Teaching Tip: Don’t Say This to Visitors…er, Guests

Words matter.

Case in point. The website International Business Times has reported on some companies that chose really poor names for their products. In no particular order, here are some of the worst names for products:

  • Nova – if you went car shopping in Mexico, you might not have bought a Chevy Nova because the name translates as “does not go” in Spanish. Yikes.
  • Clairol Mist Stick – this fine hair styling device didn’t sell well in Germany, where the name translates as “manure.”
  • Coors and its BeerWolf – in 1983 the Coors company invented a cartoon mascot named BeerWolf (Coors has long played on the wolf imagery and prides itself as “The Silver Bullet”). But this product didn’t translate well in Spanish, because the slogan “Turn it loose” that went with BeerWolf meant “suffer from diarrhea” in Spanish. Should’ve checked Google, I suppose.

So words do matter, and in church, it matters what we call the people who are not members but attend our churches and Bible study groups.

When new people come to your Bible study group, what do you call them? The predominant term has been “visitor.” And it’s true enough. They are visiting the church and they are visiting your Bible study group. But  “visitor” may also convey some things that are not necessarily true. Visitor might infer that one is not sticking around (“I’m just visiting”). A visitor is also someone from the outside; they are not part of the group.

On the other hand, some churches have made an intentional switch and are calling these kinds of attenders “guests.” Why might this be the better of the two terms?

  1. “Guest” is a friendly term – it communicates that someone is in a position of honor. Speeches often begin with “distinguished colleagues and honored guests…” Your home may have a guest bedroom. You may allow someone to write a guest blog post. Chances are you have a guest bathroom and not a visitor bathroom.
  2. “Guest” is a word associated with preparation. We prepare our homes and businesses for guests to arrive. Visitors just drop in unannounced and uninvited.
  3. “Guest” communicates that someone is special. We obsess over the comfort of guests who come into our homes. We cook special meals for them. We give them the best seat at the table. The word “guest” says “you’re special.” And everyone likes to know they are special.

The word “visitor” communicates temporary, unexpected, and just passing through. It says “nomadic.” Let’s lose this term and begin using the word “guest” to describe people who are attending our church’s worship services and Bible studies.

As you lead your Bible study group, simply say, “Thanks to all our guests who chose to be with us today” or “I am so glad you are our guest today.” Using that term will make you a more effective leader in the church – and you may actually pick up a new person or two along the way.


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One comment

  1. Oh, my! Guilty as charged! Duh! It makes so much more sense to meet and introduce our guests to others! Thanks, Ken. I’ll be better equipped for this Sunday when we typically have more guests.

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