In order to tailor our communication to a specific listener or audience, we will need to understand them better. This is called knowing your audience. The more you know about the people you communicate with, the better you will be able to relate to them. An obvious example would be that if you know Mildred's mother recently passed away, you wouldn't ask her what she got her mother for Mother's Day. Similarly, if you knew that Sally's aunt had badgered her for years about going to church, but that she was open to a discussion about God, you could share what you believe with Sally and be reasonably sure that she would listen unless you invited her to church on Sunday.

It would be helpful if everyone had a sign hanging around their neck that gave you a synopsis of their worldview, wouldn't it? How about introducing a new communication custom whereby each participant in a conversation announces their beliefs so that all parties involved understand them better before engaging in a discussion? The likelihood of these ideas being implemented anytime soon isn't high, so how can you get to know your audience better?

God gives us discernment, and effective communication skills can help bring people's views to light. Sometimes the person will come out and tell you what they think about a topic: "I'm Pro-Choice!" Sometimes you can discern what they think by their body language. If, after you begin sharing your faith, John suddenly takes an unusual interest in the floor, he is probably uncomfortable. If he changes the subject, suddenly develops an uncontrollable craving for borsht, or remembers that he has to pick up his grandmother from the airport in five minutes, you can be reasonably sure he isn't open right now. Knowing your audience requires active listening. Active listening allows us to hear what they say as well as discern by what they do not say. Active listening takes some practice to cultivate.

"But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will." 1 Corinthians 12:11

Knowing your audience is vital because it isn't just what we say but how we say it that can draw people closer or push them further away from the Lord. When we share our faith with others, the goal isn't to get them to church. The goal is to have them make a thoughtful decision to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. When we treat evangelism as a one-size-fits-all proposition, we not only limit our ability to reach an individual and bring him or her to a point of understanding, but we can actually push our listener further away from it.

Consider Fred. Fred is an atheist who has been badgered by relatives, tricked into going to church on the pretext of going out to breakfast, and had people knock on his door shouting "Sinner!" and "Repent now!" He thinks he is a good person because he is kind to others and respectful of their beliefs, but he doesn't feel that Christians are respectful of his.

"For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ." 1 Corinthians 12:12

Enter Jane. Jane is a new believer and on fire for the Lord. She takes evangelism seriously and can often be found telling strangers on the bus about what Jesus did for her. She begins all of her attempts at "conversion" with "Do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior?" If they answer no, she follows it up with, "Well, then you're going to hell!" As you can imagine, if Fred ever met Jane, it probably wouldn't be pretty!

Along comes Nelly. Nelly is a sweet patient lady who understands what it's like to wrestle with the decision to accept Christ. She knows that every encounter is a stepping stone leading the unsaved closer to that decision. She begins each evangelistic opportunity by getting to know this unique individual. She shows God's love in everything she does and everything she doesn't do. She is never pushy, but she never misses an opportunity to gently lead her willing student ever closer to Jesus by sharing what she knows and who she is. She sets the example and follows through, showing how much she cares for him. Eventually, perhaps a few years later, Fred is finally willing to discuss the possibility of learning more about the Bible. A few months later he agrees to go to church with her, just to see what Jesus is all about.