In order to preach effectively, we must be at home in the world of the Bible, and in the world of our people. We need to know them. Jay Adams, in Preaching with Purpose, suggests three principal ways to analyze the congregation to whom we preach. Perhaps it’s worth evaluating our own ministry through these categories to see where we might be missing out on helpful understanding of our listeners?
1. Informal contact with people. More than just rubbing shoulders on a Sunday or in church activities (where people tend to act the way they feel they should), this means getting into the normal lives of the people in the church. Spending time with people at home, at work and at play is time well spent. Without probing or surveying, plenty of useful insight will emerge in this natural environment.
2. Counseling contact with people. Not surprisingly from Jay Adams, he sees the value of counseling people. Obviously confidentiality must be respected, but analysis of counseling notes will point to trends, concerns, areas of struggle. He points out that just as preachers are helped by counseling, so counselors are helped by preaching. If a counselor does not preach then they are in danger from not doing the deliberate and regular biblical exegesis they need to be biblically solid in their ministry.
3. Formal contact with people. Finally, Adams advocates for doing systematic, deliberate analysis of the congregation. When first arriving in a church it is important to analyze the congregation and review the diet they have received from the pulpit. Then regular surveys of key people, probing of elders, and so on, all helps to fill in the picture for the preacher.
Do we take “audience analysis” seriously? Is there one approach, of these three, that needs more deliberate effort on our part?