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How to Run a Welsh/English Bilingual Event

Wales is fast becoming a completely bilingual country. Traditional Welsh language areas are seeing many non-Welsh speakers move in and the more populated regions are seeing an influx of young Welsh-speaking professionals. There’s also been a vast increase of Welsh medium schools in recent years. As churches based in these communities it is our privilege to reach out with the good news of the gospel, but is it possible to reach Welsh and English speakers at the same time in the same church?

This article aims to give some practical advice on how to reach out in a bilingual (Welsh and English) gospel outreach setting or meeting. Though I am a leader in a Welsh language church, I’m writing mainly with an English language church in mind. This is not because I feel that English language churches need to do more outreach, but rather, because most Welsh speaking churches can offer translation to English language visitors. 

Okay, let’s make a start: You’ve become aware in the last few months that you have many Welsh speakers in your community – as a church you want to reach out and share the gospel with them and you’re thinking of organising a bilingual meeting. 

Wonderful! As a Welsh speaker, can I encourage and thank you. Contrary to what some people believe, it is not only Welsh speakers who can share the gospel with other Welsh speakers – God works across language and cultural boundaries, and you may be just the person or church to reach out to the Welsh speakers in your community, especially if there is no Welsh gospel witness in the area.

…God works across language and cultural boundaries, and you may be just the person or church to reach out to the Welsh speakers in your community, especially if there is no Welsh gospel witness in the area. 

Before we begin, here are some things to remember: 

Welsh speakers speak English 

I have only ever met one Welsh speaker who couldn’t speak English! This is an important and practical fact to grasp, and it makes organising a bilingual event difficult. Though it may be a temptation to simply say everything twice (in each language), your Welsh speaking listener may find it difficult, because they’re hearing everything twice as they understand both languages. 

Accepted and respected

It’s what we’re all looking for and it’s so important. It is a sad fact that so many people have missed the opportunity to hear the gospel because they’ve not felt accepted in an outreach meeting or when speaking to a Christian. How people perceive your respect for them is important, and they will be put off if you look down on them (for the language they speak), or if you expect or force them to fit your expectations. Please remember that if a person who is more comfortable in a language other than your own comes to your event, show them respect and do everything you can to break down barriers and accommodate them – in simple terms, love them!

Not all Welsh speakers are the same

In the media, Welsh speakers are often portrayed as militaristic, banner waving, over-sensitive nationalists! This often makes people who organise bilingual meetings nervous and very sensitive to every tiny detail. Though there are some people like that, most are not. Most are proud to speak the language, feel more comfortable in speaking Welsh, but recognise that Wales is a country where there are two equal languages. Beware of caricatures! Ultimately, relationships and getting to know people is the important thing. If in doubt as to the kind of Welsh community you’re dealing with, it may be helpful to find a Welsh speaking Christian who can guide and help you in reaching others.

If in doubt as to the kind of Welsh community you’re dealing with, it may be helpful to find a Welsh speaking Christian who can guide and help you in reaching others.     

The language of the heart 

Whilst we must respect the heart language of the people who we’re trying to communicate the gospel with, we mustn’t forget our own heart language. Integrity is massive when it comes to dealing with people, and people will quickly see through a person or a church who tries to be something that they are not. If you are an English speaker, or an English speaking church, don’t try to artificially change or pretend to be something different to attract others. It won’t work, and you’ll probably end up causing offence. Be yourself. 

There is so much more that we could say, but let’s move on to think about some of the options for organising a bilingual meeting. Here are some options for you to consider:

An English only meeting 

As a Welsh speaker I have enjoyed hundreds of English speaking meetings. Don’t think that you must have a Welsh language element to reach Welsh speakers – I often hear of Welsh speakers who have come to faith or who have settled in an English speaking church, but remember two things. 

Firstly, make sure you are clear. It is not honest to advertise a meeting as bilingual (or even produce bilingual posters) and then not include Welsh in the meeting itself. Secondly, make sure that you make everyone feel welcome and respected. 

A simple ‘Croeso’ (welcome) at the beginning, or an acknowledgement such as, ‘I’m aware that there are many Welsh speakers here this evening, I’m sorry that I’ve not had the privilege to learn the language yet, but I am so thankful that you are here, and I pray that you’ll be blessed with us’, can win people over.      

A Welsh only meeting with English translation 

Many Welsh language churches offer translation, and it’s a very effective option in a Welsh community where the majority of people speak Welsh. You can hire simultaneous translation sets for one-off meetings, or even buy them if you’re thinking of something more regular. It is surprising how many people can translate from Welsh into English to a high standard. The meeting will take place in Welsh, but the non-Welsh speaker is able to understand everything through the translation they receive via headphones. 

A Welsh meeting as part of a programme

This is a good option if you are organising a series of events such as a week-long mission. You can include a special meeting in Welsh as part of the programme. This will make everyone aware that you care for them and ensure that they are welcomed to the church. Inviting a special Welsh speaking guest is a natural way of doing this. An extra tip is to organise the meeting at the start of the week – if a Welsh speaker feels at home, they may well come to the other English language events. 

Partner with another gospel church

Many Welsh communities have Welsh speaking gospel churches, and it makes very little sense for an English language church to organise a bilingual service on their own. Partnering with the Welsh church will do so much – it will reach the whole community, and most importantly it will show gospel unity to a lost world.

Partnering with the Welsh church will do so much – it will reach the whole community, and most importantly it will show gospel unity to a lost world.  

A fully bilingual meeting 

You may decide that the best option is to host a fully bilingual meeting. There is no formula for organising a successful bilingual meeting, in one sense it is just like organising any other meeting, but following on from the principles I’ve set out above here are 14 tips that will help:

  1. Love people – make every effort to make people feel accepted, and go the extra mile, thinking of ways to encourage people from the minority language. 
  2. Make sure that your greeters are bilingual and can greet people at the door in both languages. It is very awkward to go to a bilingual meeting only to be greeted by a person who doesn’t speak your language.
  3. All programmes, PowerPoints, hymns, tracts should be in both languages (or have an option in both languages), and make sure that they’ve been checked for errors.
  4. Avoid tokenism. If you have said that the meeting is bilingual, then large parts of the meeting should be in both languages. Simply having a Welsh hymn or a Welsh reading doesn’t make it bilingual (there is nothing wrong with having Welsh hymns or readings in an English service but be clear from the start).   
  5. Use a bilingual host, or two hosts (a Welsh speaker and an English speaker). This will make both groups feel accepted.
  6. Start with a word or two in the minority language (especially if you don’t speak it). A simple ‘Croeso’ or ‘Noswaith dda’ will put people at ease. 
  7. Never say a joke in a language that only some people understand. It will often cause people to feel left out and make people feel uncomfortable.
  8. Don’t make an issue of the language. Be natural and don’t draw attention to the differences between people; rather, look for ways to encourage and bring unity. 
  9. Try to avoid repetition. I must confess that this is the most difficult thing when I speak at a bilingual event but repeating ‘parrot style’ what’s been said in a different language is very off-putting for the person who speaks both languages. It takes great skill and preparation, but it is possible to get the main points over in English whilst adding to the meaning in Welsh.
  10. If you feel that it is better to have the gospel talk in English so that everyone understands it, ask a Welsh speaker to give it in English. This will ‘soften’ the fact that the main part of the meeting is in English, and they can often say a word or two in Welsh at the beginning of the talk to bring the Welsh speakers on-side.
  11. Explain what is happening to everyone. If you have a Welsh reading, or an interview, then explain in English what is happening before it takes place.
  12. Give opportunities for follow-up in both languages. If you are serious about reaching Welsh speakers, then you’ll need to provide opportunities for follow-up in Welsh (not simply expect them to fit into an English language setting).
  13. Use your Welsh speakers in the planning of the meeting. This will prevent problems and will make the meeting far more effective.
  14. Pray. It is my experience that God works despite our failings and mistakes. We need the Holy Spirit, and everything else will fall into place.
Steffan Job

Steffan Job is an elder at Capel y Ffynnon, Bangor, a Welsh speaking church in North Wales. He is married to Debs and has two children. He works for the Evangelical Movement of Wales and is passionate about reaching all the people of Wales with the gospel.