Monday, August 25, 2008

Accessible Community

One thing which binds any community together, to borrow from Sean Michael Lucas, is its beliefs, practices and stories. For me, I think practices and stories can sometimes be the most binding. One thing to keep in mind, however, is the fact that sometimes communities can become too entrenched in their practices and stories that they create an artificial barrier for newcomers.

This is often the problem of people who come into a new church. Suppose a new family moves into your neighborhood and visits your church, will they feel comfortable in addition to feeling welcome? And, by welcome, I mean the initial welcome. If they keep coming, will they "fit" or are their hoops to jump? This is an area that many need to pay careful attention to. One may not know the vocabulary of a certain community and if it is not accessible, they may or may not be back.

A good example is denominational quirks. Say I'm speaking about missions and I spout off as many denominational acronyms as possible for a Presbyterian Church in America pastor. I talk about MNC, RUM, RUF, and MTW. Now, will a newbie feel comfortable?

Additionally, I think it's important to assess local church culture. Sometimes we can become so tunneled in our vision that we realize the Church is so much bigger than our imagination and just maybe some will not be familiar with what we do. If we ignore that, we run the risk of pushing out good potential members. I think it goes without saying, we must make our practices and stories accessible to outsiders.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Accessible Worship

One complaint some have against newer formats of worship, or older ones, is the fact of accessibility. On that level I agree. As I am in a small, rural setting, in a very old church (230 years old), there are certain things I prefer which do not fit the community at large. That said, I realize that and adapt to the community. That does not mean I compromise anything, however, it does mean that our services are accessible to the congregation and visitors.

Accessibility is more than that, though. I think in newer settings it means understanding the community around you and contextualizing toward that end. For instance, you need to use language that people who aren't on "the inside" can understand. In a church planting situation, it means I don't use denominational language because, chances are, the visitors have no clue what I'm talking about and it creates a barrier for them to "get in the club." Additionally, I may have to spend time defining common biblical words like justification, sanctification, redemption, etc, so they gain a grasp. It also means that much wisdom is needed in choosing Bible translations (*cough* ESV *cough), music styles, songs and sermons. In that, there is no compromise, but it does follow St. Paul's example of being "all things to all types of people."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Accessible Language

I've had the opportunity preach a few times during August. One thing I've learned is that people are able to better understand you when you use accessible language. I know that sounds like Communications 101, but I think it bears repeating. Typically, what I like to do is view the crafting of a sermon like painting a picture. It sounds silly, I know, but think about it. There are paintings which people can look at, yet never understand. The best paintings are the ones which people "get" and those are the most memorable. I think in the scheme of things, people will remember the Mona Lisa longer than the latest abstract painting. And preaching really is simple anyway, don't get in the way of the text! Know your audience and explain, explain, explain! haha

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