Preaching to Personas (why you can’t preach to everyone)

by | Church Communication, Leadership

Jesus, in His earthly ministry, couldn’t preach to everyone; so, He practiced preaching to personas. He knew His local audience! And then, what He said reached a greater audience. 

Can you preach to everyone? No. You need to know your local audience, get their attention, and then preach God’s Word. And thanks to digital tools, you’ll reach a greater audience as God’s Word has a way to exceed expectations!

What are Personas? A stereotypical description of a particular audience segment.

Note: Knowing your audience personas doesn’t mean watering down scripture or changing the Biblical message. Rather, it’s about creating content that’ll be heard. Preaching to personas is a scriptural principle and an effective way to impart Godly wisdom to a World who’s mostly stopped listening to the Church.

Trying to preach to everyone? Impossible. Instead, preach to most. Here are the 4 steps:

  1. Identify and fall in love with the majority. This can be difficult without research. With any audience, it’s tempting to speak from your heart and hope that it speaks to theirs. A better way? Consider a stereotypical description of the majority of your audience and concentrate on their needs, concerns, and goals. Most groups are more similar than dissimilar since “birds of a feather” do like to “flock together”. But God doesn’t call us to just know our audiences, He commands us to love them! Meaning, do whatever it takes to understand them: listening to them and researching them! Then love them by offering Biblical solutions to their pains and paths to help them achieve goals.
  2. Say their name. Want to get a group’s attention? Call them by a name that they’ll recognize. Repeat it regularly to bring them back when their minds drift. A name can be a persona description (e.g. husbands, wives, young married couples, etc.) or a name that describes pains (e.g. Are you lonely? Trying to get ahead?). Trying to talk to everyone will not get their attention (e.g. Beloved, Church, etc.). 
  3. Speak their pain. After hearing their name, an audience will look up. In that small engagement, you need to speak about their needs or concerns. Or a goal they’ve attempted to achieve but something’s standing in their way. The more you can associate as their pain expert, the more people will trust you. Tell stories of how you authentically connect with their pain to prolong their attention span. It’ll empathetically connect you to their hearts and minds. Preaching to personas lets them know you’ve done the research and you care about them. 
  4. Solutions from the Bible to proclaim. Finally, after saying their name and speaking about their pain, you can get them to lean in to your message if you continue with, “but God’s Word has been my guide to the solution. Want to hear it?” Make the Bible your guide and then become their Biblical guide to help them discover and practice solutions. Then post your sermon online with search keywords of your audience, pain, and solution; and a greater audience (similar to your persona) will discover it!

Mark MacDonald is communication pastor, speaker, consultant, bestselling author, church branding strategist for BeKnownforSomething.com and Executive Director of Center for Church Communication, empowering 10,000+ churches to become known for something relevant (a communication thread) throughout their ministries, websites, & social media. His book, Be Known for Something, is available at BeKnownBook.com. 

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