Andrew Roberts suggest we get rid of 'unchurched', 'dechurched' and 'churched'.
When I was a young minister in Doncaster a new mum came with her baby at the behest of her own insistent mother saying she needed to be churched. Unfamiliar with this medieval practice of purification I explained that she was very welcome and prayed prayers of thanks with her for the gift of her new child. That seemed to do the trick and she went away happy, returning a few weeks later to have the child baptised.
I admit to having felt uncomfortable then with the 'churched' phraseology and admit now to being uncomfortable with talk of the churched, dechurched, unchurched and never churched in a very different context - namely the world of fresh expressions. The language is used a lot; especially when writers are quantifying the missional effectiveness of newly forming churches. But is it good language?
I have two particular problems with it. The first is that it risks turning people into ecclesiastical 'widgets' or commodities. Categorising or defining people in a way that allows them to be quantified is helpful for particular pieces of analysis but risks depersonalising human beings made in the image of God. It also feels very institutional.
The second problem I have is that we may well end up falling into the same trap that has blighted many an inherited church, namely putting attendance or association before discipleship. Are we looking to 'church' people or make disciples of Jesus? As Martyn Atkins is fond of pointing out, Jesus says, 'I will build my church, you go and make disciples'.
I submit a plea for some more helpful, human and Christlike language. I recognise that discipleship is communal as well as personal so in seeking to denote who is part of fresh expressions might we be better to talk of newcomers (unchurched or never churched), returners (dechurched) and regulars (churched). We talk about people in this way at my local pub and it feels a lot warmer.
I'm sure there must be better suggestions out there. What do you think?