Have you ever wondered what goes on in people’s minds while you deliver your message? What questions are they silently asking you while you preach?
People naturally ask a specific sequence of questions. If you know these questions, then you can communicate to them very effectively. Your message will penetrate their hearts, minds, imaginations, and wills. If you don’t respond to their silent questions, then they will ask this question – “When is this going to be over?”
You should welcome that people silently ask questions while you speak, because that means they are engaged. Even more, it means that they are thinking. (Thinking is simply a matter of asking yourself questions and looking for answers).
But how many questions people ask depends on you, because these are sequential questions they are asking. The answer to the first question naturally leads them to ask the second question, and the answer to the second question naturally leads them to ask the third question, and so on. But if you don’t answer that first question, they won’t ask the second question. They will be stuck looking for the answer to the first question during your entire message, or, more likely, they will just tune out. Ideally your listeners will ask 5 questions that you will answer.
Now I know what you are probably thinking at this point. You are silently asking me, “So, what are these 5 questions people are asking?” I’m glad you asked. Here are the 5 questions people are silently asking you:
1. When you begin to deliver your message, the1st Question they are asking you is: “What are you talking about?” In other words, “What’s the topic or subject?” (Test me on this. When you began to read this article, the first question you asked yourself was, “What is this article about?”)
When it comes to preaching a sermon, this seems to be a relatively easy question to answer, but you wouldn’t believe how many people leave after a message wondering what the heck the preacher was talking about.
One reason confusion happens at this point is because pastors will say that the sermon is about a section of scripture. For example they’ll say that the message is about Matthew 6:5-8. But every passage speaks about something or than itself. Don’t preach about a passage; preach from a passage. So a sermon from Matthew 6:5-8 isn’t about Matthew 6:5-8; it’s about having right motives when you pray. So be sure you clearly identify the topic of your sermon. Be like Adam – name that animal.
2. If you do not answer the first question, people won’t even think about the second question. But if people do know what your topic is, then they will naturally ask the2nd Question: “Why should I care about this topic?” Other ways this is asked is: “What’s the problem? How does this affect me? Is this relevant to my life?”
You may not like this question. You may think it’s self-centered. But it doesn’t matter what you think, they are going to ask it anyway. Maybe they shouldn’t need convincing, but they (and we) have a fallen nature, and sometimes we need convincing. So make sure you probe and personalize the problem. If you don’t show people why the topic or problem matters, they won’t care about your solutions – which leads us to the next question.
3. If you convince them why this subject matters to them, or why they should care, or why the problem is their problem, then they will silently ask you the 3rd Question: “What’s the solution?” Other ways they might ask it is, “What’s your point?” “What do I need to know?” “How do I solve this problem?”
People know what you’re talking about. They realize they care about the issue. Now they are looking for an answer – more specifically – God’s answer. They don’t just want facts. They want God’s perspective. They want a solution. They want understanding and clarity. They want a big, biblical idea. Give them one!
4. When people understand your point (God’s point), then they will ask themselves the 4th Question: What’s the consequence of believing your point? Or another way they may say it is “How will my life change if I believe what you are saying?”
People need to personalize the main point. They need to see what their future looks like if they obey or disobey. This is what Jesus did at the end of the Sermon on the Mount when he spoke of two builders. Also, many people will try to apply the message to someone else. “What about so and so.” Or, “I wish so and so were here to hear this message.” Make sure people personalize it to themselves.
5. When people personalize the message – when they have seen the consequence of obedience (or disobedience) and are ready to obey, they will ask the 5th (and final) Question: “What should I do now?” Or they may say it like this: “Now what?” “What’s the next step?” “How do I do it?”
Issue a challenge. Give them a plan of action. You may have to show them several different ways to obey. A baby step for new believers. Something more faith -stretching for mature believers. Whatever it is, make sure they leave knowing what to do and how to do it.
Ask yourself these five questions as your prepare your sermons. If you answer them, your messages will penetrate people’s hearts, minds, imaginations, and wills.