I have a suggestion: maybe Christians should sub out words like "the lost" or "non-believers" for a positive and simple term -- like "normal people." Yes, there are probably people out there who would take offense at being labeled “normal.” I’m not trying to propose the perfect terminology. But using “normal people” or “regular people” has a few advantages.
First off, these terms aren’t negative. Telling someone that they’re “lost” may be true from our perspective, but there are plenty of people with very strong and robust belief systems who don’t think of themselves as “lost” in any way. Even using relatively neutral terms like “unbelievers” or “non-Christians” sets up an “us vs. them” situation that may not be helpful. When we use words like these, we’re defining people in relation to us, instead of defining them according to their own terms.
In addition, “normal” and “regular” are simple, everyday terms that don’t have any kind of Christian baggage attached. Explaining what it means to call people “the lost” requires at least a little bit of theological unpacking. Likewise, it might not be immediately apparent to an “unbeliever” what he or she is being labeled for not believing in – God? The Bible? Concealed carry rights? But everyone understands the concept of “normal.”
Granted, there are plenty of people out there who probably don’t care what we call them. Lost, unbelievers, normal, whatever. But changing our vocabulary might be beneficial for us, too. In our church environment, in this city and this state and this country, we can be lulled into thinking that we, as Christians, are regular people. We know so many Christians, we see so many churches, and we expose ourselves to so much Christian culture that it’s not surprising that we tend to think of ourselves as the norm.
This is dangerous for two reasons. First, from the Bible:
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (1 Peter 2:11, ESV).
Peter chooses his words to remind us that being Christian is not “the norm.” We are sojourners just passing through, exiles without a home. This isn’t “our” world, and it won’t ever be – at least not until Jesus returns. We’re the strangers here; we’re the weird ones. We should get in the habit of using language that reminds us that the world is “normal” and that we (as 1 Peter 2:9 famously reads in the King James) are the “peculiar” ones.
Second, whether or not the U.S. was ever a “Christian nation,” it isn’t anymore and it’s rapidly becoming a secular nation. No amount of politicking, revival, or “culture warfare” is going to reverse the trend of secularization. Being a Christian is no longer “normal,” culturally or demographically. It’s time we faced up to that fact and even embraced it. All we’d be doing is accepting a reality that regular people in this country already take for granted.
So let’s just admit what we all know but have been too polite to say: our church is made up of a bunch of weirdos, crazies, and freaks. If you get a chance, please try to invite some normal people.