August 15, 2010 Tony Morgan

Insider Language

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been serving at West Ridge Church for a year now. Because I serve part-time at the church and part-time coaching and consulting with other churches across the country, I’m typically working from my home office on Thursdays. That’s a critical part of the story I’m about to share.

Every Thursday I would be sitting at my desk in my home office and an email message would arrive from the church. Typically it said something simple like this: “Ralph is here in the Discovery Room.” That’s it. No other details.

For weeks, I got these messages, but, because I was working from home, there wasn’t any way for me to investigate further on my own. Being the new guy, I didn’t want to come across looking like an idiot. It was obvious that everyone else knew what this was about. It appeared that I was the only one in the dark. I was curious. Who is Ralph, and why is he in the Discovery Room?

Troy was new to the team as well. So, after several weeks of wondering what this cryptic message was all about, I finally got up the nerve to ask him. As a fellow newbie who happens to work at the church on Thursdays, I thought Troy may have discovered additional clues to this mystery. Troy confirmed that he had also been receiving the messages. But, like me, he had not figured out who this Ralph person was. Furthermore, neither of us had any idea where the “Discovery Room” was located, which, upon further reflection, makes it a rather odd name for a room since neither of us had “discovered” it.

At least I wasn’t alone at this point. I now had a cohort who shared the angst of this puzzling situation. Who was Ralph? Why did he consistently show up in the Discovery Room? Who would help me discover the Discovery Room? I began to think I was being hazed as the new guy on the block. I also thought the messages could possibly have been part of one of those Facebook games I always ignore. Maybe this particular game was similar to Clue. Rather than finding Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick, could it be that Ralph was hiding in the Discovery Room with a wrench?

As it turns out, Ralph is a real person. He serves in various outreach ministries at our church. And, regularly on Thursdays, Ralph delivers leftover baked goods to the Discovery Room at the church. He shares these bakery items with the staff. It’s actually quite a kind gesture.

It was a great reminder, though, that ministry can happen week after week, and, if we’re not careful, the way we talk about it could leave new people in the dark. At churches I’ve visited, I’ve experienced these examples of insider language:

  • Mentioning specific people by name in messages but not explaining who those people are.
  • Encouraging people to go to a particular room for an event after the service, but not having any people or signs to direct people toward that room.
  • Using names for ministries that have no meaning to people who don’t attend the church. (We just eliminated one of those at West Ridge. When we were new to the church, we had no idea that “Praiseland” was for pre-schoolers.)
  • Telling people to talk to a specific person after the service in order to take a next step, but then not explaining who that person is or where to find them.

Generally, it’s pretty easy to figure out if a church is really outside-focused based on the language they use. This becomes particularly obvious when we start throwing out theological terms without explaining what those words mean. Honestly, though, I think sometimes we subconsciously do that to make ourselves feel more spiritual than someone else who doesn’t know.

Take some time to gain the perspective of people who are new to the church. What great ministry might they be missing because you’re holding on to insider language?

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Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group, For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and
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