The words we choose matter

Seeds
01/25/2013

The words we choose matter 
What you say and how you say it can make
a world of difference.

By John Wertz Jr.

Take a look at the language of your publications and see if the words you use truly express the theology you believe.

Is it a “budget” or an “investment in ministry plan”?

Do you have a “general fund” or a “ministry fund”?

Do you ask people to make a “pledge to a budget” or to “share their gifts with God”?

Are you encouraging people to “pay their pledges” or to “give to support ministry”?

Does your congregation “pay your benevolence to the synod” or “give benevolence to support our shared ministry”?

Are we asking people to be more “committed to the church” or are we encouraging people to “grow in their relationship with God”?

Well-chosen words

The words we select to express our ideas communicate subtle, but important, messages.

Here’s an example of two possible welcome statements that might appear in a bulletin. Each statement uses the word “welcome,” but I think they communicate two vastly different attitudes.

“We welcome you to church today, and we are glad that you decided to worship with us this morning. If you are visitor and are interested in membership in our congregation, please talk to the pastor.”

Now compare those words of welcome to this approach:

“Welcome to St. Michael. May you experience the joy of God’s presence in our worship together this morning. If this is your first time worshiping at St. Michael, please be sure to fill out the ‘Welcome’ sheet in the bulletin and place it in the offering plate so Pastor John can get in touch with you.”

In the first example, the words selected create an “us/them” dynamic, which makes it clear that anyone new is not a part of the congregation.

The new worshiper is identified as a visitor and is invited to talk to the pastor if they are interested in joining the congregation. The implication of the welcoming words in this example is pretty clear. “If you aren’t already here, you are an outsider. You are visiting, which means you will only be here for a short time, and if you do decide that you would like to join us, then please talk to the unnamed pastor who can help you join our group.”

In contrast, the second version avoids the “us/them” dynamic and attempts to welcome the new worshiper to the community. It focuses on the joy of God’s presence in the midst of worship and invites the individual to share contact information so that the named pastor can get in touch with them.

This welcome is designed to acknowledge the fact that you are a part of the community as soon as you walk in the door and hopes to encourage the new worshiper to allow the community to welcome them more fully in the future.

In addition to making an impression on new worshipers, these statements also make an impression on current worshipers. I’m convinced that over time, the community will adopt the language it hears from its leaders. If the leaders are consistently using community and welcoming language, then those words will become a part of the vocabulary of the congregation and will shape how individuals live and behave in the community.

The words we choose matter. As the old saying goes, say what you mean and mean what you say, for if you do, it may go a long way toward building a stronger, healthier community of believers.

You might also like to read:
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Building a church for the 21st century
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