1. “Who am I speaking to?” [The Audience]
When preparing to speak, I always start with my audience. Who am I speaking to? The first question is not “What do I speak on?” It is “Who am I speaking to and what are their needs?” The goal of teaching is to move people from where they are to where they need to be. Where do we start? Where they are!
We should always begin with: the patient, not the medicine; the student, not the curriculum; the customer, not the product; and the audience, not the message. Preachers at times are the only group who don’t do this! Something can be good in and of itself, yet irrelevant if it doesn’t match the needs of those being spoken to. Jesus always started where people were, not with the next lesson in his Scripture reading. The majority of his teaching to the crowd began with their needs. This determined his preaching agenda (Luke 4:18-19). We should do the same. The aim is to find ‘common ground’ (1 Corinthians 9:22-23) so you can speak words that will be helpful and beneficial (Ephesians 4:29).
Who are you speaking to? Think of your listeners right from the beginning. If you don't meet a real need, then your message is a waste of time. A message that is specific is much more powerful than a general motivational message. For every sermon we preach, people are asking, “Am I interested in that subject or not?” If they aren't, it doesn't matter how effective our delivery is, they won’t be attentive nor will they benefit from the message, no matter how good we think it is.
Ask questions about things such as people’s needs, problems, stresses, challenges, hurts, and interest. Get appropriate and relevant information. Do all you can to know all you can about your audience. Take a survey of your congregation or of the needs in your community – “I wish someone would preach about …”
If we don’t do this step well, then we will be scratching where people aren’t itching!