Your Audience Determines Your Language

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Many pastors don’t want to admit this truth, but it is true. One reason we don’t like to admit this is because when you do, someone might say, “Oh, you’re just watering down the gospel.” Which admittedly can happen.

If you don’t keep your audience in mind when you preach, you will miss them and it won’t matter what you say.

When I preach, I try to keep a few groups in mind:

  • The person who is giving God one last shot. Every week, there is someone who walks into your church and says, “God, this is your last shot. If you don’t speak today, I’m done with you.” Now, the sovereignty of God says this person is wrong and God can work regardless of what this person says, but this is their attitude. They are skeptical, hurting, lost and often living in some kind of pain. They have deep questions, lots of baggage. They want to know you know how they feel, the concerns they carry and the questions they are asking. They want to know they are real and legitimate and they want help, even though they will fold their arms and not admit it. 
  • The man who was drug there that morning. Every week, this guy walks into your church. He’d rather be fishing, hiking, biking, swimming, watching football, sleeping or getting a root canal. Anything but being at church. But here he sits. His wife, sister, daughter or mom drug him there and he is doing everything to not enjoy and not get anything out of it.
  • The student who doesn’t want to be there. Like the guy above, you have students who don’t want to be there. Who see God as old fashioned, something their parents believe in, constricting, and not for them. They want visions of how God can use their life, how faith can be bigger than they imagine and how God moves.
  • The man who works with his hands. This guy doesn’t read, he wants concrete ideas not theological ideas that can be debated. He wants you to say it and sit down. He doesn’t want a round about way to get there.

What about everyone else? The Christian who has followed Jesus faithfully for 20 years? Everyone I didn’t mention? I’ve found if you preach to these groups of people, you will hit everyone else in the room.

I’ve also found that most pastors don’t preach to these people. It is hard for me to always keep them in mind.

When I write a sermon, I often imagine having that sermon as a conversation with one of my friends who fit into these categories and how I would present it to them. What I’d want them to know and the questions they would have about it.

Don’t miss this though: your words reflect who you think is there. Whether you believe it or not, your audience determines your language because your language determines your audience.

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5 thoughts on “Your Audience Determines Your Language

  1. I LOVE this. As a writer (but not a pastor), I think a lot about who I’m talking to — and my goal is to reach the person who isn’t necessarily comfortable in church, who doesn’t speak the language, if you will. This helps me take that farther. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Love to hear you flesh this out a bit more. I think i’m with you so far but i’m not sold yet. The initial push-back i’d have is that we need to be clear that it is the Word of God that pierces and transforms people, not our words. So, in my thinking, a message that is filled with the Word of God (as opposed to a message that simply begins with Scripture as a jumping off point) will touch each of these groups b/c it is filled with the very thing that can actually transform them. I feel that focusing too much on playing to the lowest common denominator assumes that the transformative power is actually in your words and not in the gospel.
    Push back.

    • I would agree it is the word of God who transforms hearts and we are used for that.

      My thoughts come from talking to so many lazy preachers who say, “I don’t have to think through my audience because God’s word does not return void.” That is true, it does not. But pastors must work at their craft of preaching. To shepherd a church well is to know who is there and how to communicate Scripture to them clearly.

      • I see where you’re coming from. Makes sense to me absolutely. As Bryan Chapell says in his preaching class: We don’t just exegete the text we exegete the audience as well.

  3. Pingback: Stop Assuming the People You Preach to Agree with You | JoshuaReich.org

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