Removing the Barriers – Creating Inclusive worship for the new person

Photo by CBGlades on Flickr

In class the other day, we were talking about how our language – and more specifically our accent – can sometimes form a barrier that can prevent people from fully engaging in worship. Two of the main points was that Australian’s have an accent, we just don’t acknowledge it and as such we don’t make the appropriate adjustments to ensure that we are heard clearly; and that we often use language that people don’t understand.

Christianese is its name, and there are a variety of dialects within Christianese that can leave even a well versed Christian perplexed. How much more for someone who doesn’t even know about Jesus?


For example, “Are you saved?” From what? “Do you know Jesus as your personal saviour?” Who? “We believe in the One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit” Wait a minute there, you said One God, but mentioned three!

Salvos are great for their own dialect. “See the CO for more details”; “The DYS is coming next week for JYG”; CSM, DC, TC, THQ, DHQ… I sometimes think we love our acronyms more than the actual army does. Someone even made the point that we often even abbreviate the acronyms – for example, DYS becomes DY.

But the Salvo’s aren’t alone in their own dialect. Ever thought what the Greeting of the Peace looks like to a new person? “The Peace of the Lord be always with you” “And also with you” and then people you’ve never met come up and shake your hand, say “Peace be with you” and expect you to say something back. Or “Eucharist” – it’s a funny word, that many people don’t know, yet we still use it.

The Catholics often have it with their actions – stand, sit, kneel… I could go on…

Removing the barriers

Image by Chico Passos at

The problem with this language is that it can be a stumbling block for someone new to the church. If it’s a big enough problem, it can actually prevent someone from fully engaging in the service. The sermon may have been absolutely perfect for them, they might have been willing to make a committment to Jesus, but with these barriers, it can sometimes stop that committment, they may just leave, and never return. Hopefully they might go to a different church, but they might not. The barriers we created may have just lost a soul.

I’m going to highlight a few barriers here, and give my thoughts on what we can do to remove them so that people new to the Church can fully experience the service without getting hung up on the little idiosyncracies that we all have. A number of these are Salvo examples, because that’s my experience, however I will try to include examples from other church traditions, and I would encourage you to think of (and add in the comments) your own thoughts. This is by no means meant to be an attack on these traditions – quite the opposite in fact. I want to embrace these traditions, and make them accessible to new people so that they can access them as well.


Language can be a big barrier. We have to be very careful in how we use it, and try to remove as much insider language as possible. However, it can often be easier said than done. Acronyms are used because it’s easier. Insider language is used because it makes sense to us. Some things are easy to get around. For example, the CSM, when presenting the notices could say “For those new here, I’m Garry, I’m the Corps Sargeant Major, often referred to as the CSM. If you want to know more about what I do, come and see me after the meeting.”

However, insider language can be a bit more difficult to get around. Perhaps, a glossary sheet as part of a newcomer’s book (see below) might be an appropriate way to get around this. The Glossary can contain a number of the common terms used within that church (eg, Prayer Book, CO, CSM, Confession, Absolution etc)

Meeting Elements

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The various elements of a service may seem self-explanatory to us, however, to someone new to that church, it can seem rather intimidating. For example, the Greeting of the Peace, as found in Anglican, Catholic and Uniting Church services. How intimidating can it be for a new person to have someone come up to you, shake your hand, and say “Peace be with you” and expect you to respond appropriately. I know for myself, the Band and Songster Messages in the Salvation Army took me a while to get my head around. What purpose do they hold? Am I supposed to applaud afterwards? How does this fit in with my ideas of worship? And this was coming from some who was a Christian and had grown up in a church. Each denomination has these little “quirks” – things that make sense to the congregation, but may not make sense to a new person.

My thoughts on how we can remove this barrier is to have a “Newcomer’s Book” – a “This Church for Dummies” guide if you will. Basically, breaking down the elements of a normal service, and explaining a bit about them. For churches that use a Prayer Book, you might take that as your guide – include page numbers for every segment, even if it’s on the same page as the previous item! For those that have a more fluid service style, highlight your common meeting elements, and write about them. Try and write as much information to satisfy a new persons initial inquiries, but not too much information so as to overload them. For example, you don’t need a 3,000 word essay on the importance of the Songster Message, when a short 20 word description might suffice.

When preparing this, you’ll want to get some help. You’ll need two, maybe more, smart friends from outside your church. Maybe they’re a non-Christian, maybe they’re part of a different church. Either way, ask them along, and ask them to critically analyse each section – get them to ask the questions that you will include the answers to in your book. Then, once the book is complete, ask another friend along, giving them the book to see how helpful it is.

This may take a bit of work, but if it’s removing this barrier then a message that might have otherwise been missed may get through to those in attendance.

Songbook and Sung Worship

This first half is more in relation to The Salvation Army, but other churches might find some comments of note here. The Salvation Army has their Songbook, which contains the songs of The Salvation Army, many of which were written by the great founders of our faith. The songbook itself is a wonderful tool, that I’m now coming into a real appreciation of. However, many churches are moving away from a physical songbook, and putting the words of the hymns onto the multimedia screen. The benefits here are that you aren’t limited to the Songbook songs, however there are some limitations.

For example, the Songbook contains just  the words for the song, but not the tunes. The tunes are to be found in the Salvation Army Tune Book. The thing is, some words can be sung to different tunes. Take for example Away in a Manger. Lovely Christmas carol, I’m sure you’ve all got a tune running in your head. There is however, a second tune that is also sometimes used. But you can also sing the words of Away in a Manger to the tune commonly used for “O Boundless Salvation” – the founder’s song. Likewise, you could sing the words O Boundless Salvation to the tune of Away in a Manger.

It’s all to do with Metre, which if you look in songbooks might be written as: or 10.10. This allows you to pick tunes that your congregation might know better, to words that might be fresh.

However, sometimes, words fit a tune very well, but the music has an extra line. What generally happens is that some words are repeated. This is all fine in the actual songbook, where you’re often used to picking these things up when you’ve got the actual book in front of you. But when using multimedia, there is absolutely no reason why you couldn’t include the repeated lines. The worst example of this was when the words were on the screen, but the multimedia people moved onto the next slide before we were halfway down the slide, because they didn’t know what lines were repeated. As such, they were in the middle of the second verse, while we were only halfway through the first verse.

There is no reason why when putting the Powerpoint together that the words (and any repeats of lines) can be fully printed out on the multimedia. This would allow those arriving for the first time to have more of an idea of what is happening, and not be distracted by the lyrics (or lack of them).

Photo by Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) on Flickr

This leads me onto another issue. The standard worship service for a number  of services was set up when group singing was a common activity – it wasn’t unusual for you to be part of a choir, and singing in a pub was also a common activity. However, these activities are becoming less and less common – however, congregational singing is still a major part of our worship service. There is a number of biblical references to singing – the word ‘sing’ appears 114 times in the Bible, mostly in the form “sing unto the Lord” – so I do not believe we should get rid of this from our services. However, it may be something that we include in our Newcomer’s Book, along with words that lets a new person know that it is OK not to sing if they don’t feel comfortable doing so.

Photo by nhw84 at Flickr.

We also need to be aware that there are many different ways to worship. Some will paint, or draw, or dance, or even iron (long story). It may not be possible to include this in every worship service, however, I think that where possible we need to be as inclusive as possible, and include the opportunities for those in our services to worship as they see fit.

So there’s a few things that we can do to remove the barriers in our worship so that a new person can fully engage in the service, opening them up to hear whatever God is saying to them that day.

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