The first and chief requisite for successful evangelism is constant contact with the Holy Spirit, and a willingness to be led by Him. Many of the vital steps are taken almost unconsciously, without realizing their importance or just why they are taken. The really successful evangelistic meeting is not organized and carried on according to the genius of the individual, but is a direct result of the leading of the Holy Spirit. Many steps in that leading are not understood even by the evangelist himself, and consequently cannot be explained. God may lead one man, because of his particular make-up and the conditions under which he is working, in one way to a successful conclusion; and another, with different talents and under different circumstances, in an entirely different way, but to equally successful results. You may not be able to preach in my way or in some other evangelist's way; you must preach in God's way for you.
The second requisite for success is to believe what you preach. Sometimes men preach a message that their teachers taught them, or that our books teach; they are as messenger boys carrying the message. Of course the minister is a messenger, but the message must be also his own profound personal conviction, and not simply the statement of another, no matter how authoritative the source. Only when the message of God is a vital part of our own lives, are we able to transmit its life-giving qualities to others. A very eloquent appeal may fail to move an audience, while the stammering appeal that comes direct from a sincere heart may stir them mightily. Let us believe our message, accept our message, and then pass it along with all sincerity as the only hope of a dying world.
In any consideration of methods of evangelism, the central thought should be to save the people rather than to inform them. Some have put entertainment first in their evangelism. To me this seems of least importance. From the very first night until the last service the central thought of th,e speaker should be to save souls. Unless the minister understands the term "save," both theoretically and experimentally, he cannot conduct a successful meeting. The preaching of salvation always brings success.
What follows is of little importance compared to the principles already laid down. The mechanical part of a meeting does not bring success, although God does bless the use of proper methods in His work.
Kind of Meeting Place.—In my experience the temporary tabernacle is the most successful meeting place. The tent meeting is largely a thing of the past. A store building may be used; a regular hall for public meetings is better; a theater is still better; but in my judgment the tabernacle is ahead of them all. The expense of operating a tabernacle is not greater than for the other places mentioned, if meetings are held over a period of from four to six or eight months.
Length of Meeting.—This depends upon the ability of the speaker. Some should close the first night, and others can run successfully for a year. The time also depends upon the size of the city. A two months' meeting would probably be about right for a town with a population under five thousand, while one may be conducted almost indefinitely in a city of a million.
Location.—It is well to be as near the center of the city as possible, on a well-known and well-traveled street, or a prominent boulevard or car line. Plenty of parking space is necessary. A place between the business and residential sections of the city is to be preferred.
Co-operation.—The local church or churches should be consulted, and a committee appointed from the members to assist the evangelist in finding a location. It is well for the local churches to bear part of the expense of the erection of the tabernacle or the rent of the hall. This makes it their meeting. Every one works more enthusiastically where he has a financial investment. The building should be erected entirely by free labor.
Advertising.—I do not advertise my meetings as Seventh-day Adventist. Many who are today well-established Seventh-day Adventists have told me that they would never have started to the meetings if they had known them to be Adventist. Even after the Sabbath question has been presented, and the city knows that the meeting is Adventist, I avoid the use of the term. Those who are coming to the meetings, and have not accepted the message, do not like to have the name held before their friends. I never give much space to advertising the entertainment features of the meeting. In fact, we have none. Advertising moving pictures or music will draw a crowd who are interested in the pictures or the entertainment. Such a crowd is likely to become restless during the lecture. I like a crowd who come to hear the lecture; for they listen attentively, and a spirit of quietness pervades the meeting.
Newspapers.—While the newspaper is an important medium of successful advertising, it should be understood before it is attempted. Thousands of dollars have been squandered in worthless newspaper advertising. Small advertisements are of little value. You must dominate the field of advertising that you attempt. But simply large space in a newspaper will not insure a crowd. The space must be filled with great care. I use a large cut of myself, usually about four by eight inches, with only the face showing and no background. I do not use my picture because I like to have folks see it in the paper, but because nothing catches the eye of the reader so quickly as an extra large cut of a person. The greatest newspaper advertisers use that method.
When the picture has arrested the attention, I try to have a word or short phrase at the head of the advertisement in type an inch or two in height. The more strikingly the word or phrase suggests the question of the lecture, the better. Following that is a formal statement of the subject, then the striking phases of the lecture that may appeal to the public. These may be given in the form of questions, with no intimation as to which side of the question the speaker will take. Free space can always be had if one understands news writing and is a heavy advertiser.
Handbills.—Handbills announcing the topics for the entire week should be placed in every home in the community every week of the meeting. However, handbills are considered a rather cheap method of advertising by the public, and should not be relied upon to bring an audience, except possibly in a small town. They do not often attract the better classes. The bill should be of sufficient stiffness so that it will not easily crumple, and of a size that can be placed in the pocket without folding. It is not economy to have handbills printed on only one side. There should be a striking word or phrase on each side suggesting some prominent question to be presented, and this word or phrase should be sufficiently large to be read easily by a person standing erect when the bill is lying on the ground.
Billboards.—Billboards announcing the topics are helpful if placed on prominent pedestrian thoroughfares, and if .in_.sufacieutly-Iargo-letters, on automobile highways. However, the returns from such advertising are small. General advertising, such as banners, auto stickers, etc., are helpful at the opening of a series, but not essential. Such matters as the place of meeting, the speaker, "Bible Lectures," or "Evangelistic Meetings," should occupy a minor place on all advertising, and little money should be spent on such advertising alone. Our message is a great message, a startling message, and should be capitalized in advertising.
Further suggestions on successful methods in conducting an evangelistic effort will be given in a later number of the Ministry.