This past Lent, an image circulated of an unfortunate Ash Wednesday typo:
I don’t know where this originated, if it ever saw the light of day, or if it was a prank from a particularly cheeky bulletin designer (cheeky… see what I did there?). But it is a lighthearted way to broach the topic of typos and the chruch… I mean church.
On the rare occasion, your typo will be hilarious like this one. However, for the most part, it just looks sloppy. In a 2014 blog post, Seth Godin jokes that no one compliments books for being typo-free or hotel rooms for being dark at night. He writes, “Quality is now a given.”
Of course, at the end of the day, will a typo in the bulletin be the difference between someone finding Jesus or not? No.
Will poor grammar in a blog post or a newsletter cause someone to doubt the resurrection? I sure hope not, or my blog is doing more harm than good!
But what if there’s a typo on the flyer you hang up all over town? Or on the Facebook ad every family within a 10-mile radius sees? Or somewhere in the slides during worship… every week?
If proofreading hasn’t been high on your priority list, or you’re on a church staff that doesn’t seem to care that much, here’s a perspective to consider:
Checking for typos and grammar is an issue of hospitality.
When you have guests over to your home, most of us do our best to clean up. It is a sign of respect for the people who are coming. It shows that we value them and that we were expecting them.
We do this at church (or should do this) with things like maintaining our grounds and facilities, having a plan for worship, having a choir or band that practices, and having a preacher that isn’t just winging it. These things show that we care.
But typos and poor grammar in printed or projected materials can work to undermine this. It is a little bit like forgetting to empty the smelly kitchen garbage even if the rest of the house is clean. It can stand out and make an impression.
And like with hospitality in our homes, we might care less and do a little less when we are hosting family or having friends over who are “regulars.” And we often do a little more when we are hosting guests who don’t often visit, wanting to make a good impression. The level of care you give to issues of hospitality, like typos and grammar, might reveal whether your focus is on guests or members.
With a slight fear of stretching Scripture to make a point, Jesus tells us in Luke 16 that people reveal their trustworthiness in how they care for the small things. Especially if these kinds of small mistakes are routine or plentiful, it can make you wonder how much attention the church pays to other small but important issues (like changing air filters in the children’s wing).
So let’s all commit to getting a little better at proofreading. Maybe find some folks in your congregation who would be willing to help out. The easiest mistakes to miss are the ones you typed yourself because your brain has this weird way of seeing what you meant to say rather than what you actually wrote. This one step can go a long way in improving the quality of your church’s communication.
UPDATE: Reader Rick Morley (@agardenpath on Twitter) recommended using the app Grammarly to help catch errors. It offers plug-ins for Microsoft Word and web browsers (for writing on sites like WordPress), as well as a desktop app in which you can write directly, import documents, or copy and paste passages. Grammarly has a free version, which catches general errors, and a paid tier, which looks for more advanced issues.
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