One of the first things which I seek to accomplish in the building up of the work of a church, is the establishment of a live midweek service. There is a story told of a man who had a cow out in the pasture, and every evening he paid a boy a dime to bring the cow home. But one day a friend said to this man, "If you put the dime in the trough, the cow will come home without being brought home." There is a suggestion in that for pastors. If we feed the people, they will come to prayer meeting. The people want help, and the prayer meeting should be a sort of informal meeting where they can ask questions, talk over their problems, pray over them, and find help and blessing.
There is no secret method for securing increased prayer meeting attendance, but there are some facts which must be kept in mind. In the first place, the pastor should remember that this is the people's meeting, and therefore he should not talk more than fifteen minutes. I have heard of pastors who talk so long that there is only time enough left for one individual testimony. This is the people's night, and they have a right to expect that the time will largely be devoted to their own experiences and expressions of need.
There are two topics for the pastor to talk on, which are always of interest to everybody, because they concern everybody. One of these topics is "Sin and Sorrow," and the other is "The Way Out." But to deal effectively with these subjects in a fifteen-minute prayer meeting talk may require more time for preparation than is required for a forty-five-minute Sabbath sermon.
When I became pastor of the church at Covington, there was a church membership of 160. We set as our goal a prayer meeting attendance equaling the church membership, and we have reached and maintained that standard. I believe that the prayer meeting can be made the best service of the week.
It may be that this is the time to care for some of those perplexing problems that we do not want to present on the Sabbath,—such as the Big Week, and the Harvest Ingathering, and all the rest of our missionary campaigns; for the prayer meeting folk are the people who work.
There is a plan which I have tried a number of times and have always found it effective in building up the church prayer meeting. Sometimes the first prospects are not very promising, but it always works out well in the end; and we have proved it true that "the prayer meeting is the thermometer of the church." This plan may be said to involve different methods, which adapt themselves to the situation in hand. For example:
1. The Church-Going Campaign.—This is a campaign arranged by the church board, extending over a period of eight or ten weeks, and the prayer meeting each week is conducted by a different person. For example, I take the first prayer meeting night, the church elder takes the next week's meeting, then the deacons, the deaconesses, the young people's leader, home missionary leader, Sabbath school superintendent—every officer of the church has a prayer meeting night for which he is responsible. It is, surpris
Ing how many valuable workers are developed through this plan, and the interest which it arouses among the church members. One of our deaconesses thought she could never take charge of a church service, but we encouraged her to do her part, and the attendance was even larger than usual on that night, and the spirit of the meeting was excellent.
2. Give the People Spiritual Food.—Just recently we launched another special effort in behalf of the prayer meeting. I advertised my subject for a certain night like this: "If I Had Only One Sermon to Preach, What Do You Think It Would Be? Come, and I Will Tell You!" That question came to me once, as from the voice of God. I was studying and wondering what I could say to the church that would really feed them, and just like a voice out of the sky the question came: If you had just one more sermon to preach to the people, what would you say? It was not a question of what would a Methodist, or a Presbyterian, or a Baptist say, but what would you, as a Seventh-day Adventist minister, say to those people if you had just one more chance to stand before them. The suggestion almost took my breath, and I said, "Lord, I don't know what I would say; but if you will tell me what to say, I will say it." I have found that when we ask the Lord to teach us what to say to, the people, we do not have any trouble about feeding them with food whereby they get help.
3. A Prayer List.—At another time I announced as my subject at prayer meeting, "How to Get Everything We Want From God." People want to know how to do that, and there is a way to do it. I prepared a little card upon which each member could write the names of individuals for whom he would agree to pray once, twice, or three times a day, and results have been manifest in various ways. For instance, just a few weeks ago, in the testimony meeting at the midweek service, a woman arose and wanted to speak, but it seemed difficult for her to do so because of weeping. This woman had been a member of the church for some time, but her husband was not a member; and her two young daughters, although church members, had caused considerable trouble in the church school.
On this particular night this sister, who was so deeply affected, said that she took one of the cards when they were distributed some weeks before, and in writing down the names of individuals for whom she would pray regularly, she placed her own name at the head of the list; and God had answered prayer in her own case, and had given her a new experience. Similar testimonies were borne by others, who said that they had been led to put their own names first on the prayer list. And I have found it is not a bad idea for preachers sometimes to put their own names first on the prayer list, for I tell you, our people know whether we have been with God or not. We can't fool them, if we want to; we can't "get by" in this message. Our people know whether or not we have been with Jesus and learned of Him; and if that is our experience, then the people will get help. The woman to whom I referred received definite help, and there has come a revolution in her life. As a result of definite prayer in behalf of individuals whose names were placed on the prayer lists, sixteen new members were added to the church.
I have a book in my library entitled, "Remarkable Answers to Prayer." I don't like the title at all. I do not think that answers to prayer ought to be considered "remarkable" by people living down in the closing days of earth's history, but rather that answers to prayer ought to be a part of our daily Christian experience.
In our weekly prayer meetings, we like to have the children and the youth present. In the church school the little ones are taught to give their testimony, and when they come to prayer meeting, they speak right out of their hearts, for they do not know how to "fix up" a testimony as some of the older folks do; and they consider this their night just as much as do the adults. If we make the midweek meeting informal, guard against theorizing, and deal entirely with spiritual things,
I think it becomes the best night in the week; and when we build up the prayer meeting, we are at the same time building up all the other church services.