Every man who aspires to be an evangelist in this movement must learn how to get an audience, and then to keep it It is much easier to get a good audience than it is to keep it. We shall first discuss how to get the audience, for one certainly cannot keep what he does not have.
The size and the conditions of every particular city and town will enter into the problem of getting your first audience. Those who make up your first audience do not come to hear you preach because they have confidence in your ability, or because they believe that you are a good speaker, nor yet because they believe your advertising. The human family is very curious, and more or less inquisitive. Moreover, many are hungry for the truth, and are, to the best of their ability, looking for the things that will satisfy that desire. "Ministers of God's appointment will find it necessary to put forth extraordinary efforts in order to arrest the attention of the multitudes."—"Gospel Workers," p. 345. So, in your planning for an effort, you must study your work, and plan that your advertising will arrest the attention of the multitudes.
Advertising pays. Not all advertising is advertising. Some of it is very poor printing, and is not advertising at all. An advertisement, whether it be in a newspaper, or as a handbill, a billboard, or a radio ad, must of necessity attract the attention of the readers, or the hearers, and interest people, so that they will decide to attend the meeting you plan to hold.
The amount of money to spend on the opening night depends a great deal on the size of the auditorium to be filled, and the conditions in the city in which the effort is to be held. But it is generally conceded that it is useless to spend a great deal of money to get a large crowd unless the speaker is going to keep up the interest throughout the entire series.
I might add that it would be a hundred times easier to draw a large crowd, and larger crowds, if our churches would plan, year after year, to sow these great cities with the seed of truth. They ought to be systematically delivering this truth in the form of papers and tracts, to every home in the great cities. I have found, over a period of many years, that folk who have read our literature make good Adventists, that they are more readily interested, and are attracted to our meetings more easily than those who have never read our message.
I do not mean the spasmodic giving out of literature. I have in mind the systematic door-to-door campaign that takes a section of a city, and delivers to every home in that section Present Truth, for example, for a year, or six, or even three, months. If our churches would plan to cover their cities systematically with the truth, in this manner, there would be many more converts, and much larger and better interests. I wish it were possible to get all of our churches to do this kind of work regularly, year after year, until the Lord comes.
Then, when an interested man reads your ad, he feels that he has found the right place to go to hear the rest of the story that he did not read. He is full of questions. He is hungry to learn the truth. He plans to go--, and in this person you have a fine prospect. Let me enumerate a few other ways of building your audience:
1. Second Night Crucial.—Your second topic must be so worded that the crowd that came the first night will surely want to hear that second sermon. This means that the speaker must necessarily put his first topic over in A-I shape. For that first night, the speaker must not run the risk of being so worn out and tired that he is not at his best. He must remember that he stands in the place of John the Baptist, and that he has a message of vast import to the world at this particular time. He must rely on God to speak through him. His message must ring true; it must find the heart of the listeners, and the Holy Spirit must bear witness that this man is the messenger of heaven. Then, the audience will want to hear the topic for the next night.
Let me add, that when an evangelist plans on a series of meetings, even though he plans to drop out Monday night, he ought not to drop out that first Monday night, if he can have the auditorium. Why spend $500 or more to get a capacity crowd, and then after a ringing sermon tell them, "Now there will be no meeting tomorrow night. Come back Tuesday night"? That is poor psychology. Better use that first Monday night, and then drop out the Monday evenings later on. We read in "Gospel Workers :" "When they succeed in bringing together a large number of people, they must bear messages of a character so out of the usual order that the people will be aroused and warned."—Page 345.
One of the first things an evangelist must do is to be sure that his second and third, in fact, all after the first sermon, are just as good as the first, or even better. Make every succeeding sermon better than the one before it. Never preach old sermons. Keep your sermons up to date.
2. Thorough Organization Imperative.—Every detail of organization must be thoroughly planned for that opening meeting. Everything must go off smoothly, without a hitch. Start on the minute, and quit on time. People like punctuality. Have your workers know just what they are to do, and when they are to do it, and never allow a hesitancy to cause the people to wonder, "Well, what are they going to do next ?"
3. Skillful Wording of Topics.—We need to spend a great deal of time wording our topics so that they will draw bigger and better crowds. Ever seek to get new and interesting sermon titles—titles that will continue to whet the appetite of your audience, so they will continue to come to hear you.
4. Brief, Gripping Sermons.—Our sermons need to be concise and to the point. When you have made your point, stop. Better stop fifteen minutes early, than to keep going, and have an anticlimax. Sermons from thirty-five to forty-five minutes are usually long enough, if you have your material well in hand, and present it simply. If you cannot do this, better postpone your effort until you can.
5. Logical Sequence of Topics.—There is an art in the arrangement of topics—securing the proper sequence of sermons. They ought to logically follow one another. For instance, it is well to follow the opening topic of Daniel 2 with "The Second Coming of Christ," by telling your audience at the close of the presentation of the image that tomorrow night you will tell them all about this stone that was cut out of the mountain without hands, and where that stone came from, and just what it was going to do. Make the presentation interesting. Then the people will want to come to hear that next sermon, too.
6. Link Up with Radio Advertising.—Advertise your meetings over the radio. Have your radio sermons link up with your public meetings.
Other important points in creating and maintaining an audience might well be considered, as follows:
Announce your next night's subject at the close of the evening's sermon. Stop the sermon at an intensely interesting climax, and then tell the people what you will preach about the next night. The question-and-answer service can be a drawing. card if conducted aright. Ask the people in the audience to get their friends to come with them. Offer a book to the person who brings the most folk with him the next night. I give away a book to someone each night. The news spreads, and it is good advertising.
Change your billboards after the sermon each night, so that people going to work in the morning will know what you are preaching about that night. Never allow the old sign to stay up overnight. This will brand you as a "ne'er-do-well."
A rousing song service is one of the greatest holding powers known in evangelistic efforts. This must be thoroughly understood by the song leader, and it is his duty to see to it that he makes it a success.
Have your next week's announcements printed, and ready to hand out on the Friday night before the next week comes. Hand them to the audience you already have, and you will at least have them there. All others you get are extras, and will help make your audience larger.
The evangelist's own printed sermons will be one of the chief assets in keeping an audience coming—if he knows how to offer these sermons to the public. One of the greatest evangelistic needs today is a series of papers about the size of Good News, a four-page paper, on about every single subject on which the evangelist speaks. These should be offered free to those who sign for them. We would win many hundreds, more souls if we had such printed sermons to offer. Sermon write-ups in newspapers are very good to induce others to come. This takes time and effort, but pays big dividends.
And the greatest asset of all—the daily consecration of the workers—is most essential to the building and maintaining of any crowd. The crowd senses your consecration. They are not fooled by outward display. There is an inward sense that tells others whether we are genuine.