Speaking to People Who Aren’t There

One key step to great preaching is knowing your audience. I can’t tell you how many times my Bieber jokes have fallen flat or my application steps were off base, simply because I didn’t think through who my audience was. A few months ago, I filled in on a Sunday morning for our senior pastor. One of our morning services is predominently older church members. My Lord of the Rings illustration, predictably, bombed. Bad idea.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how to speak not just to my audience, but to the audience I want to have. In other words, speak to people who aren’t actually present in the room. I know, weird, right? But here is why, as a student pastor, I think this is extremely important.
I want to set an environment that is conducive to my students bringing friends. I want my students to leave thinking, “I need to get my lost friend here, because that message would have been perfect for him.” But if my students don’t think that my messages will apply to their friends who don’t know Jesus, then they won’t have much incentive to bring them. They’ll leave thinking, “My friend wouldn’t get this at all… it must not be for her.”
Here is the thing, often the environment will trump the message. I could speak every week about my students bringing other students, but if my students think their friend will be embarrassed by what I talk about then they aren’t going to bring them.  If they think that their friend won’t connect with the message, they won’t bring them. Or worse, they might never even think about bringing their friends simply because the environment doesn’t facilitate it. Think about taking a vegetarian on a date to Outback. Who would bring a vegetarian to Outback? Exactly, why? Because the those two things don’t fit together.
Listen, I’m not saying drop the Jesus message and talk about One Direction for 25 minutes. I am saying that we need to think through who could be in the room and make sure our messages connect with them. We need to make sure we clearly present the Gospel and not assume people know it. We need to address real problems that real students have.
So I have to preach to people that aren’t in the room yet. The last thing I want is for my students to leave thinking, “Boy, am I glad I didn’t bring my friend who needed to hear about Jesus today.” I want them to trust that when they take a risk to invite their friends, that I will do my very best to make sure I teach the Bible so that their friend can connect with it.
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