Topic No. 1--The Meeting Place

Introductory Presentation by H.M.S. Richards

Introductory Presentation by H.M.S. Richards

As to the place, we often have to take what ri we can get. I have held evangelistic meet­ings in halls, churches, tents, tabernacles, and theaters. We each have our preference, but with me the tabernacle is away beyond any­thing else. Wherever I go and can have a tabernacle, I want one. I am getting ready to build another just as soon as I get back from these councils. There are, of course, so many different conditions to be met, and so many different ways of successfully doing things, that I would not wish to say that any one way is best.

 

The open "airdome"* seems to be the favorite in some places. It is successful where the weather continues warm. One evangelist tried the open "airdome" in a rather high altitude, but the weather soon began to get cool, and he had to close his meetings before he had reaped his harvest. We tried it on the West Coast. One of our strongest evangelists had one. He is unique in that he uses astronomical pictures. He built a beautiful "airdome." But along in August the nights began to get chilly, and the people would not sit out there in the open. As a consequence, his meetings broke up early, and he did not see the results he might have had. So I believe the "airdome" is usable only where the nights stay warm.

The tent can still be used,—if you have a big tent, and a clean tent. People will fill a big tent when they will not enter a small one. And some preachers do not know how to pitch a tent. Sometimes it hangs like some peo­ple's clothes. I know a city of 500,000 in­habitants, where one of our workers pitched a 40 x  60 ft. tent. It was old, rotten, dirty, and shabby. The floor was covered with -dirty straw. Part of the tent was in shreds. And yet the brethren wondered why the people did not come out to the meetings. I think only three people were won through that effort. The people in that city were used to attending meetings in the large and beautiful Massey Hall, and they would not come to a meeting held in a dirty, disreputable-looking tent.

Then one of our able evangelists went into Massey Hall. I think it cost $75 a night. But every one goes to Massey Hall, as it is the general feeling of the people that whatever is given there is worth hearing. By sacrifice, funds were raised sufficient for the first night. The meeting was a great success, and the offer­ings received met the current needs; and the tithe that came in from the new believers far more than paid the cost of the effort.

We cannot successfully enter the big cities unless we go into places where the people are accustomed to attend. Try to go into New York City and find a place to pitch a tent. We have some very practical problems to meet in a great metropolis. If we do go into a hall, it ought to be a recognized gathering place for the city. Keep as near the ground floor as possible. It is hard enough to get people into a hall, but harder still to get them into church buildings.

The day of the church as a place for evan­gelistic meetings is largely over. The people have lost confidence in the great churches with their spires. Billy Sunday once attempted to hold a series of meetings in one of the finest church buildings in a certain city,—a church with a membership of 1,500. But there were not 300 people in that city who came to hear Billy Sunday. The people have a custom of going to church Sunday morning and perhaps Sunday night, and that's all. And Billy Sunday absolutely failed. But on the same night in the same town we had a tabernacle full of people, and they came every night; and I am sure we had neither the speaking ability nor the backing of the people that Billy Sunday had.

Now as to making the meeting place inviting. We have become very careful about the floors in our tents and tabernacles. We put a new idea into effect in a recent tabernacle effort.

The procedure is this: First revel off the ground.

Then cover the whole floor space with cheap roofing or tar paper, overlapping each strip three or four inches. Over this put three or four inches of good, clean shavings. Next cover it with burlap. Then use long nails,--12-inch spikes,—driving them right down, and you have a carpeted floor.

You would think you were walking on a Persian rug if you had your eyes shut. The roofing paper keeps the dampness from coming up, as well as the dust. You can vacuum clean it, and you have a good clean floor. Cheap one-ply or two-ply roofing will last through several efforts. We find it pays, and the people pay for it. In our .last effort we could not get burlap, so we used large jute bags, such as coffee is shipped in from Brazil. We had these large bags ripped open, the sisters of the church sewed them together in great sections, and we nailed them down in this same way. We have found it possible to make a tent a very nice place by this means.

The nights are cool in California, and one cold night may ruin the meeting. You must provide for plenty of heat. If you use gas radiators, put in at least a two-and-one-half­inch gas main. Where gas is not available, use wood or coal, but keep the tent or tabernacle warm.

Now as to tabernacle construction, we have been building most of ours. We bolt the main timbers together, and use these frames again and again. We do not build in sections. Such a tabernacle would not fit together if the next plot were not level or had a different slope. We usually take it down and put it up again in another place. The fact that our taber­nacle was bolted, once saved my life during an earthquake.

The frame of the Huntington Park (Calif.) church, seating 600 people, is the frame of the old tabernacle. We saved money in that way. Roman Catholics and Christian Scientists drove nails in that building. The sisters of the church came and served hot dinners to the workers every day. We had prayer seasons there, and the building went up with the whole­souled help of the people.

I always have a room built in the tabernacle for our Bible class. This class is just as im­portant as my public lectures. It meets every night at seven o'clock. Our candidates for baptism come from this preparatory Bible class. The Bible room is fixed so that the sides are on hinges, and this provides the place for the choir. Then we invite the interested people into this choir room at the close of the service. When they climb those steps, they have taken two big steps toward Seventh-day Adventism. That plan may not be best in every place, but we have found it good. Then we have a porta­ble baptistry, usually at one side, that we take with us from effort to effort. It is covered, but can be seen if it is necessary.

In our tabernacle work we have always been careful to see the trustees of the city, and try to plan with them so that we will have no trouble. Some will permit a tabernacle, and some will not. Certain zones are restricted. Sometimes we are able to get a special permit fora certain period.

It is possible to have metal tabernacles which can be moved, although they are expensive in their first building. Cellotex is excellent in these tabernacles, and is resistant to fire, but do not use it behind you, because it has absolutely no resonance. It absorbs sound, and will not throw it out to the audience. But it makes splendid sides or walls. Put on the cellotex in sections. Do not nail through it, or you will break the sides of the sections.

Use strips between the panels, and nail through these. If you drive the nails carefully, these panels can be used in other places. The taber­nacle we are now contemplating can be erected at least three times. At present we are work­ing in the harbor district of Los Angeles, and plan to have efforts in three different places, continuing a number of months in each. Our tabernacle can be taken down, unbolted, and put up again.

The idea of going into a town and starting a tabernacle news sheet is excellent. If it suc­ceeds, continue; and if it does not, stop it. If such a sheet has been started, then by the time the tabernacle, hall, or theater effort is started, it is a wonderful medium for advertis­ing. A new law in Los Angeles forbids the use of posters or bills of any kind. In many sections we cannot place cards, programs, or announcements on the porches or in the yard, if there is a little sign refusing them,. It may be so small you won't see it. And the bills cannot be handed to children. The name and address of the printer, and those respon­sible for the printing must appear on all adver­tising. If any of these are placed where not permitted, those responsible are subject to suit in the courts. Such is the position in which we find ourselves. A newspaper, or something printed to be sent through the mails, would probably avoid that, and could be used in such sections.

If preparatory literature is used beforehand, we use every precaution to avoid subjects that would arouse antagonism. We put out litera­ture on the inspiration of the Bible and such subjects. We have used the radio strongly in preparing for our meetings, going on the air two or three days before announcing the sub­ject of the first meeting. Two or three weeks before the opening of the meeting we put up a big sign on the lot something like "WATCH THIS CORNER." Every passer-by reads the sign and becomes a bit curious. When you put up your tent or tabernacle, every one is anxious to know what is coming. Such prepa­ration is good. Do just enough advertising to arouse curiosity without satisfying it.

But of much advertising beyond that I am afraid. In large cities and towns, if there are active enemies, they can do more harm to the work than our church people can counteract through sowing the place with literature and arousing the general interest. So far as my meetings are concerned, I would usually rather not have the people know a thing about our meeting until I am just about ready to start. I do not want the preachers of the other churches to warn their congregations against us before I get there. When we go into a new field, the people will be curious to know what is going up there, and what is to be held there. This has great advertising value that should be capitalized.

We have been helped lately by having colporteurs in the field, not telling the people, however, that we were coming, but as they went, keeping a record of interested people. When the time for the meetings came, we sent special invitations to these people. In another town we placed one thousand subscriptions to the Signs of the Times in that number of homes for about three months before we came. We then sent a letter to each of these names, telling them about our meetings, and advertised them as "Signs of the Times Prophetic Lec­tures." We had good success there. In other places we have tried it, and it has been suc­cessful. There is real advertising value in it.

Discussion From the Floor

Use Best Place Available

John Ford (Boston, Massachusetts) : I heart­ily agree with Brother Richards that the tab­ernacle is most successful for large meetings. In the West it was so, and I started with it in the East. We are now using an auditorium, but if I were beginning again in Boston I would use the tabernacle. While there we had meetings in Symphony Hall. It was a good place for Sunday night meetings. But that is not sufficient, and we could not afford Symphony Hall on the other nights. I would rather have a smaller crowd on Sunday night in the tabernacle, and have them through the week in the same place. And the expense would not be so great.

But not everybody wants or needs a tab­ernacle, and we should make our discussion practical. While all cannot have a tabernacle, nearly every one can have a tent. Every sum­mer we should utilize every tent owned by the conference, just as long as the season will per­mit. The tent is a success. We had a wonder­ful tent meeting in New London, and it cost the conference practically nothing. We should also plan for meetings in the winter. They should be kept going all the time. Some people seem to think their responsibilities end when the tent meetings are over in the autumn. But we must preach all the time. If we cannot have a tent, theater, or tabernacle, we should go to a church and preach. And if there is no church, let us preach in somebody's home, or even on a street corner. Keep cottage meet­ings going until you can get a hall or audito­rium, and that time will surely come.

We also had a baptistry in our tent in New London and had frequent baptisms. If you cannot get anything better, secure some old canvas from the conference, fix up a bap­tistry, and fill it with water. It will cost you practically nothing. Work with the means you have, but provide something that will serve the purpose.

F. D. Wells (South Lancaster, Massachu­setts) : Just a word about that tent effort in New London. We have seven pavilions in our conference that we use at the camp meeting season. Every time we met on our committee, Brother Ford pleaded with us to let him have the large camp meeting pavilion. It cost a thousand dollars. We had used it only three years, and wanted it to last for ten years. But finally we said he could use it if we could get a good tent master to look after it. In ten weeks he had baptized 108. By the first of November, $882 additional tithe had come in from those new members, and there will be enough extra income from that church within the next year to buy a new pavilion.

Theater Efforts Productive

M. R. Coon (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) : My evangelistic work for the last few years has been confined to theaters. The reason is that we have been unable to get sites for tents, or have been unable to secure suitable halls. So we have been forced to turn to theaters. I have always tried to get a high-class place that caters to the better clientele. We find that the better auditorium we can secure, the bet­ter-class audience we shall have.

The very name is an advertisement when it is a creditable place. Where a good class of people assemble in large numbers for other purposes, we can get them for our meetings, when we hold them there. I have paid $125 every night for four months for a theater, but the offerings more than paid for it. We would receive from $100 to $200 in the offerings, and our average attendance would be around two thousand. I have been in cheaper places where the offerings would not meet the expense be­cause of the poorer class of people who at­tended. So I have tried to get the best place we can secure, as far as our money will allow.

As to churches, I agree with Brother Rich­ards that the day of getting large audiences in Seventh-day Adventist churches is past. The people have a feeling against the church. They do not find it in their heart to want to go to a church. But if we have our meetings in a theater or an appropriate hall, they will go.

I believe tents are still a good vehicle in which to give our message. In some places, like Philadelphia, it is impossible to get a central location for a tent. But in smaller cities tents can be used. A tent can be fixed up so that it is attractive, if thought is given to the appointments. If it is fixed up com­fortably, the people will attend.

When I first entered the ministry, I was as­sociated with Elder K. C. Russell. I shall never forget my first experience in pitching a tent. After pitching the tent, he had me decorate it. A sign, "Christ Our Righteousness," was placed on upright posts, and after it was up I noticed that one of the posts was about an inch out of plumb. Elder Russell said, "Now, you must change that." "Who will notice that?" I argued. But he said, "Some old carpenter, coming into this meeting and seeing that post just an inch out of line, will think our religion is out of line. He won't see anything but that post all evening long. Fix that if it takes a week."

Get some beautiful flowers, potted plants, etc., and make the tent neat, inviting, and homelike. People feel an atmosphere that sug­gests restfulness. When people come into such an. atmosphere, they will be receptive when the minister begins the preaching of the gospel. All these things are helpful.

Hotel Meetings an Entering Wedge

M. R. Bailey (Chicago, Illinois) : I would like to speak a word about hotel meetings. In Rochester, New York, I went to the Sagamore and secured permission to hold services there. And now in Chicago we are in the Edgewater Beach Hotel, one of the finest in the city. We have an assembly room that seats about 600, and have a good attendance. Some of the nicest people from the hotel and from the North Side—judges, lawyers, doctors, and the like—have been attending the lectures regu­larly. I consider this a splendid way to break into our larger cities. Most of these hotels have large assembly rooms, and on Sunday evening will rent one to you for a quarter of the usual price. The hall we are using rents regularly for $80 a night, and never goes below, with the exception of our case. We pay $20 a night. Our offerings have covered the expense, and there is no objection to taking an offering.

One Sunday evening, just before our meeting, the manager said, "We consider this an asset to our hotel on Sunday evening, for when you are here we do not have to provide enter­tainment for which we have to pay artists. We are glad to know that you are planning to con­tinue till spring. It relieves us of that burden, and we are happy to have you here."

And our people favor it. We have every­thing we need,—such as blackboards,—and in perfect condition, at a price lower than you would pay for some hall that you wouldn't want to use.

I begin with Daniel 2, then present Matthew 24, the millennium, the sanctuary, the law, the Sabbath and its change. Those are my topics, and I have others come in to speak on special themes. In presenting the change of the Sabbath and the law, I did not hear a word of criticism. Last Sunday night—the last of the series—we had a full hall. We have a Wednesday evening meeting, which we con­sider our Bible class or baptismal class. And in visiting in the homes we get in touch with the people.

Sunday Night Meetings in Auditorium

R. S. Lindsay (Erie, Pennsylvania) : I greatly favor public auditoriums, if I am to reach the great cities. Public auditoriums are usually advantageously located. It is almost impossible now in a great city to secure a lot that is well located for a tent. Usually one has to go out in the suburbs. A public auditorium, however, carries a prestige that even the taber­nacle does not have here in the East. No tent is comparable to it. A prominent location is indispensable. One of our ministers held a tent effort, a few years ago, and some people who started out to find the tent went home, unable to locate it. If the people cannot find your tent, you might as well write the word "Failure" instead of the word "Welcome" over the entrance.

In Cincinnati we secured a public auditorium for a series of Sunday night meetings at $150 a night, and were blessed with an excellent attendance. Our offerings were never less than $100 a night. We started immediately to pass out literature cards for those interested to sign. Hundreds of names with addresses were handed in. Then we started follow-up work with these people, asking them to come to our week­night services held elsewhere. The Lord blessed the effort, and 120 people were added to the church. One man who accepted the truth turned in $10,000 in annuities to the confer­ence. At the outset it seemed out of the ques­tion to pay $150 a night for an auditorium, but we decided to risk it. We found a good location,—a beautiful place that carried pres­tige,—and when the people came, by giving them the kind of message that we should give them, the meeting was a success.

By using auditoriums for Sunday nights, and the church or a smaller hall for week nights, we were able to cover in offerings the expense of the effort. We cannot do better in these large cities than to use public auditoriums, re­serving the first four rows of seats for altar calls. When we reach the Sabbath question and ask people to consider it, we invite all to come forward who accept the Sabbath and take their place in those seats that have been re­served. I believe that in these large auditorium efforts we ought to lay great stress on the appeal.

Transferring to Smaller Hall

J. L. Shuler (Charlotte, North Carolina) : We need to learn how to use some of these fine auditoriums and theaters for a time or two, and then know how to take our meetings into a tent or less expensive place. In this day of restricted incomes we usually cannot afford to use these expensive places over a long period. But we can strengthen our tent meetings by using an auditorium for a week and then trans­ferring the interest to the tent. There is light in that plan. We need to study, not so much how we can hold the crowd in a fine place over a long period of time,—that perhaps would not be so hard to do,—but with our limited means we do well to study how we can use a popular auditorium or well-appointed theater for a night or two, and then turn our audience into a place that is within our means. It will help us if we know how to start, and how to transfer that meeting, and I believe we shall see great results.

For example, in the city of Raleigh we used the State Theater for just two meetings. The State Theater is outstanding, a place where everybody will go. We secured it for Sunday afternoon and Sunday night. Some might have hesitated to open a large effort on Sun­day afternoon, but we did not hesitate to do that. I advertised two very attractive subjects, and nothing else aside from these two subjects. We had program cards printed. And at the close of the first service on Sunday afternoon, as the people passed out, they received a copy of the program of subjects beginning Monday night, to be held at the Women's Club, which we secured for a period of ten weeks. And we did the same thing at the night service. I planned my Sunday night sermon so as to stop at the most interesting point. Then I said, "Tomorrow night come over and hear the rest at the Women's Club. I will continue from where I have stopped tonight." We put some of the most thrilling subjects on that card for the week—and it worked.

E. L. Branson (St. Louis, Missouri) : We could not find in St. Louis a hall that we felt would be suitable in which to carry on an entire series of meetings. So we got the col­osseum in the heart of the city. It was a very large place. We held meetings there for two weeks, with a good attendance, and then trans­ferred to a smaller hall. Our attendance was almost as good in the smaller place as in the larger one. About the time of the transfer our attendance was 1,400. We opened in the small hall with about this number, and started on the Sabbath. question. But our attendance kept up, and we have baptized sixty-five so far. We have quite a large group to be baptized later. The management gave us the privilege of arranging a baptistry, and we have baptisms at the Sabbath morning service. This ties people up with the regular Sabbath program. We have our meetings six nights a week, and Sabbath morning and afternoon, with our church service in the same hall where we have the meetings.

Tents Still Successful

W. H. Holden (Berrien Springs, Michigan) : Let us not become prejudiced against the tent. It would be a serious thing to come to the con­clusion that the time of tent efforts is past. The tent effort is still a success the same as the hall effort is a success. As many hall efforts have failed as have tent efforts. There are thousands of places where tent efforts can be used,—places where we cannot find a hall, or where we could not afford to pay for one. The sad part is that some ministers spend all summer pastoring the local church, and waiting for winter to come when they can use a hall. That is a mistake. Most of our efforts in the Lake Union are conducted in tents. This last summer we had from twenty to thirty tent efforts, and baptized from 1,500 to 2,000.

H. A. Lukens (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) : In large cities I think we have been more successful in localized tent efforts than when trying to reach the whole city at one time. First selecting a certain section and securing a lot, we then plan to work a half mile each way. The ideal plan is to have the tent, as near the center of the city as possible, for you can get people to go toward the center when you cannot get them to go to the outskirts.

As for street meetings, I think they consti­tute fine training for the preacher. Many ser­mons that might easily be preached in a com­paratively short period take an hour and a half in delivery. Such would be radically re­vised by trial in a street meeting. If a man in a street meeting says too much, his crowd melts away. Street preaching is good training for any minister.

Question: Do you find, when using a tent, that it is better to locate in the suburban sec­tions or in the heart of the city? Isn't there a tendency to pitch our tents in the outskirts, and to work for only a certain class of people? Would it be better to locate our tents more centrally?

Chairman Branson: It is not always possible to get a tent centrally located because of fire zone regulations. I prefer a hall or tabernacle for the first meeting or effort; but after that a tent in the good residential sections of the town is very acceptable, though not of course for the winter months.

W. D. Frazee (Tulsa, Oklahoma) : The ad­vantage of the tent is its small expense as com­pared with either a tabernacle or a hall. Its disadvantage is that people associate it, these days, with the Pentecostal or Four-Square peo­ple, or the circus. It lacks prestige. The hall has certain advantages over the tabernacle. People see that it has backing. It is a place to which they are used to coming. The hall or theater, however, has this disadvantage: It is usually quite expensive, and it is hard to get a good hall for an extended period.  If a hall is shared with other users, we cannot leave equipment there. Nothing is more con­venient than a tabernacle, though it takes some capital to start, some of which can be recovered. Many people who will not go to church revival meetings will go to a taber­nacle. Of course there is almost no expense in connection with a church effort; but because of prejudice, people will not go to it.

"Airdome" Good for Summer

L. E. Niermeyer (Minneapolis, Minnesota) : I have held two "airdome" efforts recently as far north as Minneapolis. The "airdome" has this in its favor; it is different. While the tent today is being used by the Pentecostal and the Four-Square Gospel people, they have not used the "airdome" yet, and it is in advance of the methods used by others.

Our "airdome" has room for 450. We made a little frame over our platform, similar to those pictured in old camp meeting scenes, where the people sat out under the trees and the preacher was up on a platform. I covered this frame on the back and two sides with tent flies. I secured a two-inch pole sixteen feet long, and attached it to the bottom of a fly on the front of my platform, fixing it so we could roll it up during the services. Then after meeting we rolled it down and fastened it, and that protected our piano and other things on the platform in case of rain.

We lost just one meeting because of rain a year ago this last summer, and one last sum­mer. There is, however, this difficulty, that you have no place to take your people on the Sabbath for meetings as you have in a tent, tabernacle, or other building,—because you cannot hold a meeting in the daytime in an "airdome." That is the objection to it. From the standpoint of being different, people like it. People expressed themselves favorably, saying, "It is different; it is so nice to sit out here under the stars; it is cool, and we get plenty of fresh air." We did not get cold; it happened to be warm enough evenings so that we all enjoyed it very much.

The side wall to our big camp meeting tent was used for the sides and the back of the "airdome." For the front I used cellotex. We had an architect in our church there, and he devised a neat little plan.

So the "airdome" can be used in the summer months. I like it quite well, except for these two features: first, if it rains you cannot hold your meeting; and, second, you have no place to which to take your people on the Sabbath.

Street Meetings Advantageous

B. M. Heald (Peekskill, New York) : I would add a word about street meetings. Moody and Wesley in their evangelism would gather from 5,000 to 50,000 people in God's great out-of-doors. Recently I have had some experience with street meetings, and I would like to know how the brethren react to those meetings. First of all, street meetings should be held on a nice corner in a good section of the city, as this attracts a very fine class of people. Some of you probably thought, when I men­tioned street meetings, that it would be more or less for the riffraff and that sort of thing. That is not true if the proper location is selected. In most cities, permits can be ob­tained for street meetings.

The program for street meetings is, of course, just about as interesting as the organization for a hall or tent meeting. You cannot carry on street meetings if you do not have the burden, and if you do not profoundly believe what you are saying. If you haven't a personal conviction, you will never get an audience to stop and listen, that is sure, because there is nothing to keep them from walking away. But I have seen talented, consecrated, fluent laymen hold an audience of from 300 to 500 for two hours, and I know there are many other laymen who could do the same. They know this message, and they can present Daniel 2, the coming of Christ, signs of the times, the change of the Sabbath, and all the rest, and go through a regular series of meetings on the street corner. There would be no expense connected with it, —no advertising, no electric bill, no rent—all is free.

These meetings are conducted in an orderly way, and I have discovered that the authorities appreciate these gatherings in which there is none of the element of unrest and agitation that is so often prevalent. They appreciate the Seventh-day Adventist organization, because we are conservative and not radical, and we do not make rash statements. The Spirit of God comes into these meetings in a marvelous way. I am more and more in favor of the street-corner meeting.

The Chairman Summarizes

Chairman Branson: I would like to empha­size, as a kind of summary, a principle which I think is really most pertinent. Brother Ford told us, you remember, that he liked a taber­nacle, but that if he could not get that, he would take a church, a theater, or a tent. And if he could not do any better, he would go right out on the street and preach in a dig­nified manner. I think we ought to recognize that God expects us to work with whatever means we have in hand. And if I cannot get a big theater or the largest tent in the con­ference, that will be no excuse whatever for my not doing evangelistic work. There is some place I can do it, if it is nothing but a school­house. Brother Ford suggested holding cot­tage meetings if you could not do anything else. I believe, when we get to the place where we can really work to advantage with more, the Lord and the brethren will help us to get greater facilities. We need to do the best we can with what we have in hand. And I believe that many of us can do far more with the facilities we do have than we have done in the past, if we will but attempt greater things for God.


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Introductory Presentation by H.M.S. Richards

April 1935

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