As our efforts in the field of evangelism increase, enlarge, and intensify, adding hundreds and thousands of new members to the constituency of our churches, no more important demand is made upon our ministers than that of holding these new converts to the message. To evangelize and win men to the acceptance of certain specified doctrines is a great accomplishment; but to hold and establish them in the truth, to make loyal, truehearted Christians out of them, to train them to become active missionaries for others, and so to live that their lives in turn will aid in the salvation of men, are tasks of no secondary importance. Thus the question of what can be done to hold a larger percentage of our converts is a most timely one.
My observations on this problem lead me to suggest that upon the evangelists of this denomination rests the most solemn responsibility of doing their work with thoroughness. Every point of truth should be carefully and prayerfully presented. We have no doctrines of which we need be ashamed. New converts should not be baptized until they have had time to prove that the sanctifying power of the message has resulted in true conversion. We read in "Gospel Workers :" "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."—Page 370.
Too often thorough work has not been done in the past. Individuals have accepted the theory of the truth, have been baptized and rushed into church membership, with only a superficial knowledge of the message. They have not been given time to dig deep and establish their spiritual house upon foundation principles. Hence, when the storms of opposition arise, they quickly forget the arguments by which their new-found faith is established, and so are swept away from their moorings. Again, we read in "Gospel Workers :" "Unless those who receive the truth are thoroughly converted, unless there is a radical change in the life and character, unless the soul is riveted to the eternal Rock, they will not endure the test of trial."—Page 368. One evidence that an evangelist has done his work well, that his converts are fully instructed, that his work is properly bound off, will be found in the fact that the work does not ravel out soon after his departure.
No other worker has an influence over new members equal to that of the evang' elist who first teaches them the message. To them he always remains the greatest preacher of all. They believe in him, and will readily follow his counsel in all things related to the work of the church. He should fit them into the regular church program and help them to understand that they are now part of a great world-wide movement. This takes time. Therefore no worker should feel that he can do thorough work for new members in a few weeks. Paul stayed in Corinth a year and six months, but he left a well-organized church of new believers. Too many times in the past the minister or evangelist, after a few weeks' effort, has moved on, leaving new members like "sheep without a shepherd," to be devoured by the wolves of false doctrine. I believe we should plan to stay by our work long enough for new converts to become adults in the faith, thoroughly established in all points of doctrine.
If another is to follow up the work of the evangelist, he should by all means be located in the field from the beginning, or even before the effort starts. He should be closely associated with the evangelist through the series, assisting wherever possible, mingling with the people, visiting, teaching, and helping them over their difficulties. Thus the new members will learn to associate him with the movement and will not feel so forsaken when the time comes for the evangelist to leave. When the two are associated from the beginning, it is the mission of the pastor to make prominent the work of the evangelist, who naturally leads out in the public work, while the pastor acts as the assistant.
The pastor can do much to keep down criticism and secure the full co-operation of the church membership in the effort. These measures will help materially in the results obtained. However, as the time for the evangelist to leave draWs near, it becomes his duty to emphasize the importance of the pastor's place, bringing him more and more into prominence in the minds of the new believers. By his acts the evangelist should say, "He must increase, but I must decrease." Thus it will be much easier for the pastor to hold the new believers, and there need be no decided break in the program when the evangelist leaves. That minister who is called to go into a city and hold what some evangelist wins, without being associated with him during the campaign, faces an almost impossible task.
With the evangelist gone, the real problem for the pastor begins. These new converts, having been won by the evangelistic type of sermon, expect him to carry on in the same style. Yet a pastor is also expected to build up the spirituality of the church membership and promote denominational policies and programs, including the circulation of our good literature, the raising of our local and conference goals, and the supervision of our many church interests—all of which calls for a little different type of sermon from that usually given by the evangelist. The best solution to this problem of evangelism in the midst of an ever-increasing program of denominational promotion, seems to be the Sunday night services, which should continue indefinitely following an evangelistic effort. Those subjects which first appealed to the new converts may again be discussed and restudied, thus deepening their understanding of present truth.
Long before new converts are baptized, they should be encouraged to become members of the Sabbath school. Here they will be taught the value of daily Bible study, and as they search the Scriptures, they will become familiar with the Book and its teachings. Soon they will be able to give a reason for their new-found faith, which is a strong factor in binding them to the church. The Sabbath school is an agency second to none in establishing new members. We have little to fear regarding those who become regular members of the Sabbath school. The first step in apostasy is taken when they begin remaining away from this important service. Keep them in the Sabbath school and the Sabbath school will keep them in the church. Those not found in their Sabbath school class need the immediate attention of the worker.
All realize that the new converts will need frequent visits from the pastor and Bible worker. Confronted with many new problems and difficulties demanding careful and prayerful consideration, they will greatly appreciate the visit of the worker who will kindly and sympathetically instruct them. The more frequent these visits can be made for a time, the better. The enemy, working through friends, neighbors, and former church associates, will do everything possible to upset them on points of our doctrine. It is important that these be kept clear in their minds. It is marvelous, indeed, with what ease they can sometimes forget the truth and accept false teachings. Do not leave them long without knowing their spiritual standing. Pray with them, and teach them to pray.
To fortify them against false doctrines, see that they are well supplied with our good literature. Encourage them to purchase our books and to subscribe for our papers, to store their minds full of arguments in favor of truth. God has said, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." Our good books furnish knowledge on almost every subject; the new members must be made aware of this fact and encouraged to search out the truth and know it, not as a statement made by the evangelist, but as something which they have read for themselves from the Bible.
Encourage other members of the church to visit and become acquainted with the new ones. New members always lose friends by uniting with the Adventist Church. They need to gain new friends and make new social contacts. They must not be left to feel forsaken in the world. Help them to get acquainted with the other members of the church. Older members should take an interest in the new ones, especially those older members who can be depended upon to talk about the points of the message and not the gossip of the church. We are all social beings. If this fact were recognized a little more, and opportunity provided for meeting outside the church and the Sabbath hour, it would be a blessing to many in our large cities.
New members should find a place in the missionary activities of the church right from the start. Perhaps they could begin working first with a literature band. Giving out announcements of the meetings, or any other activity will help them realize that they are now a part of a great missionary organization. The Ingathering will, of course, demand their time and attention. But one of the best ways to hold them in the movement is to let them know that they are indeed a part of it, that it is their church, and that they belong to it. Keep them warm in Christian service, and they will not grow cold and die so readily as when left with nothing to do in the midst of a church whose responsibilities reach to the very ends of the earth.