Speaking the Language

While reading Trevor Noah’s book, “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood”, I found myself thinking about church growth. Yes, you read that correctly! While reading the book written by the comedian and host of the  Daily Show, I was thinking about church growth.

Trevor Noah talks about growing up in the midst of apartheid as the child of a white man and black woman. Noah writes, “As a kid, I understood that people were different colors, but in my head white and black and brown were like types of chocolate. Dad was the white chocolate, mom was the dark chocolate, and I was the milk chocolate. But we were all just chocolate. I didn’t know any of it had anything to do with ‘race.’ I didn’t know what race was…I soon learned that the quickest way to bridge the race gap was through language. Soweto was a melting pot: families from different tribes and homelands. Most kids in the township spoke only their home language, but I learned several languages because I grew up in a house where there was no option but to learn them…I became a chameleon. My color didn’t change, but I could change your perception of my color. If you spoke to me in Zulu, I replied to you in Zulu. If you spoke to me in Tswana, I replied to you in Tswana. Maybe I didn’t look like you, but if I spoke like you, I was you.”

As I was reading, I realized that one of the biggest barriers in church growth comes down to language. Too often, we Christians aren’t speaking the language of those we are trying to reach.

If I’m at a coffee shop, bar, or even at the gym, if I slip into my “Christianese”, I’m no longer speaking a language those outside the church understand. Sure, I’m speaking English. But, I’m using terms or implying meaning that is lost on the unchurched.

The reality is, many of our churched folks don’t always understand “Christianese.”

Think about the words that are lost on many outside the church: chancel, narthex, evangelical, sanctification, justification, exegesis, hermeneutics, dispensation, substitutionary atonement…and the list could go on and on.

It’s not that these words are bad. It’s not that we shouldn’t use these words. But, we should stop assuming that everyone knows what we mean when we use these words.

On the occasion that an unchurched person were to visit our worship gatherings, would they understand what we’re saying…or would it get lost in translation?

Are we taking the time to learn the language of those God is calling us to reach? Are we learning the culture, the values, the desires, the needs of the unchurched in our community?

How can we expect to reach people if we aren’t speaking their language?


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