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Web Content

The Church Lingo Page is Your Website’s “Secret Decoder Ring” (Part 2)

Years ago—before God rescued me—I ran with a circle of fun-loving Puerto Ricans. We were employed at the same company, and worked the same crazy-late hours.

Over time, they kind of “adopted” me as their “little sister”. They taught me how to dance the salsa and the merengue, and introduced me to ceviche. Yummy fun!

My favorite (and, oddly, most disappointing) memory with them occurred during the one Christmas holiday we spent together. They invited me to go “a trullas” one evening after work.

For the uninitiated, “parrandas” or “trullas navideñas” is when a small group of friends gather together to “asaltar” or surprise another friend. I’ve heard it described as “the Puerto Rican version of Christmas caroling”.

Basically, we arrived very late and very quietly at the front door of one of their good friends. The family had long gone to bed, as had most of their neighbors. At a signal, everyone started singing and banging on the door; I was stunned! We totally surprised them, which I later learned, is part of the custom.

I kept wondering if we were going to find ourselves flying face-first into the snow. To my surprise and initial delight we received a warm and happy welcome!

[framed_box width=”625px” bgColor=”rgba(245,242,134,1)”]Bonus: Download a free blueprint containing an easy 3-step process + resources to help you create a church Lingo Page your website visitors will value and appreciate.[/framed_box]

But, disappointment arrived in short order. See, they all spoke English really well. I guess I kind of expected that since they all knew I didn’t speak Spanish, they would speak English so that I could participate and be fully engaged in the festivities. Unfortunately for me, my friend’s friends weren’t as hospitable as I’d hoped they would be.

For the first few sentences, everyone spoke English. But it only took one person to begin speaking Spanish. That was it.

The party went on for more than an hour, everyone around me laughing, singing, and speaking Spanish, and no one translating or helping me to understand what was going on or what was being said. Mostly, I sat there nibbling, feeling anxious and alienated, and wanting desperately to leave.

I was glad when we did. I never went back.

Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers… Hebrews 13:2 (NLT)

Hospitality is both commanded and commended in Scripture. You already know people new to your church will very likely experience their first encounter with your ministry, online. And, you already know they’ll have a lot of questions.

Some of those questions will be answered by the “brain content” you include on your website. But what about the questions they’re really anxious about? Questions like, “Will these people care about me,” “Will I understand what they’re talking about,” or “Will I be able to fit in”?

[testimonials autoplay=”false”] [testimonial author=”Yvon Prehn” avatar_type=”url” avatar_value=”http://www.effectivechurchcom.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/1-Cropped-jpg.jpg” meta=”Effective Church Communications” link=”http://www.effectivechurchcom.com/about/yvon-prehn/”]A Statement of Faith is expected, but very few church websites actually tell people why they believe what they believe or even explain the terms in it.  This is such a missed opportunity because comprehensive explanations can be a wonderful way to engage people about the Christian faith.[/testimonial] [/testimonials]

The thing we’ve got to keep in mind about the content we’re creating for our church websites is that we’re not merely uploading a video, or adding some more text to a page. By providing content like a church Lingo Page, we’re engaging in “virtual hospitality”.

Dictionary.com defines hospitality as,

1) the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers; 2) the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.

So, to be hospitable is to receive or treat guests or strangers warmly and generously.

Adding a church Lingo Page to your website is expressing love in action. You’re putting yourself in your visitor’s shoes. You’re taking the initiative to reach out and engage them in a warm, friendly way. You’re seeing that their need to feel welcomed and valued is met.

You’re not leaving it up to them to ask questions about words and phrases they don’t understand. They may not.

Even with a Lingo Page, they’ll still have plenty of questions, for sure. But, making the effort to provide the page for them is a kind, generous, and hospitable gesture your visitors will appreciate.

Whether they’re searching for answers about the Christian faith, or looking for a community of like-minded friends, giving your visitors the inside track on some of the “local lingo” they’re likely to hear can make them feel at ease. And, that may make all the difference in their deciding to pay you a visit.

In Part 1 of this two-part series, I made the case for creating a Lingo Page. I explained how the page would benefit your website visitors. I also talked about why this method of helping your audience decode “Christianese”—the unique jargon and terms used in the Christian faith and in your church—was superior to mere “word swapping” on your church website.

In this post, I’ll share some tips for creating effective church Lingo Page content. Along the way, we’ll look at a few church Lingo Pages I’ve discovered in my travels.

Best practices for writing Church Lingo Page content

The main thing to remember about creating Lingo Page content and linking it to your website, is that the content should be easy to read, useful, and easy to find. It should be written and compiled with your new visitor in mind.

That means, the goal isn’t to overwhelm them by defining and exhaustively explaining every unique term and phrase of the Christian faith. Keep it simple. The goal is to help your visitor’s feel welcomed and cared for. The goal is to introduce them to the life of your local body.

By defining and introducing context to the Christian vocabulary and unique terms and phrases used in the life of your local church, you’ll equip and encourage people new to both to enter into the conversation.

Here are a few tips to help you create useful church Lingo Page content:

Make your content easy to read

I’ve mentioned this before. The text on your website must be easy to read. Make sure there’s a high contrast between the color of the text and your website’s background color. The font size should be large enough to make it readable. Make use of whitespace. Break long paragraphs into short chunks. Use bullet points and numbered lists.

Write in a “natural”, conversational tone

The new terms and phrases are tough enough to get a handle on. Don’t make your visitors slog through dry, corporate-sounding definitions and explanations. Keep it interesting. Write like you’re talking to them. My favorite thing about Second Place’s Lingo Page is that they include examples of what guests might actually overhear.

Include a variety of terms

A Lingo Page is different from a “What We Believe” page or a Ministry Description page. A Lingo Page might include some content from both, but it serves a different purpose.

Here are a couple examples of what I mean. The student ministries at Roswell United Methodist Church and Vienna Presbyterian Church, both include “lingo” pages for their visitors. But, these two pages are really Ministry Description pages.

Your church Lingo Page should include terms and phrases common and unique to the Christian faith as well as unique terms and phrases regularly communicated at your church. For the latter, you might include any acronyms, nicknames, titles, or other ministry jargon unique to your local assembly. That also could include denomination-specific terms and lingo (the first time I saw the word “narthex”, I thought it was a typo).

Include an introduction to the page

The  introduction to your church Lingo Page is the “tell” of your care. That two- or three-sentence paragraph is your opportunity to help set the stage for your reader’s initial impressions of your church. Your motivation for creating the page means more to your visitors than the page itself.

Don’t assume they’ll “get it”. Tell them what motivated you to provide the page for them. Make sure they know you’re thinking of them!

Make your content informative, but not exhaustive

Remember, the goal isn’t to overwhelm your website visitors by defining and explaining every single term you can think of. Start by sticking to a few terms found on your website, or regularly “heard in the halls”. Expand your list with terms or phrases people frequently ask about.

Resist the urge to provide an exhaustive explanation of every term you do decide to list. One to three sentences summarizing the core idea is best. For ministry acronyms and terms, a high-level description of the ministry is best.

Make good use of internal linking

Thoughtfully linking your web pages helps guide your visitors as they move through your website. If your list includes names of ministries or groups more fully described elsewhere on your website, linking to those pages creates an easy path to more information.

Remember, the quickest way to make a visitor leave your website is to frustrate them. So, be sure not to skip including a summary description on you Lingo Page of the ministry or group you link to. Otherwise, your visitor will be subjected to clicking back and forth between your Lingo Page and the description pages—not good. Here’s an example of what I mean.

Invite people to ask questions

Let your visitor’s know you welcome their questions and feedback. Invite them to connect. Include a link to your Contact Page to make it easy for them to get in touch. Many people may be hesitant to ask questions while on your website. Nonetheless, they’ll be pleased to see you’re open to it.

Make sure the page is easy to find

Remember, the reason you’re creating this page. Be helpful and hospitable. Make sure your church Lingo Page is easy to find. Provide a clear link to it in the “About” and “I’m New” sections of your website’s main navigation. Also, link to the page in the secondary navigation of each section.

Great church Lingo Page examples

For two examples of great church Lingo Page content, check out Hope Culture Church and Canyon Creek Church.

How can you use this information for your website?

I created a free, 3-step blueprint  that you can use to easily apply the most important information from this post to your website.

The blueprint contains the 8 best practices on this list…

… and a super-actionable 3-step process and resource list that you can use to create a church Lingo Page your website visitors will appreciate and value.

Click the graphic below to download the free blueprint:

Image Credit: Dave Walker | CartoonChurch.com

Categories
Web Content

How to “Decode” Your Church Website Content (Part 1)

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, [lightbox type=”iframe” href=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/4H-29cJSuv8?rel=0&showinfo=0″ width=”640″ height=”480″]they encounter this[/lightbox].

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!

Image Credit: Henry Burrows | Flickr cc