We live in the most tumultuous times this world has ever known. Never before has there been so much confusion, bewilderment, and despair, or so much dreadful anxiety for the future. In this dark hour, while the nations are war torn and bleeding, men and women everywhere are asking: "What does it all mean? What are we headed for ? Is there any hope?" We who have been called to deliver God's final message to man, have the answer to these questions. But one of our most vital problems is, How can we effectively arrest men's attention and induce them to listen to the word of truth? Years ago the Lord's messenger wrote:
"In the cities of today, where there is so much to attract and please, the people can be interested by no ordinary efforts. Ministers of God's appointment will find it necessary to put forth extraordinary efforts in order to arrest the attention of the multitudes. And 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. They must make use of every means that can possibly be devised for causing the truth to stand out clearly and distinctly?" —"Testimonies," Vol. IX, p. 109.
This paragraph clearly sets before us, the task in getting the ear of the public today, for "the people can be interested by no ordinary efforts." There was a time when our evangelists could pitch their tent on almost any four corners, and the very presence of the tent was advertising enough. There was a time when our ministers could announce such topics as "The Second Coming of Christ," "The Home of the Saved," "Man's Nature and Destiny," and the people would come and listen eagerly. That time has long since passed. The competition by meetings and amusements of all kinds—churches, lodges, theaters, movies, dance halls, and sports—and the unique methods used to secure the attention of the people, make it necessary for us to offer something appealing, something that will catch the eye and grip the mind, if we are to succeed in getting people to listen to the stupendous and solemn truths of God's Word.
It is still true that we must "put forth extraordinary efforts." This does not mean that we are to resort to sensationalism, nor that the preacher or anyone else in the effort is to be compared to the star performer in a theater. "Extraordinary efforts" means that our methods are thought over, worked over, prayed over, and up to date in a changing world. Yet they must be in keeping with the importance and sacredness of the message we represent. Whatever we do, our work should always be characterized by such dignity as will commend it to all classes.
Several years ago I read an article telling about the high value commercial institutions place upon publicity. The author stated that John Wanamaker, the National Biscuit Company, and the Hart, Schaffner & Marx Company were spending a minimum of a million dollars a year for advertising. Other companies spend more than a million a year. Why do these commercial institutions set aside so much money for advertising? Why are they continually putting up great signs, filling the magazines and newspapers with ads, and buying expensive time on the radio ? Because truly "It pays to advertise !"
In our evangelistic work we find similar results. We must advertise to get an audience, and we must keep advertising to hold continued attendance at our services. The one who can best advertise with a few penetrating facts that can be seen, read, believed, and remembered (other things being equal) will be the most successful in his work.
It is not possible to set forth any certain method of advertising which adequately meets the needs of all. Each worker must give study to his own particular field as well as his own personality, and then use the methods that will best serve his purpose. Several methods are worthy of our consideration.
1. Newspaper Advertising. One of the greatest mediums for advertising is the newspaper. In the Spirit of prophecy we read : "The press is a powerful means to move the minds and hearts of the people."—"Counsels on Health," p. 465. The newspaper is perhaps the best means of evangelistic advertising we can find. It has a decided advantage over other forms in that it is delivered by newsboy and mail to homes and offices, and is read by all classes of society.
In the large cities the advertising rate in the newspapers seems almost prohibitive. But if it is possible to advertise the Sunday night lecture and focus your advertising on getting a crowd at that meeting, you can play up your subjects of the week and strongly urge a regular attendance.
A large, well-written advertisement will attract more people than several small ones. Too often newspaper advertisements are too small to be effective. It is well to get a position as near the top of the advertising pyramid as possible, remembering that two thirds of the distance to the top is the optical center of the page. Consideration should be given to the section of the newspaper in which we will advertise. We usually think of the religious page. An ad there will attract the attention of the churchgoing people, but many will not respond because of their contact with other church services at that hour. So it may be well to try the theater page or some other one. The front page of most newspapers is the best page for advertising, if it is obtainable.
Many newspapers will grant space to those who advertise in their columns, but we would do well to supply the copy ourselves, for newsmen seldom inject into the article the viewpoint we want the public to get. But in preparing such "write-ups," we must be careful to use a reporter's style.
2. Handbill Distribution. Handbills are more effective in a small town than in a large city. The handbills should be attractive. If they are cheap in appearance, on poor paper with poor printing, the whole effort is cheapened in the minds of the people. They should be the same style week after week, so that whoever picks one up will recognize it as being from your meetings. The handbills should be passed out every Sabbath afternoon or early Sunday morning. The best plan is to divide up your territory, giving each church member from four to ten blocks, with an average of one hundred to two hundred handbills. Urge these members to keep the same territory and work it well each week during the effort. Handbills should also be ready for the ushers to hand out to the people as they leave the evening meetings.
3. Radio Announcements. The radio reaches large numbers. In the big cities it is expensive, but in the small ones it is often possible to obtain time at a very low rate. If one is able to carry on a regular broadcast each Sunday, the message he presents, his radio personality, and the announcements in which the meetings are stressed, make good advertising. One great disadvantage is that the announcement of the subject and the location of the hall is often forgotten, and the people who might be interested in the radio sermon fail to attend the hall meeting because of uncertainty of the meeting place.
4. Poster Advertising. Attractive posters placed on streetcars and buses make a very satisfactory. method of advertising. In some cities space for such posters is provided free if the words "Ride the :trolley" or "Ride the bus" are placed in a particular location on the poster. Since the buses and cars cover the entire city, this form of publicity should have a wider use among us.
5. Window Cards. Window cards can be used to advantage. They should be printed on good-quality cardboard, with a careful layout of material, and preferably in two colors. If the cards are displayed in the windows of the best stores, the meetings are given favorable standing in the community. The difficulty with this method today, when people do more window-shopping than actual buying, is that window space is at a premium, and if the owners do grant the courtesy of displaying the cards in their windows, they remain there but a short time, as the window space is much in demand for their own goods.
6. Small Cards. Cards may be used as another form of advertising that will bring good results. These cards, which give the sermon topics, may be enhanced by the use of cuts and different-colored ink or paper each successive week and are very inexpensive. Proper distribution of them can be carried on by our church members.
7. Telephone Calls. In cities where Seventh-day Adventists have unlimited telephone service, it is a good plan to apportion names from the telephone directory for personal telephone invitation. Give these assignments to all who will volunteer for such service, and instruct them how to proceed. This entails no expense and will bring excellent results. On the opening night we should enlist all church members who have phones to call all friends in town, urging them to be at the meeting.
8. Personal Letters. Another very valuable method of advertising the meetings is for the evangelist to write a mimeographed letter, stressing the seriousness of the times and the urgent need of Bible study. Then play up the opening night and enclose a handbill. This letter should be sent to all who are on any interested list, and to relatives and friends of church members who might be interested. You can get a permit from the post office and mail these letters for one cent each. The church members will be glad to address and stamp and fill them after prayer meeting, just before the meetings begin. If mailed on Thursday morning, they will reach their destination in sufficient time. In proportion to its circulation, this letter will bring as much response as any advertising that can be used.
There are other methods such as billboards, theater tickets, special printed invitations, etc., that may be used profitably. As an effort progresses, it is well to drop out part of the advertising. You may determine which type to drop by asking the people which kind of advertising brought them to the meeting. Whatever method we continue to use should be the best. And in all these methods we should remember that it is the message rather than the messenger, which is to be made known. The third angel's message is the biggest news in the world ! By the Lord's help, we must exalt it so that it will "arrest the attention of the multitudes."
We must not forget that the greatest advertisement is found in Spirit-filled sermons which result in a satisfied audience. No amount of advertising, of whatever nature, will hold the crowd, if they are disappointed in what they hear at the meeting. Before we begin an effort, and as we continue, let us earnestly pray, and enlist the prayers of God's people for a , revival. We should ever remember that men and women are won for Christ "not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts."