounter this.
People will naturally have questions about what you’re communicating if your vocabulary is new to them. But, merely swapping out certain words and phrases with more “comfortable” terms will do little to help them understand the true and deeper meaning behind the words and phrases you use.
Even “religiously neutral” language needs to be defined and explained if the concepts behind the words and phrases are new to the hearer.
We serve people well when our church website content is clear, current, complete, and consistent with who we are as a local body, offline. To accurately communicate ideas new to the hearer, definition and context are crucial.
That’s why creating a Lingo Page for your church website is superior to mere “word swapping”.
You’ll “decode” your content by defining and introducing context to Christian vocabulary and the unique terms used in the life of your local church. And, you’ll create church website content that equips and encourages people new to both to enter into the conversation.
Gee, that kinda sounds like disciple-making.
It’s your turn
Do you think adding a Lingo Page to your church website is the best way to serve people unfamiliar with your family or your faith?
Leave a comment!