In considering the subject, How can we reduce our losses and retain our gains, it will doubtless prove helpful if we take an actual situation as the basis of our procedure. In Richmond, at the close of a five-month effort, 230 converts were baptized. The effort closed November 19, 1937. After a year and three months as follow-up pastor, I found that records showed a loss of 20, but during the same time we added 25 new believers, which compensated for our losses. Now the question arises, "How was it done?"
A passage from "Christ's Object Lessons," impresses us with the true value of a soul: "At the foot of the cross, remembering that for one sinner Christ would have laid down His life, you may estimate the value of a soul."—Page 196. Unless there is a real heart anguish for souls, and unless painstaking care is used, we are likely to sustain great losses in every major effort that is followed up by anyone except the evangelist. The evangelist has demonstrated his love for souls in the effort, and if a large number have responded to the message, it is far better for him to stay right by the new congregation until they are well rooted in the truth. The length of time that he remains with the new believers will depend upon how quickly he can give them a full insight into the message, and train them by constant growth to share the responsibility of loyally supporting our local and world-wide work. Our message is so vast in its scope and so different in its method that a new believer cannot grasp it in a fortnight.
If the local pastor is to follow up the effort, he will probably wish to continue the Sunday-night lectures in the same hall until he has repeated the basic doctrines. In so doing, he will begin to train the new believers to bring their friends, thus teaching them their first lesson in missionary work, and while they are trying to win their friends, they are listening to the message the second time. And this time it will be rooted deeper. They will also be pleased to have a part in distributing the advertising of the services from week to week, or month to month, as one's plan may be.
In addition to this, if there are Bible workers or interns or other helpers for the follow-up work, the very best plan that can be used is the cottage meeting. We found these meetings to be very popular, and we held as many as nine cottage meetings each week, with an attendance of around twenty at each meeting. We chose homes in different parts of the city, and then all the new members with their friends gathered together once a week for a Bible study. In this service they listened to the doctrine for the third time. Repetition is the law of learning, and no teacher ever tries to accomplish lasting effects from his classwork without constant reviews. The cottage meeting may be conducted as a Bible school, but no matter by what name you call it, you have the advantage here in coming very near new believers. They feel a freedom to ask questions in this smaller group, and the questions can be answered so that all will be benefited.
Necessary to Come Close to People
By this plan, also, the people can associate with the worker in a more intimate way, ask questions, and talk over matters that are giving them concern. Their former pastors are after them, trying to upset them in their new faith, and if we are not right on the job, there to meet every emergency, they will be led to believe that they are being deceived by some modern belief. They may get frightened, and hurry back to their old church. It is absolutely necessary to come close to the people following a major effort in a city. God saw the necessity of this long ago, and sent us a bit of counsel to guide us: "My brethren and sisters, in your ministry come close to the people."—"Gospel Workers," page 37.
Little by little we must bring the new congregation back to a normal church life. The evangelistic effort has been colorful and stimulating, with its attractively decorated platform, effective special music, impressive lighting, large corps of workers, heavy attendance, and fluent speaker. But with each passing month we are returning to the ordinary routine of the church in its various services. This transition should not be made too quickly or too abruptly, or the church services will seem dull, commonplace, and uninteresting.
For instance, let there not be too big a drop from the evangelist's highly colored, thoroughly illustrated sermon, to the commonplace, drab, unorganized sermon of the pastor. It is a challenge to us pastors, who follow up the work of an evangelist, to organize our sermons, by the help of the Spirit, so that they will do what a sermon is supposed to do. By that, I mean exactly what the messenger of the Lord meant when she said: "Not with tame, lifeless utterances is the message to be given, but with clear, decided, stirring utterances."—"Gospel Workers," p. 29. (See also page 35.) We will have to admit that some of our sermons are so dull, lifeless, and unimportant that it is a waste of the congregation's time to come and listen to them.
Meetings of the Regular Church Program
In changing the meeting schedule from every night in the lecture hall to the regular church program, one will have to- crowd in many items on the stated evenings at the church. No one would want to follow literally the method that I used, and that is not necessary. It is set forth here as suggestive only. Wednesday night from the hour of seven till eight we conducted a layman's soul-winning class, making .a conscious effort to get everyone to do something. At eight o'clock the regular midweek service began, and the first fifteen minutes were devoted to something inspirational and devotional. This was a definite opportunity to build up a fine concept of religion in personal experience.
Following the devotional meeting on Wednesday evenings, we conducted a series of thirty-minute health lectures * based on medical science. These were continued for six months, and proved to be very popular. After the health lectures were completed, we began a series of lectures on the book of Revelation. This also proved to be an interesting type of follow-up work, and it fits very well into the pastor's evangelistic program. He can thus have two nights each week which are strictly evangelistic. Sunday nights will always be his best opportunity, but he can supplement that by drawing many of the Sunday night audience to the midweek service.
It is my opinion that the pastor should teach the Sabbath school lesson to the class of new believers, no matter how large the class may be. Here is his golden opportunity to create a great love for the Sabbath school, and after he has had them under his care for several months, he can then transfer them to other teachers. Here he teaches these newly interested ones to love the Bible, and to enjoy the benefits that come from a daily, consistent study of the Scriptures. Here, too, he has the opportunity to make wise use of the Spirit of prophecy, and acquaint his people with the glories of the prophetic gift in the church. The Sabbath school class, if handled properly, will be the place of greatest interest to the new believers. It has become the richest meeting of all in our church here in Richmond. Nothing compares with the interest of that hour of study.
On Friday nights the young people have their service. The people come, and we must take advantage of it. If the Missionary Volunteer meeting is held from eight to nine, you can profitably conduct a teacher's training course from seven to seven-forty-five. Get as many new ones to join that class as possible, and begin to train them for future teachers. As teachers, they gain a larger vision of the Sabbath school and the world field, and become acquainted with the machinery of church administration.
We have said nothing about visiting, at which the pastor must work constantly. In our city there is someone in the hospital every week, and sickness in the home seems to be quite prevalent. Visiting draws a pastor near to the people, and in no other way can he do justice to his work. In this way he learns to know his people, and know the problems they face from week to week, and can preach sympathetically and understandingly in his Sabbath sermons.
In his efforts to conserve the gains made, the pastor will find himself pulled and torn by a load of service that he little dreamed of before the campaign came to his city. He may have prayed ever so earnestly for a great increase in souls, but when they come a hundred or more at a time, he faces a problem that calls not only for consecration but for endless effort. Really, at the bottom of our question of conserving our gains and decreasing our losses is the age-old formula of downright hard work, together with much thinking and planning. One may be ever so industrious in the matter, but if he misdirects his effort, he will fail just as surely as if he made but little effort. The pastor's program will require about all there is in him, but it pays real dividends in supplying the new congregation with the spiritual food necessary to build them up in Christ Jesus.
Next month a companion article, "Evangelistic Sermons for Follow-Up," will appear, elucidating on the type of sermon a pastor should preach in establishing new believers after the evangelist has completed his task—Editor.
Described more fully in the Medical Missionary section of next month's Ministry.—Editor.