The European holocaust has brought a new situation that demands a great deal of adaptability in our evangelistic program. Here in England there has been no necessity for any man to leave his work, but there has been an imperative need for changed approaches, adapted methods, and a reorientation of ideas. The man who adheres tenaciously to fixed methods that succeeded in peacetime will have, at best, greatly reduced success, or, at worst, no success at all.
The first difficulty to strike us was the fact that night lightine, of streets and houses disappeared with the advent of war, and the whole land was blacked out after sundown. People, especially women, who formed the majority in our audiences, did not come out as often to night meetings. Even where night meetings were possible, evangelists were often faced with the heavy expense of blacking out every window and skylight. In a land where the Sunday evening service was the backbone of an evangelistic campaign or mission, and where afternoon meetings have never been in favor, the decreased night attendances were a great discouragement.
The men who were inflexible in their adherence to old methods showed their discouragement, while those who absorbed the shock and courageously changed their tactics continued to get an audience. Some swung right over to afternoon meetings on Sundays. Others fixed upon six o'clock as opening time, and displayed prominently on their handbills the slogan, "Home Before Dark." The last meeting I attended in England before leaving for the General Conference session was one of the "Home Before Dark" variety, and the well-appointed hall was packed with intently interested people. Adaptability did it, under the divine blessing.
As war organization gained momentum, all kinds of voluntary and compulsory service occupied the time and attention of the people.
Long-winded and dry-as-dust sermons left a man preaching to thin air ! Men's minds were worried with a thousand cares, and messages of comfort and cheer, rather than of gloom, were called for. In fact, government legislation made it a punishable offense for anyone to spread gloom and despondency among the people. The adaptable preacher saw a chance to brighten his services and shortened his sermons.
We were all driven to preach the advent message as one of hope and inspiration, rather than of condemnation and gloom. The love of Jesus is, of course,. the chief instrument in the Holy Spirit's work of conversion.
Along with this "shorter and brighter" service phase came the realization that thousands of people were now at home and could be reached by a new type of literature ministry. Cards to be left at every house were used on an initial visit with a tract. And some men went into new districts and worked up a study list of nearly two hundred names in this way before opening their public efforts. Harder work? Yes, but harder times mean harder work, and harder work under God's guidance never leaves a preacher fruitless ! Those who could not adapt themselves in this way showed declining baptisms.
Another new situation consisted of reduced paper supplies for handbills. The adaptable evangelist used as many handbills as he could get, and then devised a somewhat new way of advertising in newspapers by means of illustrative and arresting cuts and write-ups. The expense was greater, but results justified it.
Class distinctions are tending to disappear, and men are more approachable on religious matters. This has opened up increased avenues, such as short newspaper letters and discussions. One preacher saw an unusual newspaper letter from a much-troubled woman. He answered it and said the subject would be dealt with at his next Sunday meeting. The woman was there and is now about ready for baptism.
Some preachers give time to air-raid-precaution services. They watch for fires and fight the,m at night. This entails hours of patrol work with non-Adventists, and gives opportunity for discreet converse and study. In some cases it has opened non-Adventist churches to our preachers.
If a hundred new situations confront us, we must find a hundred new ways to reach men. As God's messenger has said, the Lord has "a thousand ways" to reach men of which we may know nothing at present. It is doubtful if we shall know them all, until, with courageous adaptability and lionhearted faith, we march forward to new and providential openings. "All things to all men" is a challenge to flexibility in method and adaptability to new times and situations.