Every young evangelist dreams of the day when he will be able to hold large meetings and reach thousands with this message. This is a healthy ambition. But while we are developing to that point, we should not despise the day of small things. The beginner in evangelism, as well as the older worker who may have a district of comparatively small towns ranging from five hundred to two thousand population, need not despair of holding meetings, and doing successful work.
We should not feel that any town is beneath our dignity. Every town or village presents a living challenge to the district leader or evangelist. Its people are to be reached by this message, and he is the one to carry it to them. Small-town newspapers are usually very willing to print sermons. At the present, I am supplying our local paper with a sermon each week, and I also conduct a question-and-answer column, called "The Bible Corner." We should take advantage of these opportunities.
If there are two papers in the town, be sure to ascertain the coverage of each before making a choice; or better, use both papers. Inadequate, improper advertising has ruined many an effort.
Our problem in the Middle West is how to work in the small towns. This usually means how to work without a tabernacle, budget, song leader, pianist, or Bible worker. We shall consider these problems one by one.
Suitable Tabernacle.—A large tabernacle cannot be furnished to every man, but we should choose the best meeting place available.
The message should not be preached in back streets. Ours is a dignified message and demands a dignified presentation. Second-rate halls or meeting places in poor localities should be avoided.
Meeting the Budget.—It is not always possible for conferences to give us the financial help we need to carry on a strong work, but it is possible for the expense of the meetings to be met through the offerings alone. We should always endeavor to bring money into the treasury rather than take it out. People like to know the facts. Tell them from the first that they are under no obligation to pay your salary. You are paid by the Lord from an entirely different source. However, press upon them the fact that the meetings are theirs, and that, if possible, you would like to cover the expense by their contributions. From the very first night keep them informed regarding expenses and donations. Most people are glad to pay their way, and will under proper persuasion.
Song Leader and Pianist.—The man who works in small towns can be his own song leader. In fact, when the people become attached to you through listening to the message (and it must be because of the message), they will enjoy hearing you sing, even though you may not he a vocal artist. We always enjoy hearing our friends sing. So show yourself to be a friend. Sometimes a song leader may be obtained from among our laity. It may be that your wife can act as your pianist. People, somehow, like to see the minister's wife taking part in the meetings. In any case a pianist can usually be found without incurring any expense. But we should see to it that those who are called on to help are living in harmony with the things we teach. Keep sacred things in sacred vessels.
"In their efforts to reach the people, the Lord's messengers are not to follow the ways of the world. In the meetings that are held, they are not to depend on worldly singers and theatrical display to awaken an interest. How can those who have no interest in the word of God, who have never read His word with a sincere desire to understand its truths, be expected to sing with the spirit and the understanding ?"—"Gospel Workers," p. 357.
Bible Worker.—The minister in the small effort must be his own personal Bible worker, and such is a vital part of his work. "Teaching the Scripture, praying in families,—this is the work of an evangelist, and this work is to be mingled with your preaching. If it is omitted [and it is in far too many cases], preaching will be, to a great extent, a failure. . . . You and your wife need to come close to the people by personal effort."—"Testimonies to Ministers," p. 3.13.
Taking Care of Aroused Interest
There is sometimes a tendency on the part of the evangelist to leave his work and hasten on to another field. This usually results in tragedy, for those newly won to the faith become discouraged and the work falls apart. Too many are prone to feel that as soon as we have finished a series of meetings, the town has been properly warned, and we should shake the dust off our feet and move on—while if the truth were known, people have just begun to get interested. A second series in the same place will often bring good results.
The evangelist should follow the suggestion that "there should be a longer tarry in the place where interest is awakened."—"Testimonies." Vol. I, p. 48. This tarrying would season the first converts and they would be able to hold the work together. Longer and more concentrated efforts will bring better results. Even in the small efforts there could be a concentration of workers, and this would be in harmony with the instruction that has been given through the Spirit of prophecy. If we would follow the Lord's counsel, many small efforts would become large efforts. Ten days, two weeks, six weeks, or even eight weeks of meetings are altogether too short to do permanent work.
Personal Work.—Personal work, after all, is the key to success in any effort. In a recent series of meetings, held in a small town, I had an attendance of about forty people, some nights even fewer. In the very first week, I made the people a special offer of literature covering the subjects of the week, for which they signed cards. During the second week, I visited the homes of those who signed cards and took them the literature personally. My visits were the means of enrolling them in Community Bible School studies. After six weeks of meetings, twenty-three were enrolled in the Bible studies, taking regular instruction.
Today, ten are church members and eight more are keeping the Sabbath, and our list of interested people through our various contacts has continued to grow. These people have been joined with seven of our isolated members in a town one mile away to form a Sabbath school. My own family also attends this Sabbath school, so we can do a more personal work. At the present time we have a membership of twenty-nine. Sabbath school offerings have been good, and Wednesday night prayer meetings are well attended. There will be another baptism this month.
The meetings have cost the conference only $8.25, but to date our Sabbath school has returned $24 for missions, besides the tithe. I realize that this is only a small work when compared with some of the larger efforts. Yet it points the way for a worker to realize from thirty to fifty well-instructed converts a year, without cost to the conference. The Spirit of prophecy gives some pointed instruction on personal work which we do well to heed:
"Our ministers who have gone to important places to hold tent meetings, have often made a serious mistake in devoting all their time to sermonizing. There should be less preaching and more teaching." —"Gospel Workers," p. 76.
"A solemn responsibility rests upon the ministers of Christ to do their work with thoroughness. They should lead young disciples along wisely and judiciously, step by step, onward and upward, until every essential point has been brought before them. Nothing should be kept back. But not all points of truth should be given in the first few meetings. Gradually, cautiously, his own heart imbued with the Spirit of God, the teacher should give his hearers meat in due season. . . .
"Too often the work is left in an unfinished state, and in many such cases it amounts to nothing. Sometimes, after a company of people has accepted the truth, the minister thinks that he must immediately go to a new field ; and sometimes, without proper investigation, he is authorized to go. This is wrong ; he should finish the work begun; for in leaving it incomplete, more harm than good is done. No field is so unpromising as one that has been cultivated just enough to give the weeds a more luxuriant growth. By this method of labor many souls have been left to the buffeting of Satan and the opposition of members of other churches who have rejected the truth ; and many are driven where they can never again be reached. A minister might better not engage in the work unless he can bind it off thoroughly. .
"God's work is not to be done in a bungling, slipshod manner. When a minister enters a field, he should work that field thoroughly. He should not be satisfied with his success until he can, through earnest labor and the blessing of Heaven, present to the Lord converts who have a true sense of their responsibility, and who will do their appointed work. If he has properly instructed those under his care, when he leaves for other fields of labor the work will not ravel out.
"A laborer should never leave some portion of the work undone because it is not agreeable to perform, thinking that the minister coming next will do it for him. When this is the case, if a second minister follows the first, and presents the claims that God has upon His people, some draw back, saying, 'The minister who brought us the truth did not mention these things.' . . . Some refuse to accept the tithing system ; they turn away, and no longer walk with those who believe and love the truth. When other lines are opened before them, they answer, 'It was not so taught us,' and they hesitate to move forward. . . God would be better pleased to have six thoroughly converted to the truth than to have sixty make a profession and yet not be truly converted."—Id., pp. 367-370.
How much we need to read the instruction of the Spirit of prophecy and to follow it. We are on the verge of a mighty hour, and evangelism is to storm the fort of every city, town, and village. The small places as well as the large cities are to be warned.