We know it is important to preach to the people before us. This means being aware of the culture, but more than that, being aware of their culture. Within just a few miles of each other you can have four churches, all of the same size and same denomination, maybe even the same age mix, but still be very different churches.
One is in a town centre, where the rot has set in and life is tough. The people still living in the area are poor and perhaps feeling stuck. Social issues are at the forefront of peoples’ thoughts because they see it with their own eyes each day, or experience the needs themselves.
Another is in the suburbs of that same town. The area may be more affluent, although not every suburb is rich-ville. People live in one place and work in another. Their jobs are different, their experiences are different, their lives are different than the other church. Fast paced life under the veneer of relaxed comfort.
Just a couple of miles out of town is a country church. Perhaps the people are mostly agrarian. This could mean greater affluence, or it could mean the constant struggle to survive when dictates from on high (i.e. government) undermine all they do. Life is lived at a different pace. The suburbs and the town centre, just a few miles away, are a long way culturally.
Three churches, perhaps similar in numbers, beliefs and denominational labels. But very different people. As a preacher you want to know your people – farm illustrations don’t work so well for those that rush into town to work in the financial institutions.
But I said there are four churches. What is the fourth? Well, this is where it gets complicated for many of us. You can take any one of the three above and add a commuter dimension. What if you preach in the inner city, but your people travel in from the suburbs? What if it is a suburban church, but half your congregation commute from out of town? Commuter churches are a reality for many of us – a complicating reality that as preachers we have to think through carefully. I suppose it all comes down to knowing your church – not just knowing what it is, or even where it is, but specifically who it is that sits there when you preach.