After years of growing up in a bilingual church and visiting many more, I’ve noticed a few things churches may overlook when offering translation. Here are three.
#1: The Translation Experience
Since churches often have a majority language with some bilingual leaders, it’s easy to overlook what the experience is like for people who are not fluent in the majority language of the church. Leaders know the language so it’s difficult for them to experience what it’s like to not really understand anything.
For example, sometimes the sermon is translated over wireless headsets, while announcements and songs are not because they are considered less important. Unfortunately for the person who doesn’t speak the majority language, they can only politely go through the motions for much of the service without getting much.
Some multilingual churches provide separate language services to give a more convenient experience. But this approach misses out on the opportunity to create a powerful, Biblical, foretaste of God’s Kingdom where people from every language worship Jesus together.
So here is a thought experiment you can apply to your church. Imagine Jesus showed up next Sunday at your church. A foreigner wearing odd clothes, smelling funny and speaking a language you cannot understand. What would happen to him? What kind of experience would you want to give him?
Or to flip it around, what if you were the outsider–what kind of experience would Jesus give you? How would he welcome you?
This exercise helps you envision the kind of fully translated experience that gives people a royal welcome suitable to the Kingdom of God. Translation goes from being an inconvenient practical problem to a transformative experience that echoes the Divine.
#2: The Value of their Volunteers
The second thing churches may overlook is the value of their volunteers. Translation and interpretation (I use the terms interchangeably in this article) are difficult tasks that are vital to keeping multilingual communities together. Although bilingual church members tirelessly do their best to accommodate people who need translation week after week, they often go unrecognized and unsupported.
In the business and government sectors, translation and interpretation are highly regarded professions. Interpreters have rates that can exceed $100 USD/hour because of the demanding nature of the work and their professional standards and regulations (e.g. Canada’s professional standards and regulations).
Some churches recognize the unique value of translation by giving love gifts to their translators as they would their speakers. But for many churches who have multilingual needs or desires, even this level of investment can be a barrier to providing translation every week. This term “investment” though is key. When a church recognizes the value of multilingual volunteers, translation becomes viewed as an investment in the community. And like any other investment, it produces growth.
#3: The Opportunity to Grow
Conventional approaches to translation make it difficult to grow. For example:
Consecutive interpretation is time-consuming. With two languages, your service time doubles and leaves half your audience disengaged half the time because they don’t understand the language being spoken. Meanwhile, the bilinguals get bored because they are hearing the same thing twice.
Whispered interpretation cannot support more than one or two people and is awkward for the interpreter and people receiving translation.
Simultaneous interpretation via headsets is a hassle to manage (you need to buy enough receivers, keep everything charged and tuned, distribute and collect the receivers, etc.) and it requires the availability of highly skilled interpreters. Skilled volunteers may not always be available or professionals may only be affordable for the largest, most high-profile events.
For all these challenges, many churches in America are recognizing that much of their growth is happening in and among multiethnic/multilingual communities. Ethnic churches and new monolingual church plants eventually have multilingual needs because of new generations and other demographic shifts. So what can be done? How can translation go from being a limitation to a driver of growth?
What if there’s a better way?
What if there was a way to lower the barrier on what it takes to serve in the translation ministry of a church, so that more people could help out and your most valuable bilinguals would be relieved of their load?
What if there was a convenient way to create a fully localized experience for people to get not only the sermon, but the greeting, the worship songs, the prayers, the announcements, the full worship service experience in their native language?
What if by making translation simple and scalable (so that it can serve 1 person and 1,000 people without much additional effort) this need was transformed from a problem to be solved, to an opportunity for growth–and a foretaste of God’s Kingdom every week?
We believe these what-ifs paint a picture of where God is leading the Church. So in anticipation of this future, we created spf.io as a translation solution for growing multiethnic/multilingual churches that will help them experience the full benefits of their multilingual community and calling.
Spf.io reduces the load on your volunteers and enables more people to help through automation, reuse of pre-translated materials, collaborative workflows and other simple tools.
Spf.io enables you to provide people with translation of everything from your slides, bulletins, worship songs, prayers, and of course, sermons.
Spf.io enables you to grow by making it easy to make new languages available and it reduces your dependency on real-time skilled human interpreters. It enables you to seamlessly scale from 1 visitor who needs a new language to 1000 new visitors who need multiple languages. And you can choose to put up public displays for new languages or simply let people get translation on their personal mobile devices. Spf.io will grow with your community.