Help with language…

One of the legacies of the modernity was (and is) the rise of the science and art of taxonomy, which is the categorization of species and things into specific identifying groups. While this taxonomic impulse certainly offers benefits to understanding the world, the down side of the call to name and categorize is that it tries to place people into boxes based on labels, from conservative to liberal, evangelical to mainline. Given that racism is a relatively modern phenomenon, corresponding to the rise of the age of reason (the Enlightenment), I would argue that racism has been assisted along the way through the taxonomic impulse.

Part of the reality of postmodernity, post-evangelicalism, post-liberalism, post whatever-that-we-live-in-today is the questioning of taxonomies, recognizing that human beliefs, emotions, and even things like sexual identity don’t always conform to clear cut categories. There are many shades of gray along the way, and taxonomy as a science doesn’t deal well with objects that cut across categories.

Even though I generally rebel at labels and categories, I also use them. Some of this is demanded by a church hierarchy and polity that desires labels: members and non-members, baptized and professing, “full” and “preparatory.” Some however is an attempt to identify in some capacity where one falls in their faith journey and their relationship with the community of faith. There is a difference in expectations and commitment between those who are willing to be called members and those who are first time visitors. While these differences may not be as great as often assumed (first time visitors may have a deep sense of belonging to the community even though they are new), the use of categories can be helpful in identifying how one is best in ministry with another.

I write all of this to ask a question for your input. For some time now our community has maintained a status of persons that we call “regular visitors.” These are persons who have been present in worship for more than four times, and who we generally see as on the path toward a deeper commitment to the church. These persons may retain this status for just a short time, or for many years, and I am finding myself troubled with the faulty name that we have given them, for they in fact are no longer visitors but friends and co-worshippers.

Do you have any thoughts on a better name for this category of persons in the church? Some use the title of “constituent,” but I feel like that is pretty formal and doesn’t really say much. I am intrigued about calling them “friends” but does that suggest a deeper level of commitment than these persons are ready to assume? How does your community identify this category of persons?

3 thoughts on “Help with language…

  1. In our bulletins and other materials at church we only talk about regular attenders and visitors. We obviously encourage people to join the church, but we try not to make regular attenders who aren’t visitors feel anything less than completely welcome

  2. Jay:

    We use the word “constituent,” but you are correct in referring to formality of this term. I have to confess I haven’t thought too much about this, but it is something we should give attention to, since we are sending a message to all those “constituents” when we label them in a certain way.

    Thanks for bringing up the subject!

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