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What is Advent and when does it start?

We have talked in previous posts about reaching new people and engaging CREASTERS* during the holidays. Creating welcoming environments and inviting people back to our services, events, and service opportunities post-holidays is important, but what if they still don’t come back until the next holiday? If we are checking all the boxes on our to-do lists to prepare, what can we be forgetting?
It may be the language that we use and I am not talking about 4-letter words. Church folk sometimes fall into the bad habit of using religious jargon and church code words. For people that are new to church or haven’t learned all the codes yet, it can be very confusing and maybe even off-putting. For example, why do we call the Christmas season Advent and when does it start? What is a Magi and where does one buy frankincense or myrhh these days? I thought an epiphany was a good idea that comes suddenly until I became an adult and began studying the Bible.
Even though we have parking lot greeters, fresh coffee, and comfortable seating, we can quickly become inhospitable by speaking in a language that our visitors can’t comprehend. I daresay many of your church members, if they were honest, would struggle identifying all the religious/theological words and concepts we use during the holidays.
How then do we combat this problem?
I suggest you employ the two T’s: translating and teaching. When we are preparing materials, print or digital, targeted for external audiences, we need to translate words and concepts that are unfamiliar to an unchurched audience. For example, instead of saying “during Advent this year” I would suggest you say “Christmas season.” The same goes for the Easter holiday also, as very few people know what the Season of Lent is and why it’s important. Now before you start protesting that we are “watering down the Gospel” or messing with the Bible, all I am suggesting is that we translate church words into language that people can understand and possibly engage further.
The second Tteaching, becomes applicable when guests are sitting in our sanctuary, worship center, or even a Sunday School classroom. These opportunities afford us more of our audience’s attention and gives us the platform to teach these new words and concepts to our guests. As we read scriptures and present theological concepts in worship, make sure you take the time to break these new ideas down for our guests and provide them with context and culture. Don’t be afraid to give people homework; provide resources for members and guests to dig deeper and engage with these new ideas.
Some preachers and teachers would argue that spending time explaining these concepts and words over and over again makes it boring for your non-guests aka members. I would disagree and here is one example to validate my point. My family tradition for many years was to attend the Christmas Eve service at the church I grew up in. And for 30+ years, our pastor would tell the story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and the events around Jesus’ birth. His story was the same every year, but it was in great detail as he explained the sites and the traditions of the times, using all the Gospels and other resources for source materials. And every year, for 30+ years, I would hear a new detail or see a scene in a new way through his storytelling.
Teaching is an important way to translate the religiosity of our church culture into terms that are recognizable and understandable to a broader population of people, regardless of their theological education. And, investing time to translate and teach just might cause someone to hear a word that gives them hope for a new life in relationship with Jesus. That is what makes it worthwhile and important!
*Persons that attend church worship services on Christmas Eve and Easter only.

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