Everybody Knows This One!
If you want to engage secular people with your preaching, you’ve got to quit assuming your audience knows anything about the Bible.
~Deep and Wide, Andy Stanley
“Okay, everybody, let’s sing [insert song title]. Everybody knows this one!”
How many times have you heard that? I hear it quite a bit in my circles. There are songs that are popular and well-known. Songs that have been around for decades, if not longer. And the assumption is that everybody should know it. The reality, however, is that whenever we make that assumption, we are potentially leaving people out. Because they don’t know it.
Saying that “everybody knows” something is banking on a shared history that may not exist. Instead of being inclusive, what happens is that we are showing our exclusivity.
For example, Amazing Grace is a song that is known by most church people. It’s a very popular song that has been around for 250 years or so. I imagine you have to go back several decades to find a hymnal that doesn’t include it. It’s even relatively well-known to people who don’t really have a church background. But that doesn’t mean everybody knows it. That doesn’t mean when you make the assumption that everyone does that someone won’t feel left out.
When it comes to preaching, many times pastors make an assumption that what they are talking about is something that is known to the people who have gathered in that location on that particular day. But that’s not always the case. Who knows, it’s possible that you have somebody in your church for the first time in their lives. Everything about the experience is brand new to them, and the last thing we want to do is make them feel left out because they aren’t familiar with our insider language, songs, and customs.
One practice that I have had for a long time is to include the words to the Lord’s Prayer in the bulletin. Since I’ve started using a screen on a more regular basis once again, I make sure the words are on the screen as well.
A few weeks ago, I had somebody tell me, “You don’t have to put that in there. Everybody already knows it.” And I responded by saying, “What if they don’t?”
Look, I’ve led worship enough that I have a pretty good handle on the Lord’s Prayer. I remember learning it when I was in elementary school. I have stood in front of a congregation and recited it weekly for nearly 14 years. And I still make sure I have a printed copy in my hand when I lead it. Sometimes, the mind just goes blank. And if I need it in front of me from time to time, I imagine someone who has never prayed it will definitely need it as well.
When I am preparing my sermons, I’m always conscious about what I’m assuming as I say things. There may be times when I give too much background or explain things that maybe don’t need to be explained. But I would rather do that than assume people know things that they don’t. It just seems a little more hospitable this way.
In one of my seminary classes, the professor said that, as pastors, we are weird. And, certainly, I’ve met a good number of pastors with their quirks, but that’s not what she meant. Pastors are weird because we spend significant portions of our time thinking about the church, thinking about the spiritual life, thinking about Scripture. Most people don’t do that. We can’t assume that people are thinking about the future of the church when they are focusing on their jobs during the week.
Remember, friends, whatever you spend the majority of your time thinking about and doing is not necessarily what others are thinking and doing as well. Never make an assumption that people know your train of thought, or that they have the same kind of detailed knowledge that you have.
Be patient. Be hospitable. Don’t take anything for granted.
I thought everybody knew that…