Christianese For Outsiders

When I started hanging in out in religious circles in my late twenties for the first time in my life, I had a lot to learn. Not just about the diversity and depth of different religions, but also about the culture. There are certain words that mean different things in a religious context, and other ones that don't really exist outside of one at all. This a brief overview of some of the language I've picked up over the past few years. These definitions are all based on actual personal experiences from about two dozen different churches/synagogues/groups, so of course as such are entirely anecdotal. This isn't meant to be an academic or universal description of religious terminology, just some new words and ways language is used differently in religious contexts that I found interesting and which might be useful if you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

Charismatic
A branch of Christianity that emphasizes physical experiences of the divine. Expression of these experiences can get pretty wild in some churches, ranging from mild swaying, hands up, crying, etc. all the way to rolling around on the floor, running around the room, screaming incomprehensible noises and the like.
Deconstruction
A process most people raised in a religious household seem to go through where they realize that the religion they were handed as children is probably not true. Many high profile Christian musicians have been public about their "deconstruction".
Ecumenical
Usually means "affiliated with multiple churches and/or denominations". These groups are generally a good place to start if you're new to religion because by their nature they don't have a single dogma everyone must believe to fit in.
Friend
With a capital "F", is what Quakers call fellow Quakers. They may well be lower-case "f" friends as well.
High/Low
Depends on the context. Translates to "fancy"/"plain" if you're talking about church buildings, "traditional"/"modern" in the context of church services, and "literal"/"metaphoric" for scripture. "High church" services have things like choirs and robes and golden bibles, "low church" services have guitars and projectors and people wearing sandals. The distinction doesn't cut cleanly across denominations. In my experience it seems to depend entirely on the congregation or just what kind of buildings and resources are available. Regarding scripture, a "high view" usually refers to a belief that it is literally from God and is therefore ipso facto authoritative and "true". A "low view" usually means someone is comfortable with the fact that it was written by men in the ancient world and isn't necessarily a snapshot of a moment in history when humans had figured out the way everything should be forever.
Ministry
Usually refers to work or service someone does that they claim is motivated by their faith or is done in service of their god. Different for Quakers, where it refers to the brief messages that people are moved to deliver during a "meeting for worship" (which is an hour or so of sitting together in silence).
Reform(ed)
Depends on whether you're talking about Jews or Christians. Reform Judaism is the progressive version, i.e. where LGBTQ+ folks are welcome and women are equal. Reformed Christianity is decidedly un-progressive, the result of a 16th century backlash against Catholic corruption and hasn't progressed much since (which they talk about as a positive thing). The names kind of say it all. "Reform" Judaism emphasizes the evolving nature of faith and participates in its ever-continuing reforming. "Reformed" Christianity, past tense, says the Catholic church was wrong but by God's grace they figured out the one true answer and now just need to stick to it. Westboro Baptist Church is a Reformed church, as an example of where that kind of thinking leads.
Small group/home group/community group/life group/supper group
Literally a small group of people, usually from the same church, who meet up regularly some time other than Sunday morning. The format varies wildly. Sometimes it's really just a group of friends who share meals, more culty churches seem to use these to indoctrinate newcomers, though. In my experience it's hard to tell what you're going to get beforehand -- tread carefully.
Worship
Depends on the context. If a Protestant invites you to "worship night" it's a concert; worship means music. If it's a Catholic it may be singing (more likely a choir than a band) but could also be an invitation to kneel in front of the Eucharist (a cracker blessed by a priest which some people believe is Jesus) and pray. If it's a Quaker they're inviting you to sit in silence, probably for a long time, like an hour. Jewish worship usually looks like chanting ancient prayers, but they don't call it that.
Unchurched
Usually just means "non-religious", but also used in a semi-perjorative way to refer to other people who are very much "churched" yet believe differently or don't participate in institutional religion as much or in the same way.