“Worship isn’t God’s show. God is the audience. God’s watching. The congregation, they are the actors in this drama. Worship is their show. And the minister is just reminding the people of their forgotten lines.” — Soren Kierkegaard
Who are we preaching to today? This is a critical question to be asked in a mid-COVID church culture where many of us are still having to navigate preaching virtually in some capacity. Perhaps the reality is that there is a “new” future for the church (local and global) which post-pandemic may be primarily virtual. How we connect with this future determines how we evangelize and connect with the world. How we connect with them now, determines how they connect with Jesus later.
I know, according to Kierkegaard, our “audience” is God, but for practical purposes, let’s explore the concept of audiences as those who are assigned to our voices to hear and respond to the Gospel. My aim in this article is not to approach the audience based solely on proximity but to approach it based on connectivity.
Let’s look at the WHO, WHAT, and WHERE of our “audience.”
In this contemporary, mid-COVID time, the critical question is “WHO” is our audience? This has drastically changed since COVID. Before, many preachers would assume that the “who” of the audience would be those who we could visibly see in front of us. These are the faces we would take to our desk in study. That would determine the cadence and crescendo of our messages. All that changed when a majority of us are now preaching to cameras with red lights and a collection of staff there to facilitate our taping sessions. In discerning the “who” of our audience, this has made it extremely difficult because the makeup of who now hears our voice is so diverse and anonymous. This “faceless” congregation becomes who you speak to every week now. Now we have to consider an audience that is not even in the same country. This “faceless” congregation is now becoming a melting pot of many nations in one online space.
The “what” of our audience is perhaps what is the most challenging in discerning our audience. With an in-person audience, the assumption is that those who made the decision to come listen to us, for the most part, share our theological perspective—with a few nuances. The reality of this new world of communication is that there are many different outlooks when it comes to people’s views on the Bible, culture, etc. They encounter us and bring those presumptions with them, and if they don’t agree, it’s easier to click off than walk out. Also, viewership has the ability to hop in and out and don’t necessarily get to contextualize the entire sermonic presentation. This is so difficult because we are truly preaching to an audience of souls, not bodies. An audience with a multicultural, multidisciplinary background forces you to study others not like you. It forces the preacher to consider how others view Christ.
The “where” of our audience presents another challenging perspective. The virtual sanctuary has now expanded the pool of those who connect with you. They not only have a diversity of thought but also a diversity of proximity. God has placed His church back in the homes and hearts of His people throughout the globe. It has been interesting that since we have been totally virtual, we have had people from all over the world tuning in. This brings in different cultures and customs, who are now exposed to the message. Even from a practical side, I have had to learn to mind my community’s colloquiums and narrowness in light of being a part of a global community.
Ultimately the job of the preacher has evolved, which has a direct correlation to a greater understanding of who we are communicating to. Our audience is faceless, diverse, and global. The preacher is now faced with discovering and considering the different perspectives and effective methodologies to accommodate this “audience.”
Charles E. Goodman is the Pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia.