I don’t know if you have realized this yet, but our culture is getting more and more Biblically illiterate. At least in my context, students are walking into our services with very little to no real background of the Bible, its stories, or any of this church talk that many of us keep using.
In a world where people say, “Two Corinthians,” when it comes to reaching and communicating clearly to our students (especially if you are reaching new ones) assuming they know what you are talking about is a very dangerous place to be. We know where we want them to go, but we have to be careful not to lose them on the way with our language. I think if we were to be just a little more intentional, we would be able to communicate more clearly and help move students towards Jesus.
Think for a second about the words you use – from the stage, in small groups, or in worship – in a generation where students don’t have a preconceived notion of church.
Think about the “church words” we use. These words are important, but we need to make sure we go out of our way to explain them. We can’t just throw them out there like many of us are used to doing.
Worship. Discipleship. Small Groups. Communion. Baptism. Grace. Etc.
Think about how you communicate from the stage when talking to students.
Does your language assume students know what you are talking about? When you say, “Turn in your Bibles,” are students turning pages, or are they all holding their smartphones? Do we assume they know where 1 John is? Do we assume they know the whole story of David and Goliath? The growing religion today is “No religion,” so assuming can hold you back.
Now hear me: I get that we are all passionate about the Gospel and we want to reach students with it. I’m not saying this is not true of you. But this is something I have been convicted about within our ministry, because we are reaching many students whose parents do not go to any church. They grew up with no church background, no church language, no ideas of Bible stories… nothing.
How can I go forward assuming they know anything that I’m teaching or what we’re saying from the stage? There is a delicate and intentional balance in our services to be challenging to the believer but engaging to the non-believer. I think our language can help engage new students, and help them understand and grasp what we are talking about from stage.
While it may seem cumbersome, think about adding some simple instructions:
I wouldn’t say, “Okay, in John chapter 4…”
It could be “One of the four biographical accounts of Jesus was written by a man named John. In the fourth chapter of that account…”
Or, “If you are using a smartphone, just search ‘John,’ then go to Chapter 4,” can really help students to track with you.
There is a lot of different language in our worship songs that could seem… odd… to new students with no church background. I am not saying don’t sing, but think through the worship songs we use. Many songs have words and ideas that are very weird-sounding stuff for someone new to the church.
I’m alive in the river? I’m clean in the river?
Sitting on the edge of heaven? Huh?
Come to the altar? For what?
Hosanna? Who is she?
Our worship leader will make sure he explains certain lines in the song so our students can at least understand what they are singing. For example:
To close a message we were singing “O Come To The Altar” by Elevation Worship, and when the message was done we did not go straight into it. Any students who did not grow up in a church background would have no idea what coming to the altar meant.
So we said, “So in this next song you will be singing this line. To give you an idea of why this is a big deal, in the Old Testament of the Bible people would come to the church, or tabernacle as they called it, and they would come to the altar and sacrifice an animal to God for forgiving their sins. It was a messy thing. Today, when we sing this song, it’s like saying we are to bring our messy things to God. We lay them in front of Him. We confess them to Him.”
A student who does not do this “church thing” often will understand what is happening much more when we take the time to explain some of the things we are so used to. We can lose that student if we don’t.
If students come, but don’t understand the things being said from the stage or the songs they sing, I think it’s bad stewardship of the students God has entrusted to our ministry. Do I think the Holy Spirit can still move if we don’t explain things well? For sure. He always does. But if we watch our language, it will set up the best atmosphere for students who do not know what church is all about. It will help them understand in the best way possible so they can meet a pretty remarkable God.
Be aware of your language.