In the past few weeks I have gone to 4 different churches. And each church is different than the others. Two were in the States and are very comfortable to me. I know people. I understand the order of service. Last week I went to an English-speaking church. We have attended there many times and are slowly adjusting to the order of service and the people who are there. All of these churches in my first language make it easy to worship and learn.
Today I went to a Spanish-speaking church. A few teachers from my school go to a church within walking distance of our house, which is a big deal on a Sunday morning. Since Spanish is my second language- and I am only moderately fluent- going to Spanish church can be a challenge. There are lots of thing happening- some familiar and some new. There is worship with songs I know in Spanish. There is a sermon using scripture which I can follow along.
But it makes me think- what makes a church welcoming to speakers of other languages?
That is what hit me today. The preacher I listened today was clear, repetitive, and spoke straight out of scripture. He used simple language that allowed me to understand and grasp what he was teaching, even in my second language. During worship we used hymn books so I had the words in front of me. As a language-learner, all of those are key to helping me to be comfortable and focused on God rather than figuring out what is happening and being distracted wondering if I am making cultural mistakes..
As a teacher we learn techniques to help students who speak English as a second language succeed in the classroom. Sometimes I think they should be applied to the church. Some of these things include:
-Using as many visuals as possible. These include pictures, outlines, and motions to assist the spoken words.
-Highlight key vocabulary to create understanding. If a student doesn’t get the key word, then everything else is lost
-State the topic and stay on track. That way students have the skills to follow along and grasp what is being taught.
-Repeat the main idea multiple times; when something is repeated it starts to stick in the mind and can be understood little by little.
What if those planning a church service kept these in mind? Many churches do- they use power points, signs bulletins, and greeters to assist newbies.But what if it’s taken a step further. Do pastors when they prepare sermons think about how to teach to people who don’t speak English as their first language? Do greeters use motions and pictures to welcome people to the church. Are announcements more than words spoken, but include pictures and written words with explicit invitations?
If we are the body of Christ with the intention of being one body from every tribe, tongue and nation, then the local fellowship of believers should intentionally be skilled at reaching those from a different language and culture.
Just something to think about!