Here at XP3 we know our partners. And we know that when choosing a film you prefer a moody, complex story that tackles provocative issues.
Just kidding, dawg. We know you actually like a feel-good movie where those rowdy aliens get shown exactly who’s boss around here.
Still, have you ever watched a foreign movie with subtitles? Not for yourself, of course, but for that girl in college you were hoping to impress. At first your brain feels confused. “Wait, do I read or watch?” And then you begin to unconsciously follow the film without a problem.
All of the sudden that French rom-com made sense. You connected what was said with what was meant, simultaneously. The brain can really rally.
This can be a fun way to experience a movie. It’s a lousy way, however, to experience church.
“Let’s lift her up.”
“Bless your heart.”
“Let’s stand in the gap.”
These phrases belong to a subcategory of English called Christianese. This language is marked by good intentions, vague promises, and a general inability to read the room.
Speaking in Christianese isn’t necessarily wrong or harmful. But for people outside of the church, and probably every student on the planet, these statements might as well require subtitles hovering above the speaker.
For those students who’ve attended church since preschool, Christianese makes some sense. But any student who is visiting because of…
A) Parental Coercion
B) An Invitation
C) A Hot Girl or Guy
…is likely to look for the exit. You may totally win over your grandma, but not a teenager.
To someone unfamiliar with church, it can seem like we’re speaking in code. And ideally, your students should not need Google Translator to understand what’s being said in your large and small-group environments.
But we can be less secret society and more inclusive. Here are a few ways:
1. Speak clearly.
(Genius, right? We can all pack up and go home now.) It’s not about diluting our message, but instead making that message clear enough for anyone to understand, including that student who has never set foot in a church.
2. Aim for the lowest common denominator.
When you’re on stage or speaking with a teenager one-on-one, keep that fringe student in mind. Imagine being in their shoes, and how you would perceive a language and environment that is completely foreign to them.
3. Listen more than you talk.
A great way to avoid saying something in a foreign language is to not say anything. Encourage your small group leaders to ask questions. New students will naturally be uncomfortable in new territory, so make them feel more at ease by giving them room to do the talking.
So speak clearly. Aim low (in a good way). And listen well. And keep your ministry subtitle-free.