Revisiting 'The Language of Insiders'

A worship.hack (defined here) is a proposed change or question of the way worship typically works to open it up to more people, either in substance or in style. Read on for relevant critiques of worship!

Back in April I asked about the language of insiders, about the way how we use names and references that reflect the experience of the "insiders" to the church turns off visitors and outsiders.

Also at the first part of HX's series on "What the Church can Learn from Apple" we talked about using archaic language may turn off outsiders, but there was a lot of pushback from readers that countered by claiming language creates a sense of continuity with the past and a sense of "insiders" that is affirming, not turning-off.  That caused me to think more on this subject that I've been musing on since April.

Luckily, a fellow thinker on this topic, dynamo new blog "Beyond Relevance," wrote about the Starbucksian language that Starbucks cultivates to create insiders...but also how they draw outsiders into speaking the language.  Read on for more.

Check out their blog post. I think by using Starbucks as an example (heck, the entire website could be called "What the Church Can Learn from Starbucks"), they've hit on something.  My critique of archaic language is that it is our grandfather's and parent's language...not common.  However, the key point is that it is someone elses' language.   There needs to be bridges built between whatever insider language is being used...and the outsiders who do not have a frame of reference.  This is a practical concern, but a discipleship one as we learn how to draw people in.

What Beyond Relevance points out is how Starbucks baristas build bridges between outsiders and insiders.  He challenges us with this:

Make this commitment: never let a service take place where you don’t break down church vocabulary for the visitors present and tell them the story behind our inside jokes. The secret behind this is two-fold: if you commit to it, 1) you’ll build stronger bridges and 2) you’ll get tired of bringing in so much context to all your insider verbiage, that you'll cut it down to the minimum.

So what are some practical ways we can do this?
  • Pastors can translate as they speak.  Instead of "we are doing communion by intinction" they can say "we are doing communion by intinction, which means you take a piece of bread, dip it in the cup..."etc.
  • Include sections in the bulletin that explain the process.  For instance, in my communion liturgy, there's an italicized section that says that it is welcome to everyone to participate.
  • Gracious and trained ushers.  I've seen churches where ushers are considered an entrypoint, when they are often the first and only people that talk to visitors!  Train them to recognize and learn how to, like baristas, ask guided questions to push people towards understanding.
So with the language of insiders, it is not terrible. But it does need trained people to do the translations, attentive clergy to the ways we use archaic "inside baseball" terms with reckless abandon, and an eye towards the bulletins of how we can translate without offering a three-page encyclopedia at the end.

What do you think?  What other ways can we build bridges between churchy language and a population that increasingly doesn't speak it?  Discuss.


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