“We will provide snakes.”
Yes, this is a random way to begin a blog post. But, instead of letting parents know that we’ll provide snacks, I accidentally included the above sentence in a brochure promoting an upcoming church youth trip.
To add insult to injury, I was new on staff at a local church serving as their director of family and youth ministries. By the time I made this goof, I had only been on the team a couple of weeks. So I didn’t make the best first impression with parents.
Looking back on this mistake, I can laugh it off now. But at the time, I was a hot mess after I realized the mistake I made. Like many staff members of churches, I didn’t have someone else review what I wrote before going public, and I thought I had sealed my fate.
Since it’s challenging to self-edit your work and catch every mistake, it’s probably a good idea to have someone else (or to use a service like Grammarly) review what you wrote, your bulletin, or what you plan on adding to your church’s marquee. If not, you could end up sending the wrong message, like myself and others, including:
All jokes aside, as a church leader, you are regularly communicating with people in formal and informal settings, and it’s essential to aim for clear communication in what you say. Whether you’re preaching, writing an email, blog post, or social media update, or promoting an upcoming event, it’s essential to aim for clarity in your messages.
There are several ways you can improve your church’s communications. And one important thing you and your team will need to keep an eye on in your communication strategy is common grammatical mistakes.
Overlooking grammar in internal communications may not be that big of a deal for you and your church, or doing so in informal communications, such as texts, phone calls, and emails. But when it comes to sharing any message with the public, it’s a good idea to review your grammar. Sharing messages full of errors with the public full of errors may cause your church to lose a level of credibility with others.
There are many common grammar mistakes we can make with the English language. But here are four common grammar mistakes churches often make.
#1. Incorrectly capitalizing religious terms
Let’s be honest; when it comes to reading the Bible, it can be difficult to understand at times—especially for men and women who are new to the faith. The Bible is full of words and phrases we do not commonly use today, and there are several phrases that are easy to mess up. Here are some of the more common capitalization mistakes:
#2. Shouting at people
Do you want to emphasize your point? Or, do you want to offend people?
If you want to get people upset, then use ALL CAPS. You may not realize this, but using CAPS in your writing implies that you're shouting. Unless the person or group you’re sharing with is hard of hearing, you may want to avoid using caps in your messages.
Now, if you just want to emphasize your point or call attention to a keyword or phrase, all you need to do is italicize that word or phrase. As a word of caution, use italics sparingly. Overindulging yourself in the use of italics will make your writing lose its punch.
In case you didn’t catch what we’re implying by using italics, it’s not necessary to bold or underline your statements or to end your sentences with a litany of exclamations points.
It’s easy to get excited when you’re talking about Jesus. But you only need to use one exclamation point if any at all. In the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke."
#3. Adding too many spaces after a period
Today, you should only use one space after a period. We understand this comment may ruffle some feathers. But it’s a common practice expected today.
The use of two spaces after a period was introduced when typewriters hit the scene. You see, on typewriters, you can only use one font, and every letter was monospaced, meaning that they took up the same amount of space on the page. So, to differentiate between the spacing between letters and sentences, a two-space rule was introduced.
Now, with computers, adding two spaces after a period is no longer necessary. Over the years, people have moved to only using one space after a period, and most—if not all—style guides suggest using a single space after a period.
#4. What verse from the Bible are you quoting?
Citing verses is tricky.
From citing a standalone verse to quoting passages from the Bible in a sentence, you need to know the several ways to cite a verse properly:
If you are using a verse from the Bible as a standalone piece, such as introducing a blog post or at the top of a fundraising letter, then here’s what you’ll need to do:
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” —1 Corinthians 10:31
In this scenario, notice the single space after the quotation mark and the use of a quotation dash (a.k.a., horizontal bar). In informal settings, you can get away with using an em dash (—). But we suggest going with the quotation dash if you’re working on something formal or public, like an advertisement.
Also, when you have a verse standing alone, you are not required to abbreviate the book of the Bible you’re referencing.
Here are other verse citation situations you will come to:
Paul writes, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
In this example, it’s important to point out that the period (or whatever punctuation mark you’re using) follows the Bible reference, not the verse itself.
What’s also important to highlight is that when you use a parenthetical citation, such as (1 Cor. 10:31), you must abbreviate the book of the Bible. Click here for a complete list of abbreviations.
How can we "do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31)?
There will be times when you will need to reference a verse in your sentence directly. With the example above, you will need to follow the same rules as before—include your punctuation mark after the reference.
It takes time to learn all of the ins and outs of grammar and how to correctly reference the Bible. But as a church leader today, it’s more important than ever to aim for clear communication today considering all of the messages we are sharing in person and online.
In the meantime, there are three steps you can take that will protect you from making one of the mistakes above or others.
First, read out loud what you wrote. After you write your sermon, an update on social media, or an important email, take the time to read your message out loud. Doing this will help you to pick up any mistakes or clunky language.
Second, be consistent. This point is especially true for your church’s communication. Regardless of what style book you use or denomination or network your church is affiliated with, aim to be consistent in using whatever benchmark you choose.
Third, get a proofreader. As we mentioned above, it’s nearly impossible to catch everything yourself. This isn’t an issue of pride or a lack of grammatical training. Your brain may actually let you make a grammar mistake even if you know better. So, if you have an important message or something that will be seen by the public, such as a bulletin or promotion, then have someone else proofread what you wrote.
What common grammar mistakes make you cry? Share your thoughts in the comments below!