To speak successfully in the open-air forum, one needs to have a very definite conviction that he has a divine message, and must not be moved from its presentation. Nothing is easier than to turn from one's subject if the interest seems to wane, and the people whom one is trying to hold begin to leave; but it is at such a time that resourcefulness must be brought into play. An apt illustration, with a definite spiritual appeal, will often revive the flagging interest, and bring new hearers; but never must the speaker resort to mere storytelling. If the heart of the preacher is burning with a desire to save souls, and he is putting the last ounce of his strength into his work, the crowd will recognize it.
Energy and prayerfulness must be supplemented by earnest study of the message and the art of its presentation. And when you have done your best, remember the heckler will be present to harass, and the sharp questioner will have been puzzling for weeks perhaps to "stump you" in public. If you cannot answer a question, admit it; but if you feel that study will reveal the answer, promise to give it the next week. Obvious honesty is imperative for the open-air preacher. No subterfuge will answer.
A talk of thirty minutes is usually long enough for an outdoor meeting. The inexperienced often make the mistake of trying to speak longer, and the result is disappointing. In open-air meetings long sermons and long prayers are always out of place.
Our plan in Boston has been to follow the subject of the day by a question-and-answer period. This always brings a large attendance, showing that the question-and-answer plan is still popular,—as it is always effective,—notwithstanding the fact that many of our teachers are following the methods of the world in the classroom by adopting the lecture plan. During this question-and-answer period, one never knows what questions will be asked. Practically all of them are oral, and many are asked by open enemies of the truth. Often, however, we see the truthfulness of the statement that the Lord will make even the wrath of man to praise Him.
And now to answer questions frequently asked: Are such meetings possible everywhere? and can they be held by all workers? I would answer, No! First, a worker must be peculiarly fitted to deal with crowd psychology. He must be alert to recognize the effort of the crowd to "lead him into the wilderness" of generalities. He must be able to resist the temptation to opportunism. He should be a man who reads extensively, studies constantly, and who does not lose patience when he is heckled; yet he must be possessed of sufficient wisdom to know how to keep from being made to appear at a disadvantage when he is treated to a torrent of abuse.
If in calm dignity he has the grace to meet abuse with firm kindness, he will win the sympathy of the crowd, and will be stronger in the eyes, of the intelligent. And he must never act the coward, even in the face of threats of bodily violence. Like a good soldier, he must be calm in the face of galling fire. Those who cannot measure up to these primary requirements, would better not attempt to speak in the open air, for the open-air forum is the acid test of any public speaker.
Our open-air meetings, when deemed feasible, are not to be held as are the meetings of the Salvation Army; for years ago we were told as a denomination that we were not to do the work which God has given them. And not every city or town has a Boston Common, which was dedicated by its donor to the Massachusetts Bay Colony for free speech. Mr. Faneuil, the donor, was a French Huguenot who prized religious liberty, and realized the value of free speech in preserving it; so in making his bequest to the colony he created an institution which would make Boston a distinctive place. The Common, here, is in several respects like Mars' Hill—a clearing house for ideas; hence the largest churches in the city have their groups there each Sunday. Where such conditions exist elsewhere, such meetings may be held by workers whose methods prove their adaptability to open-air work.