The Effectual Use of the Question Box
Some form of question box or query corner is employed by virtually every evangelist. Indeed, nearly every newspaper, and religious and secular journal employs some form of this plan, thus attesting its value in various fields. Briefly, it is an invaluable adjunct for sustaining public interest because of its direct, personal, and informal element. It is a convenient way of answering or anticipating inevitable objections. It constitutes a helpful plan of dealing with minor related things that could not claim a full hour. It also affords a convenient means of advertising future subjects by deferring major questions for a full evening's presentation. Appeals from less experienced men, and desire for an interchange of methods relating to the conduct of the question box even on the part of veterans, has led to the gleaning of the following suggestions.
L. E. F.
By Llewellyn A. Wilcox
I am an ardent believer in the question box plan, and believe we should recognize the psychological reasons for the success of the idea. People have ever been of a curious turn of mind, and never more so than in this present day of progress and enlightenment. Every up-to-date newspaper conducts its " Question and Answer " department as a matter of public service, and it is of some significance to note that the editor of The Pathfinder states that a very large proportion of the queries reaching that department deal with religious matters. This widespread desire to be informed is commendable; and while the popular pulpits of today, having very little spiritual light to impart, have popularized the question box idea, why should not the people of God, to whom has been committed the message of truth for this day and hour, make a wise use of this method for informing the public of the true teaching of God's word?
Fully convinced that the sons of light may sometimes wisely learn from the " children of this world," I incorporated the question box as a feature in a city effort which I held some time ago. Attention was called to it in the first announcements and posters circulated, and in the first public service I made definite mention of it; but it was not until the close of the first week of the meetings that the question box put in an appearance. The box was put in a conspicuous place, and announcement made that questions written on paper and slipped into the box or handed to the ushers, would be answered on the next night.
It is probable that on the night when the question box is introduced no questions will be received. In my experience, none were expected, so, in order to get started, we " stuffed " the box, and on the next night answered our own questions, again calling attention to the plan designed to render personal service to all who desired to make special inquiry. On the third night of our question box service the questions began to come in, and for ten weeks thereafter they continued to come in so thick and fast that it became necessary to devote one entire evening each week to answering them. We announced this meeting as " Question Night," and by printing some of the most striking questions in the newspapers, we found that the attendance on these nights was larger than usual.
The plan works. In the first place, it attracts many people to the service out of curiosity to see how certain questions can be answered from the Bible, as they doubt that the Bible has anything to say on such matters. In the second place, it brings people back from night to night. And in the third place, it serves as a pathfinder into people's lives, helping the evangelist to find out what the people are thinking about, what they are interested in, and to discover what has not been clearly understood of the subjects presented.
Preaching is somewhat like shooting at random; but when we answer direct questions, we have definite targets. I make it a special point to impress upon the people that the answers are from the Bible, and are not the result of my own personal opinion; and this serves to establish confidence in the minds of the people. I have often given more study to the answer of one question than to the preparation of an entire sermon, but it paid. I know of several persons who accepted the truth because of the question box service, who would not have become interested otherwise. Our series of meetings was known as " The Chautauqua," and embraced health lectures, food demonstrations, parents' meetings, children's meetings, stereopticon views, chalk talks, mission talks, and other features; but nothing was more popular than the question box. The usual plan for the question box service was to allot five or ten minutes to answering questions during the half-hour song service preceding the sermon.
The handling of the various questions found in the question box is a matter requiring tact and foresight. Some questions on vital and testing truths come in before it is time to present the subjects, and instead of attempting to make reply, it is well to state that the plan is to spend an entire evening on that subject soon, so the answer will be deferred until then. Sometimes I have saved the first question which came in on some doctrinal point, as, for instance, the Sabbath, until I had received two or three more of a similar nature, and then I would read all the questions to the audience, and state that since so many have been inquiring, we would spend a whole evening in answering questions on this particular subject.
One experience impressed it upon my mind that no question, of whatever nature, should be treated in a flippant manner. One evening I found this question in the box: " Is it wrong to commit suicide? " My first thought was to pass it by with a careless answer, but a prompting Voice bade me be cautious. I answered the question in a careful, sympathetic manner, and later I learned, to my great joy, that the answer had been the means of saving a man from committing the actual deed.
By T. G. Bunch
In order to get the question box service started, I place in the box questions which afford opportunity to present some phase of truth. After it is once started, there is usually plenty of material in the box. I find it is a good plan to answer questions the same night they are received, as far as it is possible to do so, as a ready answer at the time of inquiry inspires confidence in the preacher's knowledge of the Scriptures, and consequently in his sermons. Some unanswered questions may properly be held over until the next service, as this maintains the interest, and also affords opportunity to look up information, if desired.
In addition to calling attention to the box which is available for slipping in questions at any time, I call for questions to be dropped into the baskets with the contribution. I find the donations are larger when the baskets are passed at the close of the preaching service, and the people have the advantage of being able to ask questions on the subject which has just been presented. I have never devoted an entire evening to answering questions, as I find people prefer to listen to a sermon. A short question and answer service each evening produces best results.
Loma Linda, Calif.
By A.J. Meiklejohn
I find it a good plan to read the questions the same night as received, and state that the answers will be given the next evening. There are several reasons for adopting this plan: First, it helps to bring people to the meeting the next evening to listen to another sermon on some phase of the message; second, some people who have not asked questions, become curious to hear the answer to some of the questions read, and so return, when they might not otherwise do so; and third, opportunity is afforded to prepare a suitable answer to difficult questions.
There are times when I dispense with the question box service each night, but two or three times a week follow the preaching service by an informal after service for the answering of questions, at which time I mingle with the people and try to become better acquainted with them, seeking to overcome reserve and get all to become acquainted with one another. One method of accomplishing this result, is to have a person come forward and state his question. This creates more personal interest, and I find people will often stay for these after meetings, when they refuse to give their names and addresses for personal visits.
By H.M.S. Richards
I use a good box with a padlock on it, so that people who have no right to its contents cannot meddle with it. The box is unlocked in the presence of the audience, so they can see the slips of paper taken out. I believe that the answers to questions made the same night they are placed in the box are more effective, even if incomplete, than answers which the people know have necessitated much preparation on the part of the speaker. I urge people to sign their names to the questions, not for my own information, but as an indication of serious inquiry. As a precautionary measure, I announce that all questions that appear to me to reflect on any religious denomination, or questions dealing with personalities, will be ignored.
Helps Secure Larger OfferingsBy W.P. McLennan
I have found that the question box contributes decidedly to the interest in evangelistic services, and also helps in securing offerings to apply on the expenses. I usually call for offerings three times a week, at which time I make a strong appeal for funds. But each evening the baskets are passed to gather up questions which are to be answered that same evening, and in connection with this I incidentally mention that there would be no objection if we found some coin mixed with the questions. We have received considerable sums of money with the questions. I invite questions on subjects already presented, collecting them at the beginning of the service and answering them at the close. During the special music number following the sermon, there is opportunity to go over the questions handed in, and arrange as seems best. The question box service helps to establish confidence in the preacher as one who is acquainted with the Bible, which is decidedly in its favor.
The Best Night
By Stemple White
I think it is well to have one night in the week devoted to a question box service. Monday night is usually the most difficult time to get an audience, and I find that the question box idea proves a drawing feature for an interesting Monday night service. Where wisdom and tact are used in answering the questions, the results are good, but I do not want too much of the question box. I believe the same time spent in preaching the word brings better results. But each preacher must use his own harness.
Best Results Without Question Box
By R.E. Harter
I am in favor of a short service, right to the point. The world today demands " short orders." Every sermon should do a special work and accomplish some purpose. It should establish the hearer on some definite truth. To bring in anything else, is to detract. I want the people to go home thinking of the sermon. The inquiries found in a question box cover such a wide range that the answering of them is like firing into a flock of ducks, hoping to hit one. I accomplish much better results without the question box.
Location of the Question Box
By G.R. West
Usually I place the question box in the rear of the building, so that people may slip their questions into the box as they come in for the service, it being understood that all questions that are in by a certain time will be answered the same evening. I have found it better to answer the questions before the service, rather than at the close; and when there is an accumulation of important question, I have devoted an entire evening to answering them.
Kansas City, Mo.
Before the Sermon
By E.G. Crosier
The question box is placed at the rear of the tent or hall, where it is in plain sight and easy of access. While the preliminary song service is in progress, I look over the questions, and immediately after the opening hymn and the prayer I am ready to answer them. There are several reasons why I prefer to answer questions at the beginning of the evening service: First, it tends to establish confidence in the minds of people who may be present for the first time, and leads them to take a deeper interest in the sermon following; second, it tends to awaken the desire to assist financially at the time the offering is taken; third, I consider it preferable to have the sermon remain uppermost in the minds of my hearers as they leave the tent. We have found that the question box service every night, for about ten minutes before the preaching service, is one of the greatest features tending to the success of our meetings. We usually receive from eight to fifteen questions each night.
Fort Smith, Ark.
A Guiding Principle
By Harold N. Williams
I consider it unwise to devote an entire evening to the answering of questions. Our business, as ministers, is to give a straight, positive, aggressive evangelistic message. The question box service deals largely with the negative side. This is a phase of thought which must be met, but it should not be allowed to supersede the straightforward, positive preaching of truth. I believe that the principle presented in " Testimonies," Volume IX, pages 147, 148, should guide us in the question and answer service. I surely believe in the question box, and in holding a question and answer service; but great care should ever be exercised to see that negative questions are not emphasized to the detriment of positive truth, and that the question service does not take the place of the lecture or sermon in which truth is presented in convincing form.
St. Johns, Newfoundland.
The Danger ZoneBy H.S. Prenier
Questions were quite the thing when I began my ministry in 1907, but now I cannot get people to ask questions, and I decline to write my own for the purpose of conducting a question box service. It has appeared to me that the spirit, method, and content of the average minister's answering process has led him to neutralize the work of the Holy Spirit in the sermon he may have just finished. There is usually danger of appearing self-important, a promenading of " BIG I " which eclipses the blessed, lowly Jesus, and a smartness and sarcasm which are not compatible with the Christ spirit. I would side-step no question; I would face frankness with sincerity; but it seems to me there are better methods than the stressing of the question box service.
Berrien Springs, Mich.
Successful and Profitable
By F.W. Johnston
I have found the question box plan to be a very successful and profitable one, first, because it enables the evangelist to get an idea of what his audience wants to know; and second, if he desires to repeat some point already presented in his sermon, he can write out appropriate questions, and thus prepare the way for a repetition of the topic to be studied. In a recent series of evangelistic meetings, six hundred questions were handed in, each bearing the name and address of the inquirer. I collect the questions one night, and answer them the following night. The people are always present to hear the answer to their questions. It has been my custom to answer the questions after the lecture. During the singing of a song, opportunity is afforded to all who wish to do so, to leave the auditorium before the question and answer service begins; but as a general thing all the people remain, and enjoy the half hour spent in this way. To my mind, this is a much better plan than devoting the entire evening to questions.
By J.E. Shultz
I have tried two methods of handling the question box plan; both have proved successful, but each has its disadvantages and drawbacks.
Method No. 1: At the close of the lecture I announce that immediately following the benediction there will be an oral question box service, and invite all to remain who have any Bible questions to ask or are interested in questions asked by others. I state that the purpose of the meeting is not to create controversy, but honest questions will be given candid consideration. I assure them that I do not pretend to know everything about the Bible, and that if I am unable to answer the question, I will frankly say so.
At the first of these meetings it is advisable to have a few people prepared to start off with a number of lively questions, or in case of a lull in the inquiries, to keep the interest going. The audience soon catches the inspiration of a live question and its definite answer from the word of God, and enthusiastically enters into the service. It is a good policy to limit each person to three questions in an evening, so as to give all a fair chance. Oftentimes there are persons present who are inclined to heckle or expostulate. The attention of such people should be called to the fact that this is a question, meeting, in which to ask questions, and that you are there to answer these questions, if possible, from the Bible, history, or established facts; therefore, personal comment or argument in such a meeting is out of order. Make it plain that there is no ill feeling on your part, and that you will give further detailed explanation at some other time, if desired.
Success lies in having the questions and answers very brief. Do not spend undue time on one question. If a question requires time for further study in order to make the proper answer, refer to the fact that you have authoritative statements which you wish to procure and present at the next meeting. When the people see that you do not present merely your personal opinion, but are prepared to furnish Biblical, historical, and scientific proof, confidence becomes established. Questions of a foolish nature are always intermingled with others, and may be treated fairly by the emphatic acknowledgment, " I do not know! " and quickly pass on to another question.
Method No. 2: Ushers are stationed at the door, and as the people enter they are handed a pencil and a small sheet of paper bearing a printed announcement of the question box service to follow the regular lecture, with an invitation to write down any question desired to be considered at that time. This plan serves to good advantage in keeping the people quiet and absorbed in thought while waiting for the opening of the service. I print these announcements on the mimeograph, employing some small cartoon or drawing to make them attractive. While the last song is being sung, or during the rendering of special music, the ushers gather up the pencils and slips of paper. Many a person who is too timid to ask a question audibly, will write his question on paper. This plan also obviates the possibility of having cranks or hecklers interrupt the meeting by talking, as oral questions are out of order. Questions which require time for study can be shuffled toward the last, and just at the close of the meeting it may be announced that the following questions (reading them) have been handed in, but because of the lateness of the hour they must be held over to receive first attention at the next meeting. This is a help in advertising the next meeting, and stimulates interest.