The Most Under Recognized Ingredient in a Powerful Message

The GAP is what makes a sermon work. 

Have you ever picked up a book and had a tough time putting it down? Ever wonder what makes it a “page turner”? It’s the space between the problem and where the author is taking you. In fiction it’s the distance between what the hero wants and where he is now, in self help, it’s the distance between your problem and the solution the author is going to provide. 

Your audience has those same gaps—we all do. Those gaps drive our attention and energy. 

The GAP is what makes a sermon work. 

Do you know how to identify the GAP? (We almost got it wrong during our "I AM JONAH" teaching series)

In order to find the GAP we need to start at the source. Prior to writing a message we must define our core topic and text. What is it that we are going to be teaching about? It doesn’t matter whether you start with a topic your audience is wrestling with or if you start with the next text you planned on covering. Both questions have to be answered.  We’ll call these your Source Questions. 

S1 - What is the theme of your message? 
S2 - What is the text you’ll be teaching from? 

These must be defined before you start writing anything. 

Once you can clearly articulate the answers to S1 and S2 you can begin to unpack your audience. None of us speak in a vacuum. The audience is always considered as we begin to develop our message. So with that audience in mind we begin by studying our theme and source text with the intention of understanding what our audience should be doing. What does the text have to say about our theme? What should our audience, or any given audience be doing in response to reading this text? This research should provide enough context to the answer to the first Audience Question.

A1 - What should they be doing? 

As you review your text, what is it pointing to? Should your audience react differently to their circumstance? Should they be treating someone differently? Should they start doing something or stop doing something? What should they be doing after studying the text? 

Once we are able to answer that question (A1) we will  have successfully defined our end point. This is what we are shooting for. We’ve identified our destination. The second question takes us one step closer to defining our Gap. 

A2 - What are they doing? 

This question is incredibly difficult to answer for a number of reasons, the biggest being our limited data pool. Most of us would answer this based on the people we know, but in all honesty, we probably only know a handful of people well enough to be able to answer. If we’re not careful we base our answer to this question on the last person we talked to about the topic. If we had two conversations about divorce in the last month we might begin to believe that divorce is a huge issue in our audience (which may or may not be true). 

Click to zoom.

I’ll give you an example. We recently did a teaching series based on the book of Jonah, of which “Prayer” was a huge theme. We assumed that the majority of our audience didn’t believe that God heard their prayers. Boy were we wrong. Check out the answers to how often they feel God listens to their prayers vs their answer to whether or not they can be honest with him. (Download the full infographic at the end of this article) 

Understanding what the audience was doing took the message in a completely different direction. No longer were we trying to convince the audience that God listens to them, we were instead addressing an issue of trust and honesty. 

This then takes us to Audience Questions #3. 

A3 - What is the GAP?

What is it that keeps our audience from where they are now (what their doing) to where they need to be (what they should be doing)? Is it ignorance? Is there something they are not aware of? Is there something they don’t understand? Are there obstacles keeping them from taking their next step? Do they believe something to the contrary? What is it that’s holding them back? 

The answer to the question “What’s the GAP?” is precisely what needs to be addressed. 

Think of it like this. Imagine that I’m going to teach you how use an advanced sorting feature in Gmail. I might list out the things you’d need to know in order to successfully use this feature. For example, you’d need to know how to find Gmail.com (which assumes you know how to navigate to a website using a browser). Then you’d need to know how to log into Gmail (assuming you already have an account). Of course from there, you would have to be able to locate the settings, filters, etc. 

I think we can safely assume that if you can locate this website you can locate Gmail and that if you have a gmail address I don’t have to teach you to how to log in. All of my effort as a communicator this is spent on moving you from A2: Using Gmail to A1: Using advanced filtering features in Gmail to sort important emails from your boss! All of my effort should be spent there. 

This is the same with any sermon, or communication for that matter. Understand where you're going and where your audience is starting. Then spend all your effort on moving them through the GAP to your destination. 

Want some practice? Grab the plans from one of your upcoming messages and do the following exercise. 

S1 - What is the theme of your message? 
S2 - What is the text you’ll be teaching from? 

Once you’ve clearly articulated your answers to these questions (and make sure you write it down. If you can’t write it out in some sort of sentence you’re probably not clear enough on your answers), then move on to answer the the Audience questions. 

A1 - What should they be doing? 
A2 - What are they doing? 
A3 - What is the GAP?

Need some help getting started? I’ve put together some bonus material including a worksheet, some samples, and the full Pre Assessment info graphic.