In seminary, I learned how to exegete a text in order to preach it. Unfortunately, that is only one side of the preaching process. The other side, if you want your preaching to be practical and relevant, is to exegete the audience. Here’s how:
1. Understand your culture. Culture refers to the lifestyle and mind-set of society. It has to do with what people are feeling, what interests them, what they value, what pains them, and what they fear. If you were sent to another country as a missionary, first you would seek to understand the culture of that country. In today’s secular environment, it is just as important for you to understand the culture from which your congregation gathers. Some of the ways to understand your culture is observe the world around you, talk to people from all walks of life, read the paper and news magazines. You don’t have to agree with the culture around you, but if you want your preaching to connect, you had better understand it.
2. Know your audience. In the business world, this principle is referred to as “knowing your customer.” This is a biblical principle. Each of the four gospels was written to a different audience. Jesus and Paul knew their audiences. You get to know your audience through surveys, studies, demographics, and psychographics tools. When your preaching is based on recent and accurate information about the hearers, then your message will hit home.
3. Profile your typical attendee. In other words, take the information you have gathered about the culture and the community and develop a profile of the typical attendee of your church. Paint a picture of them in your mind. Identify their age, education, likes and dislikes, recreational preferences, money issues, expectations, salary, and family status. In fact, try to know them better than they know themselves.
4. Ask the right question. Typically, preachers ask themselves prior to a sermon, “What will I talk about?” A better question to ask is, “To whom am I speaking?” This question does not sacrifice content and biblical truth; rather, it enables the sermon’s content to hit its mark.
5. Preach from the heart to the heart. The intent of your preaching is not to fill up an allotted time slot in the order of worship. You don’t mount the pulpit to hear yourself speak but rather to deliver a message from the heart of God to the heart of the hearers. It is a noble and frightening task.
When you see people before you who have hurts, problems, doubts, fears, and anxieties gnawing at their faith, when you see the knuckles of a clenched fist, a face fighting back tears, a heart that is suffering, and the spirit that has no joy because it has no hope, when you see these things and preach to them and for them, then your preaching will be relevant and practical.