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I Do Not Speak Church

“We have a letter from the church,” I said.
“What does it say,” my wife asks from the other room.
“I don’t know. I don’t speak church.”

Unlike my Sticky Sheep brother, Gavin Richardson, I was not raised in the church. In fact, it was not until recently that I became a regular church member. Because of this lack of church history, I often struggle to know what certain words mean.

When I say struggle with church words, I do not mean biblical text. Heck, we all struggle with that. I mean actual church words. The church has their own unique language, with words like doxology, chancel, narthex, nave, and much more. Plus, the church has many words that are only used in church. Words like congregation, fellowship, stewardship, and offering are often only used in church context.

Speaking Church

Speaking Church

The conversation above usually concludes like this:

“It says this Sunday, the congregation will leave its collective response offering for next year’s stewardship,” I yell back.
“That means we have to turn in next year’s pledge cards,” she says.

Imagine a non-Christian stepping into your church. They might as well have stepped into a nuclear physics convention. That is still me every Sunday. There are many times when I do not know what and where people are talking about. The message I love, but it’s often the stuff around the message that loses me.

“I need to meet you where? Oh, you mean the front lobby?”

Of course, unique terminology is a part of any industry:

  • “Our product provides intelligent workload management, through cloud-ready software for securely extending enterprise investments.”
  • “We implement class-leading switches featuring application intelligence, unified services, nonstop communications, virtualization, integrated security, and simplified manageability.”
  • “In order to establish a maximum value for an NFL player’s passer rating, a separate calculation needs to be completed involving each of the following four categories: Completion Percentage, Average Yards Per Attempt, Percentage of Touchdown Passes, and Percentage of Interceptions. If the result in any category is greater than 2.375, the given result should be 2.375. This makes the maximum possible quarterback rating for the NFL 158.3. A perfect rating requires at least a 77.5% completion rate, at least 12.5 yards per attempt, a touchdown on at least 11.875% of attempts, and no interceptions.”

Through my search engine marketing work, I have seen this practice way too often. Clients often come to me with a list of keywords they want to purchase. Several weeks later, after allowing their paid search campaigns a chance to run, I come back with a different set of keywords. It turns out that the customers’ language is totally different.

When the customer goes to Google and searches for these products they are not using the company’s words. They are using their own words. It’s common, and also sad, that these words are not the same.

It’s a church word problem. We get caught up in our own language and forget how to speak “normal”. If you want to bring in new customers, or build your congregation, then you need to speak to them in their language. Find out what words they are using to find you and talk about you.

Share with me your “church words” and the translation. What are the unique words that your church or business uses?

Written by John Ellis

John Ellis is a frequent online marketing industry speaker and blogger. He can also be found at discussing search engine marketing ... (more)

Filed under: Marketing · Tags: , , ,

  • Kenny Silva

    I didn't grow up in the church either, so I find myself having to decipher church-speak from time to time. Maybe this is our modern way of speaking in tongues… Paul had some stuff to say about tongues…

    1 Corinthians 14:13-19

    13 Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. 14 For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. 15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. 16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider [2] say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.

  • Rodney Mccarthy

    great post. well written. I think about this when I'm looking at the wierd Google Analytics keywords I get.

  • Jebb

    Investment: Many photographers use the word “investment” in place of price. Yes, custom professional photography is an investment, but the term is unnecessary and a bit pretentious. I say, just tell someone how much it costs and let them decide whether it's an investment or not.

    Portrait: A lot of people don't realize that a portrait is a style/type of photograph, not the part that hangs on the wall. That is a print, canvas, float, whatever. Sometimes people are confused when I say we are going to schedule a portrait session. They assume I mean a very traditional oil painting type of thing. I may get the response that they don't want a portrait, but prefer just to have some pictures.

    Megapickle (not quite what you're looking for, but fun): A jab at the fairly useless term megapixel. A pixel has no standard size. Some of the greatest photos of our time were shot on a zero megapixel camera. They aren't totally useless, but the term does more to help camera sales than to help photography.

    I know there are more, but I'm at a loss at the moment. Great post John!

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