I was once at a church meeting where we were discussing how to make our church friendlier to visitors. I mentioned that we should think about the language we use and try not to use church words that visitors may not know, such as VBS and narthex. The pastor of the church looked at me and replied: “If they want to come here, they’ll have to learn how to speak our language.” I was so stunned that I was speechless (a rare event). Needless to say, that church had very few new members while that pastor was there.
I’m a church person. My job involves working with people from various churches and visiting churches for workshops and training sessions. I was asked recently to visit a church for Sunday services “undercover” so I could let the leadership there know how welcoming the church was to first time visitors. I remember standing at the front door and feeling nervous before I entered, not knowing exactly what I would experience inside. If I was nervous, I can imagine how an unchurched person would feel and that nervousness would be aggravated if the service included words that were unknown to them.
There are times when church-speak is necessary. Most groups have their own jargon which not only aids communication between members but may also give them a sense of identity and of belonging. However, when those outside the group are present, it is more important to be understandable by all than precise. So what works in a church meeting may not be what’s needed in a worship service. The website spirithome.com has a page with definitions for “church words” but notes that “It’s far better to use terms that others won’t have to look up on church-dictionary sites like this one.”