I’m WEIRD (and if you are reading this, so are you)


Research has shown that most social psychology* research has studied WEIRD people: Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (Henrich, Heine, & Norenzayan).

As our country becomes increasingly cross cultural, so must our communication become increasingly aware that the American church is WEIRD, and our assumptions about people and about communication do not always translate.

Recently, a pastors’ roundtable I attended included a Latino pastor and his wife, who both almost exclusively communicate in Spanish. They brought a young lady with them to translate. A group breakout assignment was given, and the young lady was very quietly studying the document. After a moment, she apologized for not being able to translate the instructions to the pastor. She was hung up on the first question, “What are the hot potato issues in the church?” A literal translation, “¿Cuáles son las cuestiones de papa caliente en la iglesia?” was not helpful to the pastor. We, as WEIRD Americans, use language that we understand, and assume it translates across cultures. We use words, images, and gestures that mean something to us, but something different to others. We understand time differently. We hear music differently. We relate to others differently.

The interesting thing about Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan’s research was that WEIRD people, including WEIRD kids, are just about the least representative people on which you could base generalizations about the human race. So, we’re the ones that are different; we’re the ones that are weird!

When you devise your communication, especially that which travels outside of the walls of your church (online sermons, billboards, mailers, invitations, signage, etc.), do you consider what it might say to a person who ‘isn’t from around here’? Click here for a great tool to discover the cultural demographics around your church (Thanks, Church of the Nazarene!)

Here are some statistics for a five-mile radius around my home church:

Top 10 languages spoken in the home:
Chinese: 1,462 (0.6%)
English only: 169,352 (71.0%)
French: 2,263 (0.9%)
French Creole: 1,009 (0.4%)
Hindi: 1,386 (0.6%)
Korean: 7,033 (2.9%)
Russian: 735 (0.3%)
Spanish: 32,814 (13.8%)
Tagalog: 713 (0.3%)
Vietnamese: 4,533 (1.9%)

Top 8 foreign born population:
Colombia: 3,130 (1.2%)
El Salvador: 1,716 (0.7%)
Haiti: 1,603 (0.6%)
India: 3,383 (1.3%)
Jamaica: 2,494 (1.0%)
Korea: 6,400 (2.5%)
Mexico: 10,127 (3.9%)
Vietnam: 3,392 (1.3%)
Total Foreign Born: 58,033 (22.5%)

How would you communicate differently if you understood that not everyone in your church’s five-mile radius was WEIRD?


* Social psychology is “the scientific study of how people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others” (Allport).

Allport, G. W. (1985). The historical background of social psychology. In G. Lindzey & E. Aronson (Eds.), The Handbook of Social Psychology. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2-3), 61-83. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X0999152X


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