Yesterday I wrote about thinking through how your listeners will hear what you say so you can pre-empt misunderstandings. Dave commented and asked what to do with a new/unknown group of listeners? Great question. I don’t have the answer, but I do have some thoughts. Please comment to add yours.
1. An unknown congregation is not unknown to God. So pray. Pray for them. Pray for the preaching. Pray that God will help you to find the information that will help you! This is no substitute for the three ideas that follow, but it is foundationally important.
2. An unknown congregation can become known by enquiry. That is, you might be able to ask and learn about a church ahead of time. Ask the person who invited you to speak. Call and speak to someone in leadership and express that you simply want to get a pulse in order to communicate more effectively. Look at their website (don’t judge a church by its website, even though others will). When you arrive, talk to the person who gets you wired up with the mic, and the person who meets you at the door, and the person sitting next to you, etc. Ask questions and you will get to know a church more.
3. An unknown congregation can become more known by observation. It is amazing what you can deduce by observing during the twenty or thirty minutes before a meeting, as well as during the first part of the service. Good observation skills make the world of difference.
4. An unknown congregation have some things in common with known congregations. The first two may be neither possible nor fruitful, but this one is. I think preachers need to be good students of human nature. Bryan Chappell writes about the Fallen Condition Focus in his book on preaching. His point is that when you see the influence of the Fall in a narrative, then the contemporary listener will find that narrative relevant, no matter how obscure it might be. The same applies here. People tend to fall into similar patterns of error, of misunderstanding the gospel, of church behaviour, of needing encouragement, of hunger, yet inadequacy, stressed, uncertain, etc.
I’d love to hear more on this. How do you, when you are preaching to an unfamiliar group, overcome the unfamiliarity?