Making the Most of Our Wartime Audiences

What is the difference between holding an effort in a small hall and in a big one?

By IAN MCGOUGAN, Evangelist, South England Conference

Since the beginning of the war every evangelist has had to face smaller audiences, and I think every evangelist has spent many hours trying to think of a new way to meet this problem.

What is the difference between holding an effort in a small hall and in a big one? Let us first consider the advertising. If we are speak­ing in a well-known, comfortable picture house with a good organ, the name alone will draw a large number of people; but in the mediocre halls, with their attendant drawbacks of hard chairs and drab surroundings, the people have to be drawn entirely by our carefully thought-'out title and its accompanying layout on bills and posters.

In a small hall, and especially in one of our own churches, the people's minds can be im­pressed by the orderliness and cleanliness which prevail. Everything must be shining. What will pass in the darkness of the picture house will not pass in the well-lighted hall. Therefore the speaker, the ushers, and the hymnbooks must give the impression that they belong to God. For those who like the use of a projecto­scope, the small hall is well suited to the showing of pictures, charts, and perhaps choruses.

Now, what about the main item—the address? It is said that this must be prepared even more carefully for presentation in a small hall than in a large meeting place. The study must be deeper, most of the flamboyant touches elim­inated, and the talk made more homely. Is this true? Must we alter our presentation accord­ing to the size of our audience?

Some weeks ago it was suggested in the House of Commons that the prime minister's speech be broadcast from the House, instead of his speaking again in the evening from the B. B. C., and thus he might have the inspiration of the House as he spoke to the unseen nations. Do we preachers also have to get our inspiration from the crowd, or does the crowd get its in­spiration from us? As many of you have done, I have been speaking in two places in one day, and a few times I have given the same address in both places. Where it succeeded in one place, it generally failed in the other. Why should this be? Perhaps it was because I had given the same address to audiences of much different sizes.

I once heard one of our leaders say- that he had been present in a large hall, holding some eight hundred, when one of our experienced evangelists was speaking. He spoke as one in­spired. Afterward this same leader chanced to walk into the meeting place of one of our small companies where only eight or nine were pres­ent. The evangelist gave the same address in almost the same words, and spoke as if he were still addressing the eight hundred. Again his whole congregation was inspired.

I believe this is where I failed : My fellow evangelist was lighted from within, and he lifted up the few, whereas I had been letting the few discourage 'me. Surely without the inspiration of Christ we can do nothing. This is amply illustrated in the fifth chapter of Luke, where Christ turned the failure of the disciples into success. The disciples cast their net in the best place at the very best time, and worked hard; yet they caught nothing. But at that same place, at the very worst time, with the same equipment, the same men caught so many fish that their nets broke, and their ship began to sink. The difference is obvious. They had the presence and the inspiration of Christ. Writes Dr. Woodrow Wilson:

"I was in a barbershop, sitting in a chair, when I became aware that a personality had entered the room. A man had come quietly in on the same errand as myself and sat in the chair next to me. Every word he uttered showed a personal and vital interest in the man who was serving him ; and before I got through with what was being done to me, I was aware that I had attended an evangelistic service, because Mr. Moody was in the next chair. I purpcsely lingered in the room after he had left, and noted the singular effect his visit had on the barbers in that shop. They talked in undertones. They did not know his name, but they knew that something had elevated their thought, and I felt that I left that place as I should have left a place of worship."

Smaller audiences call for more thorough and concentrated work, both in the public presenta­tion of the message and in personal visitation.

In prewar days the number of names on visit­ing lists was so large that it was a problem to visit them every week, and they were sifted out very quickly. Now that we have smaller lists it is possible to do better quality work. The evangelist should find it possible to visit all the interested ones once a fortnight in addition to the visiting done by his Bible instructor. Suc­cess is largely due to good visiting.

There must be no complacency regarding small audiences. Every evangelist should use every conceivable means to increase his attend­ance and, finally, to gather the full harvest of souls even from smaller crowds. The greater part of our Lord's ministry was with smaller groups and not gigantic crowds. We need to learn from Him as the ideal Evangelist. Per­sonal contact is a vital work, and we must learn the value that our Lord places on a single soul.


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By IAN MCGOUGAN, Evangelist, South England Conference

March 1944

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