One of the dilemmas I sometimes face as a blogger is word selection. If I’m writing about a topic, say church, do I use the word church or do I use an equivalent term, like Christian community?

Many in the missional community would suggest we think contextualisation, contextualisation, contextualisation (try saying that fast), and use words drawn from contemporary culture. Following this approach, Christian community would be preferred. And in fact that is my preference.

But, from a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) point of view, that’s a recipe for getting ignored, because most people searching for stuff on Christian community will be Googling for keywords like church, the non-Christians even more so that the Christians.

Moreover, if some Christians are writing about church and others are writing about Christian community, can non-Christian readers be expected to recognise the two conversations as the one conversation? My experience is, generally not.

So, what’s a blogger to do if he or she wants to actually influence popular perceptions of Christianity and Christian community? As surprising as it sounds, coming from me, I think we need to be wary of contextualising too fast, of giving Western readers linguistic whiplash. So, my solution has generally been to use both terms simultaneously where possible, to create bridges between sacred language and secular language.

This leads me to ask:

  • First, for general readers, does this approach work for you?
  • Secondly, for other bloggers, how do you handle this issue?

5 thoughts on “Keywords and Contextualization

  1. It seems to me that if people — especially Christians and non-Christians alike — are still searching on the word “church,” then that word is still part of contemporary culture to some degree. So I wonder if switching over to use “Christian community” instead is really a matter of contextualization, anyway.
    I think your solution to use both terms simultaneously makes perfect sense. I also think it’s a type of contextualization in its own sense, as it’s trying to bridge the gap between what most people think when they hear the word “church” and what it really means. In effect, it gives that word a new context (or reclaims a context that more closely resembles its original one, if you prefer).
    To be honest, this isn’t an issue I’ve thought about for my own blog. I’ll admit that thinking about my target audience is not something I do very well. Which is probably one of the reasons my blog isn’t as well read as yours. 😉

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  2. I think Jarred is right and there is some value in actually trying to reclaim or re-define those words (like “church”) that have lost meaning, or become confused.
    I think its important to actually be quite clear about that intent, about the desire to help your readers reconsider what particular words or concepts might mean in this day, this place.
    That said…..some words are almost too far gone to be recovered. Like “worship”. But perhaps that’s a topic for another day!

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  3. Words are defined by their usage; but not every usage is equivalent; some groups ‘own’ some words. It is Christians who define ‘church’ (like Muslims define ‘ummah’). It’s whatever we happen to comprise when we’re collected together. That’s all very simple.
    The problem is nominal adherence. There are lots of people whose spirituality consists in an outward, cultural, traditional, and utterly insubstantial connection with ostensibly Christian structures in society, broadly devoid of substance.
    Many of these people are quite attached to their use of the term ‘church’ for nice old buildings deserving conservation orders, or the facilities of some religiously themed celebrants called upon in times of birth, death or marriage. ‘Church’ in that sense is about as Christian as Carols by Candlelight. But, like Carols, may be a genuine if grossly sentimental and inadequate spiritual experience for those people. Is it a stepping stone on the way up, or on the way down?
    Can we redefine church gradually, or do we need to say “no that’s not church, this is: …”?

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  4. To me this is a bit like the Christian v Christ Follower debate… it’s a little bit silly.
    All words have baggage – but I think context generally overrules whatever emotional response a word elicits.
    I think going with the popular usage and then using it correctly is the best way to serve both the SEO and contextual masters.

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  5. I make a lot of use of tags. I like phrases like “Christian community” because they are refreshing, and it shows I thought about word usage; but then I’ll add the tag “church.” I’ll say “Christ follower” but tag the piece “Christianity.” Being on WordPress, I get to see the traffic that tagging brings in.

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