Category Archives: Audience Analysis

88 Questions Because Delivery Makes a Difference – III

Questions2Let’s conclude the list of questions to ponder about effective delivery:

14. Are your word choices appropriate for subject and audience?  Is there an appropriate combination of dignity and authenticity?  Do you sound like an academic?  Do you sound like a stereotypical preacher (whichever stereotype comes to mind)?  Are your words understandable, condescending, flippant, crass, attention-seeking, natural, coherent?

15. Do you actually make sense when you speak?  Are your sentences fully there?  Do you rely too much on people to get what you mean, or can you consistently say what you mean?  Do you lose volume or change pace at the end of your sentences?  Do you garble words, or skip them entirely?  Do you rely on awkward filler terms like, well, you know, so, umm, like those?

16. Is what you wear appropriate for your listeners or distracting?  Do you fit with the culture of your church?  What message does your attire give off?  Are listeners thinking about your excessive formality, your unkempt appearance, your distracting clothing choices?

17. Do you have any idiosyncratic quirks that should be eliminated?  It could be in your voice, vocabulary, expression, gesture or movement, but if people have heard you a couple of times, could they name something distracting about your delivery?

18. Is the combination of everything we’ve seen already coming across as genuine?  Do listeners meet the same you when they talk to you afterwards?  Does your spouse or child recognize the person preaching in the pulpit?

19. How goes your prayer about delivery?  Do you pray out of love for self and your reputation?  Do you pray with a heartfelt concern for your listeners?  Do you pray for your fame, or God’s?  Do you pray about delivery at all?

20. What is your strategy for developing as a public speaker?  Do you seek feedback from helpful people?  Do you give them permission to be honest about delivery issues with you?  How often do you listen to yourself preach?  When do you plan to get videotaped and see yourself?  Do you have one or two things that you are consciously working on and praying about at the moment?

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88 Questions Because Delivery Makes a Difference – II

Questions2Continuing our list of 88 questions, grouped into 20 . . . all to nudge us to evaluate our delivery as we preach:

6. What do your feet do while you preach?  Do you pace?  Do you rock forward and back?  Is your natural stance, well, natural?

7. And what about your hands, do they fit with your communication?  Do gestures fit naturally or look forced?  Does time go from left to right or right to left?  Which way do you point when you talk about creation, or Christ’s return?  Do your hands do anything weird, repeatedly?

8. Does your facial expression reflect your heart? (And does your heart reflect Christ’s?)  Do you look angry most of the time?  Do you vary from whatever the default expression is?

9. Do you pause at appropriate moments for sufficient length?  Are your pauses ruined by verbal filler?  Do your pauses give people space to breathe, or do you generate nervousness by your apparent anxiety?

10. Is your pace appropriately varied and is the average about right?  Do you go so fast that people can’t keep up, get breathless, or switch off?  Do you slow down through transitions so that listeners can tell the message has shifted into a new phase?  Do you generally go so slow people get frustrated listening and waiting for you to say something?

11. Does your volume make listening easy?  Can your listeners hear you without effort on their part?  Are you too quiet so that people get tired concentrating?  Are you too loud so listeners feel defensive or annoyed by the power of your presentation?

12. Is the pitch of your voice easy to listen to, and do you vary it?  Would anyone describe you as shrill?  Does your voice sound natural and genuine?  Do you sound robotically stuck, whatever the pitch?

13. Does your posture generate comfort, tension or nervousness?   Do you come across as nervous and twitchy so that listeners feel the same?  Is your posture stiff and awkward so they aren’t sure how to take what you say?  Is your posture aggressive or over-confident so that they feel intimidated in some form?  Would you be ok with a picture of your standard posture being shown around?

And tomorrow we will finish the list!

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88 Questions Because Delivery Makes a Difference

Questions2How many good messages have been wasted by poor delivery?  You’ve probably heard the old statistical misquote that content equates to only 7% of communication.  There are so many flaws in applying that study to preaching, but don’t make the big mistake of thinking that content is somehow only 7% of the equation.  Yes, body language and tone will overwhelm and negate content, but the visual and vocal will never fix or replace the verbal.  Content matters massively.  While a lack of content can’t be fixed by delivery, good content can be lost in delivery.

Here is a quick checklist for self-evaluation.  There are 88 questions grouped into just 20.  Remember, your self-evaluation is probably unrealistic.  You probably think you are doing better than you are.  You think pauses are longer than they feel, tone is more varied than it sounds, smiles are more noticeable than they are.  Nonetheless, evaluation is worth it.  Evaluate your own delivery and look for an area or two to prayerfully focus on and improve.  Also ask a listener or two to look at this list for you – they may be polite, but any hint they give is worth following up on!

1. What does your tone and manner do for the listeners?  Do they feel secure, loved, protected, safe?  Do they get nervous, agitated, upset, or got at?  Your tone and your manner make a big difference to the listeners, so do you think about these elements of your preaching?

2. Does your delivery flow, or does it feel like you get stuck?  Why?  Can you maintain momentum through the whole message in a natural way?  If you get stuck, can you handle that without generating nerves in others?  Do you know when you typically get stuck?  Does explaining the text trip you up more, or is it thinking applicationally?

3. How is your eye contact?  Are you looking at notes, over peoples’ heads, at one section of the room only?  Is it fleeting, forced, intense?  Can you look at people without closing your eyes or other awkward habits?  Do you over-stare and create awkward intimacy for some or a sense of aggression to others?  Which part of the room feel ignored as you preach?

4. Speaking of notes, do they really work for you?  Do you know how much you look at them?  When you look at them, do you lose momentum?  Do they enable you to preach unnecessarily complex messages?  Does your preaching feel canned rather than authentic?

5. Does your preaching furniture create unnecessary distance and function as a barrier between you and your listeners?  Could you come out from behind that thing?  Could you communicate better by being on the same level as the listeners?

We will continue the list tomorrow . . .

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Sunday Feedback – III

Feedback2Here is the end of the list of ten reasons not to get too excited about the feedback you receive right after preaching.  Remember what we saw in part 1.  The most valuable affirmation will combine elements of time, thoughtfulness and transformation.  When you get those, treasure them.  Make a note.  Keep a file.

When you get Sunday affirmation, be thankful, but don’t get carried away.  One of these ten reasons could be the main reason for it:

8. The “trigger words” mechanism.  People like to hear what they value.  Let’s say you preach a very poor message – biblically weak, unclear in organisation, unengaging in presentation, irrelevant to those present – but you use an illustration that mentions someone’s pet issue, what will they say?  “Preacher, that was a poor sermon, but I loved that your illustration mentioned my pet issue?”  Typically not.  Once those lights flash in their evaluation grid, you have become a hero!  The feedback will be skewed.

9. The “Satanic test” reality.  You’ve probably heard the oft-quoted statement from Spurgeon (I think), who was affirmed very favourably after preaching and responded with, “Madam, the enemy has already told me that!”  Nice anecdote, but it could be true in our situation too.  The enemy is not a fan of being obvious because it doesn’t tend to work so well.  Better to build up a preacher so their focus shifts from dependence on Christ . . . so we need to beware on a spiritual level what post-sermon feedback does to our hearts.

10. The “exit gauntlet” logistics issue.  If you are at a church where the preacher stands at the back and shakes everyone’s hand, then you have a couple of issues to face, actually, three.  One, most people will feel obligated to mutter some pleasantry to get past you.  Two, some people who actually want to talk to you won’t be able to because others are lining up to leave.  Three, because people don’t want to hold you up, they may feel obligated to step out into a rainy car park and thus end the time of valuable fellowship in the church.  Standing at the door may not be the best idea!

And there are probably some more . . . what would you add?

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Sunday Feedback – II

Feedback2Continuing the list of ten reasons not to get too excited about the feedback you get right after preaching . . .

4. The “church culture” mechanism.  Different churches have different cultures.  Some will automatically affirm and honour the preacher in a laudatory manner.  Other churches will engage the preacher about life and family with barely a mention of the message.  Try to discern a local church pattern before getting excited or devastated by what you hear.

5. The “surrogate leader” reality.  Sometimes a person will gravitate toward a preacher because they yearn for the spiritual leadership and sensitivity they perceive in that preacher.  Perhaps their own husband is very weak, or perhaps their Dad is absent . . . it could be a middle-aged wife or a teenage boy, but sometimes the praise and feedback is more about what they don’t have in their life than about what you brought in your sermon.

6. The “single preacher” reality.  I’ve been married for fifteen years, so I feel out of touch on this one, but . . . if people respond to perceived spirituality when they know you are married, and if there is a lack of spiritual, godly, single men in the church (which there is), then I suspect preaching as a single man will get some feedback from the odd one or two that is more fishing than genuine feedback.  Just saying.

7. The “life appreciation” reality.  This is more likely in your own church than in one you visit.  It is where a church member really values who you are as a person – you love their family, show interest in their teenage son, buried their grandmother, or whatever.  They appreciate you.  Your preaching may be dire, but they want to love you and so affirm your sermon because that is easier than explaining what your presence and love means to them.

We’ll finish the list next time.

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Sunday Feedback

 

Feedback2Feedback is not created equal.  Wise preachers learn to tell the difference.  I suspect more than a few ministries are launched and sustained on the empty energy of post-sermon politeness.  On the other hand, genuine and helpful feedback can strengthen your ministry for years.

Typically my approach is to say thank you for any feedback, then prayerfully evaluate what I am supposed to make of it.  Usually I find that meaningful feedback and compliments will come with a combination of factors – (A) Time – a week or a year later usually means more than five minutes later, (B) Thought – when people are really thinking about what was said, it will typically show, (C) Transformation – the best encouragements are not mere words, but supported by reality.  If all three are missing, then we may be dealing with empty feedback that has the nourishment value of a boiled sweet.

Here are ten reasons why I think it wise not to get too excited by feedback right after you preach.

1. The “competition” reality.  Sometimes people will heap on the praise because they have no real point of comparison.  Don’t assume they are thinking about your favourite preachers when someone tells you that haven’t heard any better.  It may simply be the case that they have a very limited experience of other preachers (sadly true in some churches you might visit), or perhaps…

2. The “memory” reality.  Perhaps positive feedback is skewed by a very limited memory.  What they just heard is the only sermon in their short-term memory, and so it stands out.  Don’t test a “best I’ve heard in months” comment with a “can you tell me the main idea and take home gems from last week’s message?” Chances are, your message may be equally misty come next Sunday!

3. The “polite override” mechanism.  Some people in churches have a politeness override mechanism that makes them say things to be polite that they don’t really mean.  It happens at dinner tables when a dish has been obliterated, but to be polite, they will maintain it is “really good!”  Call it dishonest, or call it polite, but remember it may happen after you preach.

We’ll continue the list next time!

 

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Preaching and Patience

 

Patience2Life transformation is typically a gradual process.  We tend to focus on the sudden change stories, but even there, when we dig deeper, we tend to find a process that was ongoing for a while.  We can pray for and celebrate the big breakthrough moments, but let’s not forget that God is patiently building the church at all times.

Be patient with the church – By all means preach with expectancy and pray for monumental change, but remember that God has his plans and purposes at work constantly in all the lives that make up your church.  This Sunday’s message is part of that, but God isn’t building his lifetime transformation plan around one sermon.

Be patient with key people in the church – Everyone matters, but sometimes there is one person who dominates your thoughts and prayers for a season.  It could be a so-called “well-intentioned dragon” – a sometimes constructive critic whose stings have gotten your attention.  It could be a person of political influence with their complex motive-set.  It could be an energy-draining individual who needs us to give (and forgive) more than we feel able.  Pray for wisdom, strength, and patience.  God is at work, but rash moves tend to backfire.

Be patient with yourself – Sometimes it only takes one negative comment, or a feeling of failure, and suddenly the personal weakness list can seem overwhelming.  Before we know it, we have determined, in our self-god sovereignty, that this week is the deadline for definite transformation.  Slow down.  By all means do look to God and lean into the changes he wants to bring in your life.  But don’t determine that its now or never and then exasperate yourself with an ungodly panic.  He is at work and we need to be patient with ourselves as well as others.

I am not saying we should weaken our ministry with low expectations, excuse a lack of God-stirred effort as patience or settle for the sometimes easier option of not addressing a difficult situation.  I am simply remembering that God is able to walk at 3mph, yet while we fuss and moan about the lack of transformation, he takes us incredible distances.

 

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Everybody Hides

fortress2[Originally posted on Cor Deo] Psalm 46 is always a highly valued text in times of war.  Which is probably why, for a while now, we haven’t heard too much about it.  Maybe we should?

In the past the news of an impending threat would come in the form of a breathless messenger coming from the next town.  Today we live with constant video access to every corner of the planet.  The net effect of this constant stream of information tends to be that we carry on with our own lives while getting drawn into non-news and entertainment, but with true news having little effect on us.  But every now and then the news does get our attention.

If we are looking beyond what the mainstream media chooses to highlight, there are some very disturbing things going on.  And when the news is genuinely disturbing, perhaps it is time to break out Psalm 46 again.

Overview of the Psalm – The Psalm falls nicely into three stanzas, each marked with a contemplativeSelah to give us pause for thought.  The first stanza begins with a launching idea that is then picked up in a refrain finishing the second and third stanza.  As far as Psalms go, this one is clear and simple.

It begins with the big thought that God is our refuge and strength, an always accessible help in troubling times.  Consequently, we will not fear.  Then the writer lists a set of natural disasters that would rock anyone’s world – earthquake, mountains moving, raging seas, etc.  I don’t think he is pondering natural disasters, so much as describing a hypothetical upheaval of all that seems stable.  Even if the whole created order were to return to utter chaos, we will not fear.  This must mean that the nature and character of God is more trustworthy than even the solidity of the mountains and the boundaries of the seas.  Selah.

With the first three verses laying the foundational thought, the writer then becomes overt about the threat of war.  He describes the tranquility of the city of God where He is reigning and present.  And just as our hearts calm to ponder what it will be like to finally live with God, suddenly verse 6 stirs us with the news that all around the nations are going crazy like a raging sea and slipping mountains!  The hypothetical collapse of creation stability is the experienced reality when it comes to the geo-political changes in the world.  But, immediately our perspective is checked with the realization that one word from God and the whole planet could be melted.  Therefore, we do not fear.

The refrain is beautiful: The LORD of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.  The LORD is the God who makes promises and keeps them – He cares about continuing to care for us.  He is strong – He is the God of angel armies.  If you have ever watched a well-drilled group of soldiers march past, it is intimidating.  Even a relatively small number.  Now imagine an angel, the kind that could kill 185,000 human soldiers in one night.  Imagine two.  Ten.  One hundred.  Imagine a number so big you could not count it, and that is the army of heaven, and our God leads that army, and He is with us.  Therefore He is our fortress and we run to hide in Him.  Selah.

The final stanza offers an invitation to come and look at what God has done, and implicitly, to anticipate what He will do.  He ends wars that seem overwhelmingly threatening.  He topples powerful foes that seem to strong to resist.  And finally in verse 10, God instructs the raging armies and belligerent power-hungry rulers to stop!  Stand still.  Be quiet.  Hush.  And know that He is God.  He will be exalted by all.

The perspective shift is powerful.  The raging nations and growing armies and plotting terrorists and geo-political upheavals are all very small compared to the utterance of our God.  He is the God of angel armies and He is with us.  He is our fortress and we run to hide in Him.  Selah.

When the threat really rises, everybody hides.  The question is, where do we hide?

Hiding Option 1 – The only good option is to run into the most powerful player in current history.  If it is clear who will win in the end, why not join them?  We know the end of the story, but often it is hard to not fear when the circumstances feel so grave.  Often it is hard to not fear when God doesn’t seem to offer immediate deliverance to everyone who is suffering for being His.  What if I have to face more than discomfort for my faith?  What if my life is threatened, is He still a fortress?  Think back to three men in Iraq two and a half millennia ago.  Our God is able to deliver us, but even if he doesn’t in the moment of this particular trial, we won’t bow to your statue.  Were they foolhardy?  Or were they gripped with the greater reality that the all-powerful God of angel armies was with them, so that even in death, they had confidence that they would be with Him?

Hiding Option 2 – The most pervasive option around us today is often known as “hiding our heads in the sand.”  It is pretending there isn’t a threat.  I recently visited Auschwitz and was sickened to think that people could somehow be oblivious to the hideous evil of that place.  If only they had had social media and smartphones, then everyone would have known.  Actually, don’t people still hide from things today?  The media seem so committed to diverting attention – whether it be spinning a story, or shifting from genocide to Hollywood, the media are experts at making the potentially best informed of all time into a number and dumber generation.  But we can’t simply blame the media.  We can do it to ourselves.  We are more than capable of hiding from reality.

There may be other reactions, but these seem to be the big two.  As the news stirs fear within me, will I distract myself with little things and pretend all is well, or will I run into my fortress – the God of angel armies, the God who has chosen to be with me?

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Who is Listening? Part 4

Ear2We have thought about the complexity and diversity of our listeners when preaching.  There are too many of us that would preach the same no matter who was before us.  We need to take seriously the need for analysis and understanding of our audiences.  Who am I preaching to?  Who is listening?

We have thought about building up believers and reaching lost souls with the gospel.  We have thought about the impact of that ministry on the unseen forces of good and evil.  But there is one more listener:

5. God Himself.  Seems obvious, but how easily I can forget.  It is easy to preach as if God is a monadic and distant being, One whom I represent and fear in equal measure.  One who will evaluate my offering and find me wanting.  But what if we think about preaching from a trinitarian perspective?

The Father always delights to talk about the Son.  I get to join that familial delight as I preach of that same Son.  The Son always thrills to obey the Father’s will.  I get to participate in that trinitarian submission and obedience as I serve alongside Christ, my brother, sacrificing self in order to please the Father.  And there is the Spirit, the active communicator, but never the focus.  I get to do ministry that is not about my efforts, but instead is fully alive because the Spirit is at work in me.

And all along, God is listening.  He delights to hear of His Son.  He enjoys seeing me serve Him with the Son whom He loves.  God listens.  And God cares.

God cares about every other listener, more than I ever could.  He cares about me, more than I could ever deserve.  He cares about this unique moment of ministry.  I’ve been planning for a couple of weeks, but God knew about this moment and the work He would do from the beginning of time.

God wants us to target our messages at the people before us, but there is an unseen realm of listening ears.  Frightening foes, powerful spiritual servants, and the wonderful God who hears, who sees, who cares, and who changes lives . . . even with us doing the preaching!

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Who is Listening? Part 3

Ear2We understand the text in order to communicate it.  We understand the listener in order to target the message.  Simple.  Until we pause to ponder how complex a normal audience actually is.

We’ve thought about edifying saints and redeeming sinners, but are there other listeners?  What about taking two together:

3. Angels & 4. Demons.  Not so sure what to do about these two, but we can’t ignore them completely.  We know angels long to look into the wonder of the gospel, and we know from experience that the forces of evil hate the proclamation of God’s character and the good news of the gospel.

But what do we do about it?  I don’t suggest it is wise to target your preaching at either God’s ministering spirits sent to serve us who will inherit salvation.  Nor do I think it is smart to start identifying and targeting particular spirits of whatever in your church congregation.

Our ministry is profoundly spiritual, but we are not called to wage rhetorical war on the enemy of our souls.  We are called to proclaim the gospel so that those blinded by the god of this age might be saved, and so that the body of Christ be built up.

Perhaps where this spiritual awareness should stir us the most is in our prayer lives.  When we preach as if it is about information clearly communicated to neutral listeners, then we are being utterly naive.

We preach in the context of a spiritual battle over souls.  Apart from Christ we can do nothing.  We need to pray for the people listening, believers and not-yet-believers, and we need to pray for our preaching ministry to make an eternal mark.

There is another listener, of course . . . tomorrow.

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