Tailoring the message: how preachers adapt to different audiences

From Abilene, KS comes this intriguing look at how preachers of various denominations — including Catholic — sometimes adjust their sermons, depending on the congregation:

For churches with more than one Sunday worship service, the sermon doesn’t change much from one service to the next.

While the basic message stays the same, there are subtle changes in the sermon and its delivery to fit the different audiences that each service attracts, several local pastors said.

“The sermon is the same at each service, but it isn’t,” said the Rev. Clyde Kieschnick, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, who preaches three times on Sunday mornings.

“You have a different audience at 8:15 than you do at 9:30 or 11:15, and you develop a feel for the differences,” he said. “The message or the sermon is the same, but the delivery is different.”

At Zion’s 8:15 a.m. service, the audience is older, more traditional, conservative Lutherans, Kieschnick said, and he delivers the sermon from the pulpit.

At the 9:30 a.m. blended service and at the 11:15 a.m. praise service, Kieschnick said, “I’m all over the place, up and down the aisle. It’s more engaging, more intimate. I have a lot more freedom.”

The two later sermons have more illustrations and stories, he said.

“By the time I get to the third service, I’m much more confident, my delivery is much more confident,” Kieschnick said.

“I want everyone to take something away from Sunday morning and apply it to the coming week,” he said.

The Rev. Stan Allcorn, senior pastor at Pioneer Drive Baptist Church, said he adapts his sermon to the audience. When he came to Pioneer Drive Baptist 13 years ago, the church had three services, but recently switched to two main services.

At the early service, it was primarily senior adults, he said. So he would vary the illustrations a little such as saying grandchildren instead of children so the older listeners could relate better.

Monsignor Fred Nawarskas of Holy Family Catholic Church said the Saturday evening mass is generally a slightly older crowd than those who attend one of the three Sunday masses.

Nawarskas records his homily every Saturday and then listens and analyzes it to see how he can make it better Sunday. There might be a point that he tries to explain better or a portion where he is speaking too quickly and he makes adjustments for the Sunday masses.

At times, people give him feedback after mass, and he might make an adjustment for the next mass to make a point clearer, he said.

“I like to hear from them even if they disagree,” he said.

He gives the same homily at the 5:30 p.m. Saturday mass that he gives at 9 a.m., 10:30 and noon masses on Sunday.

Members of some families attend mass at different times, but they all hear the same homily so they can discuss it when they get together, he said.

Read it all.

Speaking for myself: if I’m preaching multiple times on a weekend, I rarely make any significant changes in a homily from one Mass to another.  I’m just not that creative or insightful.  I will periodically change a homily, if I have to preach at a children’s liturgy.  But that’s rare.   On the other hand, I know of one priest at my parish who doesn’t like to repeat himself.  If he has more than one Mass, he tries not to give the same homily twice.

Comments

  1. On my “preaching weekends”, like Dcn. Greg I give the same message in the same basic manner, except when I preach at 9:00. For the Spanish-language Mass, my homily has been translated by a reliable friend who helps me fit the basic message to that community…changing expressions, word emphasis, and idioms.

  2. As someone that alternates between the 9:30 and 11:00 AM masses, I’ve never noticed a difference in emphasis. But then again the priest varies. The only reason I vary between time slots depends upon how early I get up and how fast I can get myself ready. The only difference between the masses is that the 9:30 has the children’s choir and the 11 has the adult.

  3. I preach the same homily at least twice and often three and occasionally four times on a weekend. I preach from a text and do not adapt it for different assemblies at different Masses. On the other hand: my experience is that you never really know if your homily works well until you’ve actually preached it once. I almost always preach at the Saturday 5:00 and I regularly do some re-write of my homily on Saturday night in preparation for the morning. In preaching my homily once I often spot places where I’ve made a connection between X and Z in my own mind but that the connection (Y) is not obvious in the text – a link needs to be supplied. My re-write often consists of eliminating repetitive material and smoothing out what I found to be rough phrasing in the original text. On occasion, I’ll also do a little rephrasing of the text between Masses on Sunday morning. I think both the text and my delivery are usually best at the last Mass of the weekend!

  4. Fr. Austin, both my boss and my pastor say the same thing! They both typically preach at all masses, unless it is deacon preaching weekend.

    I usually go (and coordinate) the 4pm at my home parish on Saturday. I often speak to the pastor on Monday and ask how the homily ended up!

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