When we reach out to the unchurched, we always make it a priority for us to speak in a way that they understand. Of course, we want to communicate through the language that they know and that they could relate with. Our goal, after all, is to send God’s message across them.
A discussion has been made on our Facebook group that is relevant to this situation. In a post, Michael Lukaszewski asked our members which word is more understandable and clear for the non-churchgoers— “sermon” or “series”? Here are the comments that we’ve gathered from the thread.
“Sermon is, of course, a “churchy” word, but most unchurched folks know that it’s the message at a church service. Series, as a word, while a more common word, has a bunch of different meanings and people would need more clarity and explanation to know what it means in the context of a worship experience.” Jared Rendell
“Series” always comes across like something you’d watch on Netflix or HBO Max. “Sermon series” is a far better approach, unchurched people know what a sermon is.” Jay Adcock
“Sermon all day long. In my tradition, I don’t give a message, or give a talk, or deliver a homily. I preach a sermon. And I use the lectionary, so no “series” needs to be come up with – I know each Sunday’s texts from here until the end of time.” Andrea Toven
“In this Information Age, I think people understand both the words sermon and series. Moreover, regardless of what we try to call it (sermons, messages, series, teachings, thoughts, words, etc.), if they’re listening to a Reverend, they pretty much know what it is. What is not appreciated is if we try to sneak a sermon into someone’s hearing by calling it different “seeker sensitive” names. I think we just need to keep it real in an age of elusiveness.” Morris A. Scott
“Series seems more for church people to invite visitors- as in “this topic might interest you and meet a felt need.” It’s hard to know what unchurched people think. They see Netflix series and they may relate to Ted talks. But honestly I think they know if they are coming to church they are getting some version of a sermon. We use messages for the individual talks and series for the combined groups that are truly a series.” James Wheeler
“I think calling it a “sermon” is a more clear reference for unchurched people to the time slot where preaching happens, but it might also come loaded with baggage or presuppositions about what it’s going to be like…particularly for people who have negative connotations of church. So, while less clear, using a different term might be worth it if it’s done with some strategic intentionality.” Chuck Scoggins
“We have found that sermon is clear to everyone, even unchurched! We have found that “message” is confusing, especially for search-ability and SEO. (They think we’re talking about a text message.) That said, we say sermon series, too, to designate multiple sermons preached in succession around a common theme.” Beth Talley
We have to keep in mind that we should not just focus on diction that relates to only our members. If we want our ministry to reach the unchurched, we have to go where they are at. We have to learn what they know and remember to incorporate it into our language. Tailor your vocabulary to the audience you want your message to reach.