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As pastors, on any normal Sunday we are focused on the people right in front of us as we preach our morning message. There is a hope to connect with our audience as we speak and attempt to communicate the message we believe God has given to us.

Coupled with this awareness of our audience are the various styles of communication that pastors employ from the pulpit. There are those who speak with a more intellectual style, a comedic style, or a more gritty, street-level style. The first group leans toward a very controlled message, and the second and third tend toward a more impromptu style, going with whatever hits them in the moment. Many styles can be effective depending upon the situation and audience.

Then there are the conversations we have in public that can be overheard. Suddenly there is a much broader audience than we first believed. It can easily be missed that there is more than one audience we are speaking to most of the time. In the pulpit preaching, in a local café counseling, or just standing on the street talking, consider and remember these four different audiences:

1. The First-Level Audience

The first-level audience is the one you think of when you are preparing for the pulpit each Sunday. It is those people you think of when you are considering stories or illustrations that will help drive home the point. This audience is also the person you are focused on while you are sitting at that sidewalk café counseling. There is eye contact; there is relationship.

2. The Second-Level Audience

The second-level audience are those who are indirectly listening in to your conversation; it is the unintended audience that happens to be sitting close enough to us to hear the conversation, but we are not thinking of them while we are speaking. Perhaps you are speaking of private matters, but you may say something that offends an indirect listener (an off-color joke or a mock of some group). This is the danger of an unintended audience.

3. The Third-Level Audience

The third-level audience is the unintended audience that is impacted indirectly by our words. We did not directly say anything to them, but they heard the message recording later, or the person we spoke with passed the message on to them. Think about the wife who has received your counseling who then went home and made application of it on her husband in a way that you never intended. You made a statement that was intended for a specific situation, but a listener more broadly applied it than you would have imagined.

4. The Fourth-Level Audience

This final audience is one that in the past we would not have needed to consider as much as we do now, and this final level of audience is far more volatile and conditioned to resent the Christian message. Consider the statements made by the CEO of the Chick Fil-A corporation about family values. When asked a question, he answered thinking of the immediate audience—the reporter and the Baptist magazine in which the article was going to appear. He was speaking to what he perceived to be a safe audience. But in a two-week period, that safe conversation turned into a national conversation, and his words were being twisted and distorted. This last audience is looking for us to make a mistake with our words to use them against us.

Certainly we have an obligation to the truth and in speaking the truth. But Paul made it clear that we were not supposed to simply speak truth.

Ephesians 4:15 “…but speaking the truth in love…”

Speak the truth in love, he said, or perhaps more literally, “…truthing one another…” In our current culture of opposition, this resistance to the Christian message has a tremendous impact on our church communities. The younger generation has been heavily indoctrinated into the social standards of our day: same-sex marriage, environmental issues, and so on. Some subjects have become such hot buttons that it is becoming less and less possible to speak on some subjects without offending someone. Speaking the truth in love becomes more and more critical, as well as more and more difficult.

Dealing With the Four Audiences

Here are some quick suggestions on what you can do to deal with your four audiences.

•       Realize and remain aware that any time you are speaking, there is always more than one audience.
•       Encourage your congregation to pray for you on this matter.
•       Give careful consideration of your choice of words, not at some paranoid level, but with cautious consideration. Be smart; think your words through.
•       Some pastors have begun using a team. The team works on the messages with the pastor ahead of the presentation. This enables pastors to have more than one heart and mind considering their words and the implication of those words.
•       Recognize that even if the audience is not in the immediate vicinity, there will be an impact from your words somewhere else.
•       If you are the “gritty, shoot from the hip” type, recognize you are placing yourself at risk every time you speak. Taking the time to at least acknowledge the danger and think through your words ahead of time will help reduce the possible damage.

Knowing there is more than one audience should not cause us to become so cautious that we end up not saying anything. Like the apostle Paul, we must seek to make known the gospel with boldness and not fear.

Eph 6:18-20 “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, 19 and {pray} on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in {proclaiming} it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”

We are called to speak the truth. Speak the truth then, but be smart about what words come out of your mouth.

Mark Gomez is married to his wife Jonnie and they have had four children. Ordained in 1983 and currently pastoring Calvary Chapel Wasatch Front in northern Utah, he has traveled nationally in the U.S. and into Mexico speaking to youth and their parents on subjects such as Internet Safety, Personal Purity, and Setting & Pursuing Goals in Their Lives. Mark has a passion for the Church’s future in the world and a longing to see the Church live out it’s call from Christ to reach the world.

Talk about it...

Mahndisa Rigmaiden

commented on Oct 2, 2012

This is true but seems appropriate for giving speeches in secular environments. Ultimately I thought that the Holy Spirit is supposed to lead us on an intuitive level. Yes preparation is important but if the Spirit leads, sometimes what you prepared goes out the window and you speak on something that is pressed upon your spirit to preach. The audience analysis makes a lot of sense but generally a level four audience member would not likely be at church unless they were a rebellious teenager whose parents forced them to go. Most level four adults would not be in church listening to a sermon at all; another reason why this information is appropriate for preachers stepping outside of the church.

Brad Bess

commented on Oct 2, 2012

I agree that we must speak the truth in love, however there are times when the Gospel offends. We must stand up and confront social issues that are directly against God's word. Jesus said himself that He didn't bring peace but a sword, Matthew 10:34 and Paul said that we stink to unbelievers because of the message of Christ we carry, 2 Corinthians 2:15-16. You have some interesting thoughts about 4 audiences, but lets be careful that we don't conform to the world and worry about being politcally correct all the time. When we do this we remove the power from the Gospel of Jesus which is to save, set free and restore. God bless.

Joel Rutherford

commented on Oct 2, 2012

Your Comments

Mark Drinnenberg

commented on Oct 2, 2012

Categorizing audiences in this way is helpful in the sense that we don't stand and deliver naively if we recognize the types of listeners sitting before us. As pastors responsible to God for how we handle His word, we always want to be careful about how we proclaim truth. But the nature of proclaiming God's truth to sinful people necessitates that, no matter how careful we are, we will have times where we offend. If we have spoken the truth carefully and in love, that is fine. If what we say makes it to audience #4 with the result that we encounter a lot of difficulty or ridicule, that is fine, too, if we have been faithful to God's word and have delivered it in love. Regarding speaking to secular audiences, there is a video on youtube of Timothy Keller speaking about his book "The Meaning of Marriage" for the Authors@Google series at Google's New York office. I think it's a masterful example of taking the Christian worldview into the secular marketplace. He pulls no punches, but he remains thoroughly respectful. It lasts about an hour. If you want to check it out, do a google search for "timothy keller google meaning of marriage," to find the link.

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