The City Problem
Last month emphasis was placed on the question of rural evangelism, which is continued in this issue. Now we turn to the problem of city evangelism. Be it remembered that, these discussions in The Forum section from month to month are not Association dictums, nor do they represent a consensus of opinion. They are the candid expression of the personal convictions of men, based on their mature and successful experience. In methods of labor, unity does not involve uniformity. While there are many good methods, there is not necessarily one best method. It is through such discussion that we are broadened and stimulated.
Let us catch the keynote and take as our guiding principle these citations from the " Testimonies," Volume IX, pages 109, 110, and 122. A careful study of the entire chapter (pages 109124) is vital.
Methods of Labor
"In connection with the proclamation of the message in large cities, there are many kinds of work to be done by laborers with varied gifts. Some are to labor in one way, some in another. The Lord desires that the cities shall be worked by the united efforts of laborers of different capabilities. . . .
"The Lord has given to some ministers the ability to gather and to hold large congregations. This calls for the exercise of tact and skill. In the cities of today, where there is so much to attract and please, the people can be interested by no ordinary efforts. Ministers of God's appointment will find it necessary to put forth extraordinary efforts in order to arrest the attention of the multitudes. And when they succeed in bringing together a large number of people, they must bear messages of a character so out of the usual order that the people will be aroused and warned. They must make use of every means that can possibly be devised for causing the truth to stand out clearly and distinctly. The testing message for this time is to be borne so plainly and decidedly as to startle the hearers, and lead them to desire to study the Scriptures.
"Those who do the work of the Lord in the cities must put forth calm, steady, devoted effort for the education of the people. While they are to labor earnestly to interest the hearers, and to hold this interest, yet at the same time they must carefully guard against anything that borders on sensationalism."— Pages 109, 110,
"In the world-renowned health resorts and centers of tourist traffic, crowded with many thousands of seekers after health and pleasure, there should be stationed ministers and canvassers capable of arresting the attention of the multitudes. Let these workers watch their chance for presenting the message for this time, and hold meetings as they have opportunity."—Page 122.
The Problem Stated
By Taylor G. Bunch
Under the stress and strain of modern city life, the problem of how to attract the attention of these teeming millions to the message of the hour, becomes a most difficult matter. The builder of the first city, Nimrod, the giant, was also the founder of the first great false system of religion that has counterfeited the gospel in all succeeding ages and is still known as spiritual Babylon. Apostasy began in a city, and in the modern cities of earth it will ripen and produce a bountiful harvest. The cities of Sodom, Gomorrah, Nineveh, Tyre, and Sidon are cited in the Scriptures as symbols of vileness and moral corruption. That Christ's message was chiefly a warning to the cities of Palestine, is evident from the pronouncement recorded in Matthew 11: 20-24.
In the days when cities were mere villages, compared with those of to-day, Thomas Jefferson designated them " the great sores of the Republic." If cities could rightly be called " sores " at that time, they may now be designated as cancers — great cesspools of iniquity. More than sixty per cent of the world's population reside in cities, and fully ninety per cent of crime is committed in the cities. Immorality, murder, suicide, robbery, divorce, and every form of present-day evil flourishes there. Naturally, the city does not furnish the most fruitful soil for the gospel seed.
The cities are also centers of the mad whirl of pleasure and frivolity. " Lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God " applies in a special sense to the city population. Theaters and dance halls in ever-increasing numbers, size, and splendor, are being built to accommodate the crowds who throng them day and night. The more serious and worth-while things are discarded for the superficial amusements, which thrill and please for the moment, but which do not build characters for eternity. To get the ears of these covetous, frivolous, pleasure-mad, amusement-loving, thrill-chasing millions, is indeed the most tremendous task of the gospel herald.
While it would be impossible in this small compass to discuss the various phases of city evangelism, I give briefly the conclusions reached after several years of observation and experience in city evangelistic work:
I. In a New Field.— In establishing our work in a city that is practically a new field, a tabernacle or theater campaign is doubtless the best method by which to reach the people. Personally, I am convinced that the day of successful summer tent meetings in our large cities is practically at an end. Tent meetings in cities no longer have the drawing power which accompanied them in the early days of the message; in fact, they are now classed by the public with the worst forms of religious fanaticism.
2. Where There Are Established Churches.— In cities where we already have one or more strong churches, the pastoral-evangelistic method is becoming most effective. The day of large and expensive evangelistic campaigns in cities where we have already secured a footing, is giving way to this personal pastoral evangelism, which builds upon a more solid and lasting foundation, with far less expense involved.
It is my conviction that more attention should be given to building or buying better church buildings, in more suitable locations, and then connect with these churches men who are capable of conducting Sunday night meetings for the public, continuing these meetings for nine or ten months of the year, combining them with his pastoral duties. The Sunday night series has many advantages over the five-night-a-week plan, but chiefly because the attendance is more regular and uniform, and more time is given to personal work. Those who attend these meetings become informed on all phases of the message.
The Sabbath service in the church should be conducted so as to attract visitors and win them to the acceptance of truth. These Sabbath services can be and should be made as important a factor in soul winning as the Sunday evening service. In some cases it may be advisable to use a hall or theater for the Sunday evening services, but they should serve as feeders to the Sabbath service in the church.
The pastor of a church, assisted by a Bible worker and the church members, can conduct a series of evangelistic meetings with little or no extra expense to the conference. Those who accept the message receive more personal attention, and are more thoroughly instructed, than is possible in a large public effort. Then, too, the new members enter at once into the activities of the various phases of our organized work which function normally during the series of meetings. The minister who proclaims the message from the pulpit, is responsible for the follow-up work, and is therefore careful to lay a solid foundation. Being responsible for the maintenance of the spiritual standards of the church, the financial obligations, and the success of its missionary programs, he has less concern for numbers and glowing reports, and becomes more interested in the quality than the quantity of the members added.
I believe that a test by two men of equal ability, covering a period of four or five years, would demonstrate that the pastor-evangelist produces greater and more lasting results for the cause of God, at far less expense, than the " hit-and-run " evangelist whose interest centers chiefly in the number of baptisms reported. The latter would doubtless have more baptisms, but the fruitage of the former would be of a higher quality and his work more lasting and fruitful in tithes, offerings, and Christian service. The success of an evangelist cannot be measured correctly by the immediate results of his labor, but rather by the per cent of the converts who remain true to the message after the lapse of time tests the genuineness of the work. The final test will be the number of souls who reach the kingdom. " Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is." 1 Cor. 3: 13.
A vital discussion of the entire city problem will occupy The Forum section for April, with contributions from strong, experienced men.
Rural Evangelism — Continued
Arkansas Finds a Close Balance between rural evangelism and public effort. President R. P. Montgomery says: " We baptize nearly as many people who accept the truth through reading our literature or are instructed in the truth by some of our isolated people, as we do in our public efforts. This shows the importance of stressing the colporteur work and encouraging our people in home missionary work. My idea of working a rural locality is to send a worker there with the intention of remaining in that community for a year, if necessary. If he is faithful in holding public meetings, visiting the people, holding Bible readings, and engaging in other lines of service as may be needed, the sure result will be the raising up of a church."
Cumberland Visualizes Increased Membership through rural evangelism, "for it is through this means," writes President R. I. Keate, " that we secure membership results with the least effort and expense. The best way to create interest is by the use of literature, followed by a series of meetings in schoolhouse or church building, which generally may be secured, through the influence of interested people, without any expense. Rural communities often have union church buildings, which are supposed to be open to all denominations, and it is not difficult to secure the use of such buildings for a series of meetings, especially if the worker has secured the good will of people in the community. Where such a building is not available, it is well to pitch a tent or erect a cheap tabernacle. In some places, meetings held in the homes of the people produce the best results. I know of one instance where the work began in a very small way, but the interest grew and developed in such a way that the people gave the money necessary to purchase material for a small tabernacle, and also did the necessary work in erecting it. This was a very simple building a roof, with tent walls for the sides, but it answered the purpose."
Tennessee River Emphasizes the Resident Plan.— President H. E. Lysinger writes: " In the country sections, a tent will draw large crowds, and it is usually the heads of families who are won to the truth through such effort. Our purpose is to keep the minister at work in one county seat, continually centralizing the interest in one unit, until he has developed a church organization of sufficient strength to stand alone. Such a plan keeps a minister at one place for a year, and sometimes two and three years. In the South it seems that churches cannot be built up in much less time, and not much is gained in these sparsely settled regions by bobbing about and trying to cover a large amount of territory, bringing into the truth one individual here, and two or three in another place, who, when left alone, without church privileges, often become discouraged and give up."
British Columbia Sounds the Keynote Deeolonize! — Elder H. L. Wood, president, writes: " My personal conviction is that we should emphasize to our people living in the cities the instruction given by the spirit of prophecy concerning locating in the country, instead of colonizing. Sister White has definitely set forth the need for our people to locate in places where the truth is not known, and by the daily life convince others of the truth, branching out by establishing home Sabbath schools, holding Bible readings, distributing literature, until the interest develops and crystallizes into an organized company of believers."
Authoritative Instruction.—"Brethren who wish to change their location, who have the glory of God in view, and feel that individual responsibility rests upon them to do others good, to benefit and save souls for whom Christ withheld not His precious life, should move into towns and villages where there is but little or no light, and where they can be of real service, and bless others with their labor and experience. Missionaries are wanted to go into towns and villages and raise the standard of truth, that God may have His witnesses scattered all over the land, that the light of truth may penetrate where it has not yet reached, and the standard of truth be raised where it is not yet known."—" Testimonies," Vol. II, p. 115.
Maritime Combines Rural and City Evangelism.—Elder F. W. Stray, president of the Maritime Conference, relates a recent experience in which a live rural interest developed in connection with a city effort twenty miles distant. He says:
" I conducted an effort last winter at St. Johns, New Brunswick, assisted by Elder Cooke, who continued the work after I was obliged to leave. In the spring it was discovered that, as a result of the meetings in the city during the winter, a live interest had developed in a community about twenty miles distant. This was brought about through the people in the city becoming interested and passing on information to their friends in the country. Arrangements were made to hold a series of meetings in the country schoolhouse, and a few weeks ago eight adults were baptized as the result of the meetings in that rural section, and others are deeply interested.
" I have observed that a live interest in the truth often becomes apparent in the most unexpected places, and investigation proves that it is the result of the circulation of literature, correspondence between friends, or where Seventh-day Adventist families move into rural localities and hold up the light of truth. I believe our plan should be to study the opening providences of God, and follow, no matter where they lead; rather than to conclude that we should work a certain territory simply because it appears to be a strategic point for the establishment of a church. It may be that that particular territory has not been prepared for an evangelistic effort, and that if we subject ourselves entirely to God's leading, we would be directed to an entirely different section of the field."
Brief Resume of Methods
1. Colporteur work, preferably resident colportage.
2. Home missionary department endeavor functioning 100 per cent.
3. Medical evangelistic tours.
4. Public efforts in tent, hall, or community church, combined with personal visitation.
5. Locate trained doctors and nurses in rural territory.
6. Migration of S.D.A.'s from church colonies.
7. Overflow interest from city effort.
Mrs. White Outlines Simple Methods
" In places where the truth is not known, brethren who are adapted to the work, might hire a hall, or some other suitable place to assemble, and gather together all who will come. Then let them instruct the people in the truth. They need not sermonize, but take the Bible, and let God speak directly out of His word. If there is only a small number present, they can read a Thus saith the Lord,' without a great parade or excitement; just read and explain the simple gospel truth, and sing and pray with them."— Extract from Article in Review and Herald, Sept. 29, 1891.