I have noticed a disturbing trend in many of our churches. Our worship services have become more aimed towards insiders than outsiders. We are preaching sermons for people who are already Christian and already know the code words. I am guilty of this myself. Right now I am planning my Lent (insider word) Sermon (insider word), Series. The General Board of Discipleship released a sermon series called Living Our Baptism Calling (insider word) that I was planning on using for 2017. I thought it was great. It has everything laid out for each Sunday: scriptures, themes, extra studies, graphics, and songs. I had everything laid out for each Sunday, and thought I was set.
Until this week when I woke up in the middle of the night with an epiphany (insider word). I can’t use any of this stuff for Lent because its ALL aimed at people in the church. You see I decided in 2017 that I wanted to reach people outside the church. At a study I was doing on Wednesday night I kept talking about being a disciple. Finally someone in the class raised a hand and asked, “What is a disciple?” I gave some churchy answer, but this question really stuck with me after the class was over. More and more I started to see words everywhere in our church that I realized were only used in churches. I began to systematically look at the language I use in worship, in prayer, in teaching, in our church bulletins, on our advertisements, on our church website, on our Facebook page. Everywhere where we are exposed to the outside world I wanted the language to be understandable for people who haven’t grown up in the church all their lives.
I wanted it to be accessible and understandable to the outsider.
What I realized while I was doing this is that MOST of our language in the church world can be completely unintelligible to those outside the church. When we write we tend to write for people who are already in the church. When we craft sermons we craft them for those already with the ability to understand the message. Think about this. How many times in your sermon do you refer to another story in the Bible and just assume that everyone in the congregation already knows that story? I have done this a lot of times. I make assumptions based on the people in the pews.
If someone is visiting that Sunday and if they don’t know what you are talking about, they won’t ask you after the service. They will go someplace else where they can understand what the pastor is talking about. This is not about dumbing down our gospel message. This is about taking on a missional understanding of the scripture and message itself. I have to assume that the people that I am trying to reach have a negligible to basic understanding of the Gospel, then I go from there. How can I best translate the message to the people that I am trying to reach in my community?
Methodists have always been accused of being enthusiastic people. Think about early Methodist preacher, Howell Harris. He would not let the church walls stop him from taking the message of Christ’s assurance to everyone. Take the message outside of the church walls. To do this you have to be able to communicate the message in new practical ways using common vernacular. This has me rereading everything that I write and preach.
I want to be able to reach new people.
A good challenge for you. Reread or look at your last four sermons. If they are using words that are not used anywhere else besides the church, then you might have a similar problem.