Have you ever had a message completely fall flat? Everyone has. Few feelings are as dire as the feeling you experience standing in front of an audience knowing every second that passes, you lose more and more of that audience. There are many reasons why a message might nose dive during the service, but one of those reasons SHOULD NEVER BE not knowing your audience. Knowing your audience is completely within your control. Yes, knowing the age range, geographic location, and the overall makeup of your audience is important, but truly knowing your audience goes far beyond ages and locations. Every audience is different and whether you’re preaching to the same group every week or filling in for another pastor, there are some things you should consider during the preparation of your message.
In this episode of Hello Church! we dive into the importance of knowing your audience and how to connect with your audience in a way that ensures your message sticks with them — no matter if they’re old or young, single or married, parenting or not, new believers or seasoned believers.
0:00 Season of the Sermon
0:31 Storytelling Episode
1:05 Sponsored by Sermonary 2.0
2:54 Preaching Based Upon Your Audience
4:45 Put Yourself In Their Shoes
8:45 Explain Things Correctly
10:03 Talk to Each Audience
11:35 Tips for Reaching Entire Audience
14:08 Project What You Want to Attract
18:09 Final Thoughts
19:05 Next Episode, The Conclusion
Justin Trapp (00:05):
Well, hey everyone. Welcome to Hello Church! I’m Justin Trapp. This is season two. We’re getting into the sermon this season, talking all things sermon ,and Wade, today’s a great episode.
Wade Bearden (00:16):
Yeah, I’m Wade Bearden, this is the fourth part, Justin, of our second season where we just dig into the sermon, and we’re talking about audience ,and how to speak to different audiences today. Last episode, we talked about storytelling. We talked about seven storytelling modes, seven different types of stories. That was really great.
Wade Bearden (00:38):
But yeah, we’re going to talk about the audience today. I’m excited about this season, because my hope is that people who’ve never really preached or haven’t been trained to preach, but maybe they’re pastors or maybe they’ve gone through seminary, but they just like, “How do I put together a sermon? I still don’t understand this thing.” After listening to this season, hopefully they’ll be a little bit more prepared.
Wade Bearden (00:57):
And, as was the case last week, this episode is sponsored by Sermonary. Sermonary 2.0 releases today. So when this episode goes live, Sermonary 2.0 is out. Sermonary is a cloud-based sermon writing word processor. It is fantastic, there’s so many fantastic features. When we released Sermonary, we knew pastors were going to like it. Our Kickstarter was extremely popular. Pastors did like it, and we realized we could make it even better. So we took a great product and we made it even better. It’s out in the world today. I love the new bells and whistles, I also like how…
Justin Trapp (01:40):
Wade Bearden (01:41):
So much faster…
Justin Trapp (01:42):
Sorry to cut you off. If you’re….
Wade Bearden (01:43):
Justin Trapp (01:43):
… a current Sermonary user, so you’ve experienced Sermonary 1.0., 2.0 that we just released today is 12 times faster.
Wade Bearden (01:53):
Justin Trapp (01:54):
… than the original version. So that just helps you understand how much faster it is.
Wade Bearden (01:57):
It really is wild. And we also have different tiers. We have a free tier now.
Justin Trapp (02:02):
Wade Bearden (02:02):
Yeah. Free forever. So you can log on, and you can write an unlimited amount of messages. We also have the premium version. So if you’re already a member of Sermonary, you have the premium version, which has everything, including a resource database. You can access a year’s worth of sermon series for free. And it has an illustration database, which is just incredible. It is so cool.
Wade Bearden (02:28):
So, check out Sermonary 2.0, just go to sermonary.com. You can sign up for the free tier. You don’t have to pay anything, just sign up for the free tier, test it out. And we give you all the bells and whistles for a month. And if you want to keep going with all that, you can sign up for a premium membership or just keep the free tier. It’s really great. So Justin, we’re going to hop into today’s episode. It’s about the audience. Believe it or not, our methods of communication, our contextualization changes based on different audiences.
Justin Trapp (03:04):
Well, have you ever had a message just fall completely flat?
Wade Bearden (03:07):
Justin Trapp (03:07):
We all have, right? And it’s the ones that just completely bombed for me, when I go back and I evaluate, “What happened here? What was wrong?” A lot of times it had to do with, I didn’t have a great understanding of who was in the audience. I remember one time I was asked to go teach a devotional at a retirement home. They probably all thought I was cute, but there was zero, no response. I just felt like it fell flat, completely flat.
Wade Bearden (03:35):
You’re like, “Hey guys, you all know Kanye West. Right. So the other day …”
Justin Trapp (03:40):
Yeezy for Sheezy. The other one, early, early, I think it might have been my first funeral that I ever, I don’t know if you say preached at, but I was asked to officiate, I didn’t know 98% of the people in the room.
Wade Bearden (03:57):
Justin Trapp (03:58):
So for me to come in and try connect with them in a charismatic way is not ideal in that setting.
Wade Bearden (04:03):
Justin Trapp (04:03):
You want to come in and you want to bring comfort, and share words of hope. But you’re really not trying to be some sort of evangelist type of speaker. And that was a great lesson for me early on, I think I was 20 years old.
Wade Bearden (04:16):
Yeah. So it’s super important to understand and know your audience, and so for you as a pastor, what’s great about your congregation is you know your audience. You know your audience super well. Maybe you’re a youth pastor who’s preaching at youth group, but you’re asked to preach in the adult service. Maybe it’ll take some adjusting, but you know those people. We’re going to talk about how you can make those adjustments. The first aspect of it is simply, you need to know your audience. And it’s so important to really put yourself in the shoes of the people you’re preaching to. This comes through just living life with them, visiting them, but you’re going to preach to a group of church people differently than you would preach to a group of people who are unchurched.
Justin Trapp (05:07):
Yeah. Here’s a great example. And this is an extreme example,
Wade Bearden (05:10):
Justin Trapp (05:10):
…by the way, this is a funny story, but a sad story, to be honest with you, I was very frustrated. I grew up in a charismatic environment, growing up and I was very involved in our youth group. And we had an evangelist that was supposed to be coming to do this revival thing. It was like, “Hey, bring your friends. If you have lost friends, bring them to this event, we’re going to be doing basketball. We’re going to have free pizza. And then we’ll have…free pizza,
Justin Trapp (05:37):
… short message at the end.”
Wade Bearden (05:38):
Justin Trapp (05:39):
That’s how it was built.
Wade Bearden (05:39):
Justin Trapp (05:39):
So I thought, okay, this is a great, they’re telling me bring my friend. I worked on the kid down the street, Jared. I mean, we play basketball every day, every day, whether school or the summer, we played basketball every day for years. And I would always try to, be a great example, live my life unto Christ. And, and so he had great respect for me. And so I finally invited him to this event, because they said, “Hey, bring your lost friends.” That was the pitch.
Wade Bearden (06:07):
I’m really worried about where this is going. We talked about seven different types of stories and one of them was tragedy last week, and I’m a little [crosstalk 00:06:14] worried about this.
Justin Trapp (06:14):
This end in tragedy for sure. So, the evangelist comes in and he does a message on speaking in tongues.
Wade Bearden (06:23):
Justin Trapp (06:23):
Wade Bearden (06:24):
Justin Trapp (06:24):
And there was a lot of speaking in tongues from the platform in the audience, and my friend was so freaked out.
Wade Bearden (06:31):
Justin Trapp (06:32):
That was a turning point in our relationship that night, I lost trust. It just totally freaked him out. Again, this was the service that they were saying, “Hey, bring your lost friends.” And I think what they failed to realize, my youth pastor and people advertising it, is that if you’re going to be doing a message on the filling of the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues, you don’t want a lot of lost unsaved people in the room. There’s just so much to unpack there. You can’t do it all at once. And so he actually never came back to church with me.
Wade Bearden (07:03):
Justin Trapp (07:03):
Wade Bearden (07:04):
That is an extreme example. But it is very real, because I’ve brought friends and family members to churches and there’s this scary moment. Have you ever had this happen, where you bring somebody to your church, you’re telling them about it, you’re like man, “This is just a great place. We love this.” And then they’re like, “Hey, the pastor’s not here today, we have a guest speaker.” And you’re like, “Oh no.”
Justin Trapp (07:26):
Wade Bearden (07:26):
Oh, like, “Who is this?” And when it’s someone good, you’re like, “Okay, we dodged a bullet here.” But it just goes to show you that different types of audiences require different things, and different churches have different perspectives on that. Some churches say, “Hey, on Sunday morning we’re going to appeal a little bit more or we’re going to explain a little bit more, because we know more unchurched people are there. On Sunday night we’ll probably get into a little more depth, or we’ll talk about this spiritual gifts.” But yeah, you got to know your audience.
Justin Trapp (07:56):
We’ve also all had that moment where Brother Leroy gets up and…
Wade Bearden (08:01):
Justin Trapp (08:02):
…The blood, oh, the blood of Jesus.
Wade Bearden (08:05):
Justin Trapp (08:06):
I mean that may be normal to you and I, especially if you grew up in church, you’re familiar with the reference of the blood of Jesus, right? It’s scriptural. But to someone who is unchurched who doesn’t really, maybe they’ve been to church several times, but they don’t have a longevity in their relationship with God. Or they don’t have a deep knowledge of the scriptures. They hear that. And all of a sudden they’re like “Man, what did I get myself into?
Wade Bearden (08:32):
Justin Trapp (08:32):
Like, are they locking the doors, will I be able to get out after this?”
Wade Bearden (08:36):
And here’s my perspective on all of this. I don’t think you need to be, and some people might say, “Well, do you never talk about the blood?” And I would say, no, I think what you have to do is you have to make sure you’re explaining things correct.
Justin Trapp (08:48):
Wade Bearden (08:49):
So if you come across a passage where it talks about the blood of Jesus, you’re talking about that, you could say, “Hey, I know this sounds a little funny.
Justin Trapp (08:56):
Wade Bearden (08:56):
And I know blood makes us squeamish, but blood is actually beautiful.” You could go into the scientific definition or work of blood in the Bible. Blood gives us life.
Justin Trapp (09:10):
Wade Bearden (09:11):
If you think about blood and you study blood, it’s amazing what blood does. And you could say, “Think about that metaphor, think about what blood is to us. And that’s what Christ says.” There’s a way to do that.
Justin Trapp (09:24):
It washes white as snow.
Wade Bearden (09:25):
Wade Bearden (09:26):
There’s a way to do that where it’s, “Hey, let’s explain this.” And it’s always going to be weird. Christianity is always going to rub people the wrong way, or some things might take you time to get used to, but there’s a good way to do it. And I think a wrong way.
Justin Trapp (09:40):
Well, I mean, it goes back to, I’ve often felt just the burden of preaching. And I worked for a pastor and he said, “Man, you stress out way too much about preaching.” And I was like, “What do you mean?” First of all, A, I’m not a gifted communicator.I probably said, “oh” 30 times this episode. So you all know that. If you’re listening to this, you’ve tolerated me and listened to Wade. Right? But he would say, “You just stress out way too much.” And in my mind, I’m going, listen, I’ve got to go and communicate a message in 30 minutes. And I’ve got to connect and speak something that resonates with the old couple that are in their seventies, that have grandkids. They’re retired. They’ve been in church all their life. And then the single mom who just started coming to church six months ago, recently got baptized. And I’ve got to communicate to everybody in between that spectrum.
Wade Bearden (10:35):
Justin Trapp (10:35):
That’s a really challenging thing to do. I don’t think pastors, you give yourself enough credit. And it’s okay to feel stressed when it comes to preaching that burden, that responsibility, right. To know the audience and to go, “You know what?” Our audience is made up of primarily people in this age demographic, 70% or at this age or older, they’ve been coming to church, but there’s this, this percentage of our church that they just started coming. They’re newer to the community. They, they may not even professed Jesus as their savior yet. And I’ve got to communicate the gospel in a way that edifies both groups and everyone, everyone. And so that’s why it’s important for you to, A, know your audience, but also when you’re crafting a sermon, when you’re working through that, to be able to hit each audience, maybe talk to each audience. And like you’re saying, sometimes you got to slow down and explain a few things, and that’s totally okay because you can reference it to, in one part of your congregation gets it, but then you explain it. And the other part goes, “Ah, makes sense.”
Wade Bearden (11:41):
Yeah. Here are two things, a couple things that I do whenever I’m trying to really just help reach the entire audience. One of the first things that I do, is I try to address everybody there at some point. So a lot of times this happens in my application. So I’m speaking about a text. It can be easy to just apply that to young families. It can be easy to apply that people who are new to the workforce, but do we also apply to people who are retired, people who are grandparents? Do we ever stop in our message and say, “Hey, to the teenagers…”
Justin Trapp (12:20):
To the single person…
Wade Bearden (12:21):
Yeah. To the single person, to the teenager and just say, “Hey, you’re a teenager, and I know that thinking through this in school can be tough.” Speaking to those people, it can just be important it can be powerful. The other thing that I try to do is, don’t take for granted people’s knowledge of the Bible. And this is a pet peeve of mine whenever someone’s preaching, and they’re in, I Corinthians, we’ll just use that as an example. And they’re like” Hey, remember Cain and Able, and then, Hey, it’s just like Nebuchadnezzar.” And they’re just jumping around, and if you don’t know those stories, if you know those stories, you’re like “Oh, I get it.” But if you don’t, you’re just like, “Who’s Nebuchadnezzar ? I might have heard of him in like a history class once. Who, like I’ve heard of Cain and Able but what is, what is all?”
Wade Bearden (13:12):
So don’t take peoples’ knowledge for granted. Even people who have been in church for a long time, just assume that there are people in your audience who have never come across this passage or a story that you’re referencing. And so you need to help them situate that within the context of the Bible, and even in the context of history. If you’re going from the New Testament all the way back to the Old, you’ve got to help people to get that, and understand that.
Justin Trapp (13:38):
I would say too, that let’s not forget that people in your church have probably read through Ephesians, but they don’t understand a lot of what’s happening. The church of Ephesus, the historical context, who wrote it, what are the primary objectives of the writer to the church of Ephesus? So again, I love the point that you made. And here’s another thing, Wade, that we were talking through in our meeting for this. Sometimes let’s say you’re a pastor and you had a rehabilitation effort, and you came in and you’ve been cast to lead the church into a new season. And you’re saying, “Hey, listen, not, the people here are amazing. They’re old and there’s not a single person here that hadn’t grown up in church, but our church, we want to reach new people. We want to be a church that reaches the unchurched in our community. How, how do we, how do we get there?”
Justin Trapp (14:34):
And I’ll never forget, when I was a photographer, many, many moons ago, I had a nice, I thought it was a nice portfolio. So I hired a photographer who had been doing photography for 25 years. And I said, “Hey, what do I need to learn? What do I need to know?” And I went in there, and I was asking him questions on how can I improve my photos? And he said, “Look, your photos are fine. Like, I see no problem with your photos.” He said, “Your biggest opportunity for growth is on your website. On your portfolio, you have wedding portraits, bridal portraits. Really cool shots at weddings. They’re, they’re nice. Have nothing bad to say about them. And then you have your sports photography over here where you shoot these MMA and UFC fighters.” He said, “You’ve got to decide what you want to do.” Because it’s really hard, right? That’s that’s like a wide gap, brides and fighters.
Wade Bearden (15:25):
You come to the website and you’re like, “Wait, what event are we hiring for this?”
Justin Trapp (15:31):
Yeah. And then he said something that I’ll never forget. He said, “What do you really want to shoot? Like, like you have…” And I had everything in between. I had family portraits, and kids portraits, and personal work and a picture of a horse on a ranch, all that.
Wade Bearden (15:44):
Justin Trapp (15:45):
Yeah. It’s like every, every photographer’s portfolio, the first two years. Right. It’s like, “Hey, this brick is so cool.” And so he said, “What do you want to shoot?” And I said, “I’d like to shoot commercial sports photography.” And he said, “Okay, then take everything else off your website.” And he said, “Project what you want to attract.” Project what you want to attract.
Justin Trapp (16:06):
I think as pastors and as communicators, I think it’s okay to project what you want to attract. It’s okay for you to speak to the unchurched person in the room, even if you know that there are no unchurched people in the room, because it gives the rest of your congregation permission. It sends up a little flag like, “Hey, it’s okay. This is a great place for you to bring your neighbor that you’ve been working on.” Like I was Jared for years and years, and sharing Christ with him personally, it wasn’t like I just invited him, like that was my way of evangelizing. I shared Christ with him pretty often. We had great conversations. So talk to the unchurched person in the room, or another type of person that you want to attract. And it creates an environment where people know like, “Hey, if I bring an unchurched person to our service, there’s not going to be any surprises, and if they are, they’re going to be well articulated or explained.”
Wade Bearden (17:06):
Yeah. I mean, if you want, if you have a young church, you want older people, you need to talk about retirement or being a grandparent.
Justin Trapp (17:14):
Wade Bearden (17:14):
If you want younger people talk about young families. If you want teenagers talk about what it’s like to go to school. And I like what you said too. I’ve been a part of churches, I think we’ve all been a part of churches, where somebody will talk about like an agnostic or atheist and they’ll say, “Oh man, you’d have to be absolutely nuts. Those Baptists. Yeah. To believe this.” And if I have a friend who’s in that space or teetering there, do I want to now bring them to a church where the pastor’s going to be like, “You are stupid, you’re an idiot.” Or do I want to bring them to a church where a pastor says, “Hey, you might be an atheist. You might be agnostic. I want to share with you why I believe Christianity is truthful.” And to add those nuggets throughout that, to help, not the entire message, but, but do that throughout the message. And I think when you do that, you build that relational trust, and then people are going to want to bring their friends and not be scared to do so.
Justin Trapp (18:08):
Yeah. So again, knowing your audience is really an important piece to preaching, because again, you can learn from me, right? Don’t go in and try to be a charismatic evangelist in a funeral. I wasn’t completely tone deaf guys, but it was a sermon that I felt, fell completely flat. And I looked back on it going, “You know what? None of these people know me.” There was no room for any of my extra colorful stories. And they weren’t stories that were insensitive or anything like that. It was just, it was not needed, because it was not the right audience for those stories. And so of an important part of growing as a communicator, is knowing who is in the audience and knowing when to share what type of content, when to educate the audience, and then acknowledging the different types of people, the different demographics, the different people groups in your audience. I think that’s an important part to preaching.
Wade Bearden (19:02):
Yeah. And then project what you want to attract was a good point. Next episode, we are going to be talking about the conclusion of your message. You might be thinking to yourself, “We haven’t talked about the introduction.” Yeah, because you want to figure out where you’re going before you start the journey. So when you talk about the conclusion of the message, I hope you’ve enjoyed this season. It’s been a lot of fun to record. We got a lot left to say too.
Justin Trapp (19:24):
If there’s an episode that we think you should listen to, it should probably be the next episode. Right?
Wade Bearden (19:29):
Justin Trapp (19:30):
I know so many pastors, myself included, always start strong and would be closing for 20 minutes.
Wade Bearden (19:36):
Justin Trapp (19:36):
You know what I’m saying?
Wade Bearden (19:37):
Oh yeah. Yeah. You got to land how to, or you got to figure out how to land the plane. So make sure you do that. Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, on YouTube. Comment with questions that you have. Maybe you have found a tip for understanding your audience, or maybe you have a funny story about how you didn’t understand your audience. Maybe you told some children that Santa, man you know what I mean? You know what I mean?
Justin Trapp (20:01):
Wade Bearden (20:02):
Wink, wink. So make sure that you do that, and we’ll see you next time on Hello Church.