5 Reasons People Avoid Visiting A Bilingual Service

Jason preachingYesterday I mentioned Jason Craddock’s sermon from this past Sunday, talking about the church being like a Cliff Huxtable sweater. In the sermon, he encouraged the members of the main assembly at UCC (University Church of Christ) to not sit and wait for the members of the bilingual group to come on Unity Sunday. He encouraged people to cross the hall and visit the bilingual service.

I went and gave Jason a hug for that one. It’s something I’ve repeated for at least five years now, with little success. I still have people tell me: “I would visit the bilingual service, but I’m not bilingual.” Explanations about how one only needs to know either one of the two languages used seem to fall on deaf ears. (Actually, you don’t even have to know one of the two; we had a Japanese visitor a few weeks ago who only spoke Japanese)

So why don’t people want to visit a bilingual assembly in their own congregation? I have some guesses:

  • Habit. People who have been attending one congregation for decades walk from their classroom to their usual seat without even thinking about it. If they didn’t, those who sit around them would be concerned.
  • Loyalty. Before we hired our current preacher, one elder was participating in the bilingual service almost weekly. When we made the hire, he felt the need to support the new preacher; he was afraid that people would infer something negative if he weren’t in the main auditorium.
    I think many people feel something of the same. I mentioned to one elder an idea about encouraging Bible classes to visit the bilingual service as a group; he said that he couldn’t feel good about encouraging that many people to miss the main assembly.
  • Familiarity. This goes with the previous two. In the main auditorium, people are hearing a preacher that they enjoy listening to. They are singing songs that they know. The Lord’s Supper and offering are done in a way that they are used to. Going to another assembly, even in their own congregation, means giving up those things.
  • Fear. There is a fear of having to interact with people that you can’t communicate with. I think that fear is overblown, as every one of our Hispanic members is making some effort to learn English and can carry on a cordial conversation. But that fear exists.
    There is also a fear of not knowing what’s going on; 95% of what we do is translated, yet that 5% can make people uncomfortable. It can be awkward to hear people speaking a language you don’t understand.
  • Cultural differences. One member, who visits the bilingual service fairly often, confessed that his wife goes even though she doesn’t like “all that hugging.” Latinos tend to be much more effusive with greetings than are many others in our culture. And that’s just one notable difference.

Those are some thoughts. It takes some effort to cross out of our comfort zones and reach out to people who aren’t like us. But, in the church at least, it’s definitely worth the effort.

Can you think of other barriers? More importantly, can you offer suggestions as to how we overcome those barriers?

14 thoughts on “5 Reasons People Avoid Visiting A Bilingual Service

  1. guy

    Are you talking about having a separate meeting happening simultaneously that is in a different language? You could have the same service offered in 2 different languages–bits of it repeated and so forth. That’s how Greek and Antiochian Orthodox liturgies go. Wouldn’t that help with fear/familiarity issues?

  2. Tim Archer Post author

    Guy, that’s actually what we do. We try to keep the bits fairly small, a sentence or two, so that no one is sitting there for minutes at a time without understanding what is being said.

  3. Pedro Villa

    Tim, I am one of those persons that thinks of himself as a completely bi-cultural and bilingual. For the last forty years, I have conducted my business in English. Almost 100 percent of my clients are English speaking, however when it comes worship, I feel most comfortable in a Spanish-speaking environment. Why, I don’t think that I know.
    I know most songs in Spanish, I can quote scriptures by memory in Spanish. I when pray privately, I find myself talking to the Lord in Spanish.
    Just for thought.

  4. Tim Archer Post author

    Pedro, I once heard a story that I thought was about our friend Juan Monroy, but he denies having said it.

    The person in the story said, “I speak 3 languages: Spanish, French, and English. When I want to talk to my machines, I speak English, the language of technology. When I am being romantic with my wife, I speak French, the language of love. But when I speak to God… I speak Spanish.”

  5. Jeanne

    As I have commented before here in Charlotte our trwo groups meet together every quarter. Men from both groups participate in prayers, scripture reading, the Lord’s supper and preaching. I find it to be very inspiring. We also aeat together for any fellowship meals and at least twice a year the Spanish ladies prepare a special meal for us all. I have attempted to teach English to one of them and we have become very close. I am so thankful to be part of such a loving church.

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  7. Rafael G. Sustaita

    I’ve had many concerns about what we call a “bilingual ministry” for some time. In most places, it is simply a combined worship service where an attempt is made mainly for the message to be in two languages. Some go even further to include prayers and singing in two languages. As is the case with many church group gatherings, nothing else happens between each Sunday gathering that promotes anything that comes close to ministry in either language. I am one of those that will not attend a bilingual service if given a choice. I find them cumbersome, poorly done for the most part and extremely boring. The translations are haphazard, they are repeated “repeadedly,” and the focus on the message is distracted. If the languages involved are English and Spanish, I prefer one or the other. I feel very comfortable in both languages. I spent the last 20 years as a corporate executive in a federal agency in Dallas where all my business was conducted in English. One the side, I gave of my time in the evenings teaching GED academic skills in Spanish for Spanish speaking adults preparing to take the GED exam. So yes, I’m fluent you could say, but I would never attempt to stand before an audience and bore them to tears with my extemporaneous translation of either language. The nuances of public speaking make that very difficult to do with any success. The only two people that I’ve ever been in the presence of that could do that well was Juan Antonio Monroy and Glenn Owen. Juan always had something important to say and Glenn was able to capture the color and texture with this translation, sometimes even before Juan could finish without repeating or having to clarify anything.

  8. Tim Archer Post author

    Rafael, I strongly disagree. I’ve seen many people do translations very well. I’m sorry your experiences have been bad. Juan and Glenn had a good rhythm from lots of practice; many develop the same thing.

    I’ve learned to self-translate in a way that people say holds their attention very well. I’ve preached that way from coast-to-coast over the last 12 years with great acceptance. I’ve modeled that for others, and they’ve learned to do the same. It’s a skill that is learned fairly quickly.

    Admittedly, many have done and currently do translations poorly. That comes from lack of training, not lack of ability.

  9. Rafael G. Sustaita

    The “Bilingual Ministry” and the “Bilingual Service” using your terminology go hand in hand. They serve each other in reaching the lost among the hispanic community. I’m not sure that New Testament terminology differentiates between ministry and service and I’m so sorry those similarities eluded you.

  10. Tim Archer Post author


    I’m sorry, I guess we’re talking about different things. When I talk about “bilingual service,” it’s a worship service, a one time event.

    Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

    Grace and peace,

  11. Phyllis Walker

    With a bilingual service, a monolingual listener gets half a message- it’s boring, cumbersome, a waste of half my precious sermon-absorbing time, usually clumsy, and I’m left with the impression that the main reason it’s done, when it is not necessary, is that the preacher wants to show off a little and hear his statements repeated by the other guy. Am I mean??? Maybe, but I don’t care- it’s true.

  12. Tim Archer Post author

    Wow, Phyllis, your experience is vastly different from mine. Hope that it will be better if you get to experience another bilingual service.

  13. Theoloscience

    Another option that is being implemented more and more in churches with a bilingual congregation is to install one or two screens ( and projectors ). . . Preach in one language and display the captions in the other language. This is a more seamless way. However, it requires a greater amount of time and energy to prepare the sermon (homily) in both language… Then another person (usually the I.T. person, or even a volunteer with the proper skills) can be shifting the sentences (with a remote control) as the preacher moves on. I have used this option. Then those who are completely bilingual can just avoid looking to the screen . . . I have seen this done at the Opera House, which are usually in sang in Italian and in some cases in German, with captions in English; of course, that is a totally different setting, although nobody is bother by it. However, we know that even tough one may be seating next to people from different countries or nationalities, nobody is expected to interact, but rather be quiet. . .

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