the shape of leadership

Three Questions to Answer Before You Preach

Understanding your audience for better communication

Joy Qualls on July 16, 2018

As a pastor, you want people to receive and respond to your messages. Therefore, it is important to understand your audience. This begins by asking three questions.

Who Is Your Ideal Audience?

Your ideal audience may depend on the purpose of your communication at a given time. Chances are, you want your message to resonate with unchurched people, recent converts and longtime members. But is your primary intent to reach the lost, disciple new believers, or teach the saints?

Thinking about the ideal audience helps you prepare messages that not only reach those who are present but also point in the direction you are trying to take your congregation. This may include educating them, inspiring them, and challenging their assumptions.

Who Is Your Actual Audience?

Perhaps you would like to have more young families, more unchurched people from the community, or more cultural diversity. However, you cannot speak to the audience you wish you had. You must address the audience who is in front of you. With your eyes always on what the ideal might be, focus on the ones who are right there with you now.

Consider the demographics of your church. Is it urban, rural or suburban? Is your church primarily people of a certain age, race, or socioeconomic status? What does the community in which you are ministering look like? Having this demographic information can help build an audience profile.

Knowing the demographic makeup of your church in comparison to the makeup of your community can provide insight into who your church is and why, and help you move your congregation toward greater outreach.

There is no greater response than following Christ and growing in knowledge and faith.

You also need to know your audience beyond the demographics. Do you spend time with the people in your congregation? Do you regularly eat meals or share coffee with attendees? What do you understand about the realities of their lives? Have you ever solicited feedback from your congregation?

If you are only meeting with those who are most like you or members of what you have decided is your target group, you are missing out on the richness of your congregation, as well as opportunities to connect with those who may not always be on your side.

Who Is Most Likely to Respond?

There is one rule that is certain as a communicator: You will not reach 100 percent of your audience 100 percent of the time. Be strategic about who you can reach with your messages.

First, there will always be people who disagree with you. Short of the work of the Holy Spirit, you will never reach this group of people. You are more effective praying for them than trying to tailor your messages to them. Don’t try to drive them away, but don’t strive to have them become your primary audience.

Second, there will always be a group of people who always agree with you. They are your greatest cheerleaders. They may be in your personal or target demographic. They may even be your peers.

As tempting as it is to play to this group of people, you don’t want your focus to be on those you have already won over. The risk is alienating the rest of your congregation by perpetuating the belief that you only care about certain people or that you take some individuals for granted.

That leaves anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of attendees who need to be your focus. These are the audience members who are most moveable. They are open to receiving and responding to the message in positive ways. And there is no greater response than following Christ and growing in knowledge and faith.

Time, study, and prayer go into the preparation of messages. Failing to consider the audience to whom you are speaking limits the efficacy of your communication. Understanding your audience helps you become more effective not only in your delivery, but also in leading them to the place God has called you as a community of faith.


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