In your rally sermon, one or two weeks before the launching of an evangelistic campaign, you should include several illustrative experiences of backsliders reclaimed during former campaigns. The best prospects for surrender, at least during the early weeks of your meetings, are the backsliders. But how often they have been almost completely overlooked or ignored, being considered virtually hopeless.
Urge the members to turn in to you the name of every backslider they know of in the community. Also urge them to give you the names of any who are really interested. Urge them on this point again and again. Ask them to be sure the addresses are correct. Write a circular letter to these interests and backsliders, inviting them to be out to the meeting Sunday night, and enclose a handbill with the letter. You will be surprised at the response to such a letter if it is written in a warm, informal, pressing style. (Also remember that the Voice of Prophecy is willing to write a letter to its listeners in your community encouraging them to attend your meetings.)
But this is only the beginning of the attention to these backsliders' names. As I write, in the top of my right-hand drawer I have now collected nearly fifty names of backsliders and interests here in the comparatively small town of Amarillo. I hope within two weeks to have visited all of these persons. They form an invaluable prospect list. Other such names will be added as the weeks go by.
We so often fail to realize the wonderful results obtained in comparison to the effort expended in working for backsliders in a campaign. In one city I visited the homes of approximately two hundred backsliders. Of these, more than one hundred came back into the church during a two-year period.
About two years ago I made a very difficult visit to the home of a wealthy backslider whose name is known all over America. An unfortunate misunderstanding had driven him out of the church years ago. Through the years he gave thousands of dollars to our work. However, it seemed to be taken for granted that he would never reunite with the church. The bitterness of the years had erected an almost impenetrable barrier.
That rainy night it seemed hard to knock at the door of that luxurious home—calling on a prominent man to whom I had received no introduction. Nor did the visit apparently accomplish anything. He seemed surprised that I, a minister, had not come with any financial request, but was merely interested in his welfare and eternity. I told him that I had felt driven to call on him and let him know we wanted him back. At the end of my visit he even declined the invitation to unite in prayer. (Only three backsliders have ever refused prayer in their homes during the many calls I have made.) Anyway, I had done my duty, I thought, and though the visit was a failure, my conscience was clear, for I had been true to my pledge to call on every backslider whose name came to my notice.
Imagine my joy a few weeks ago when I learned that this gentleman and his wife have now come back to the church and are once more enjoying fellowship with those they really loved in their hearts through the years—God's people. It brought a secret joy to my heart when I learned that the beginning of their change dated back to my difficult, discouraging call that lonely rainy night.
Divide the names of all the interests and backsliders among the various workers according to their respective districts. Caution them as to the approach to make, particularly in the case of backsliders. The pastor or evangelist who is doing the preaching should call on these persons himself. Jesus, the Maker of the universe, took time to seek out individuals lost in sin, to bring help in despair. Can we as pastors or evangelists presume to put forth any less effort?
At the backslider's door tell him who you are and that you just stopped around, wanting to see him. Taking a step toward the door at this point will almost invariably assure you an entrance. Once inside, make your friend feel at ease by a friendly, warm, fast-moving conversation.
Tell him that you are new in the community, and just trying to get acquainted with all the friends of the church. You understand that he used to be a member and you have found that all those who have ever been members almost always keep their love and respect for the message, even though for some personal reasons they may not be following it. Do not try to defend faults and stumbling blocks in the lives of members if the backslider brings these up. Just tell him these are inexcusable btit should certainly not hinder a good person's belonging to the church.
Let it be apparent at the outset that you have not come to "labor" with him or to reprimand him. Make it more like a breezy, sincere visit to renew an old acquaintance. (You, to him, represent the church that he once loved, and you become to him the symbolic embodiment of that group to which he was once attached.) Tell him of your plans for evangelistic advancement in the city; tell him how the work is speeding to the ends of the earth, and of the wonders of our coast-to-coast radio growth, and then add a word about the. rapidity of the fulfillment of the signs. This last is very important, because for years this backslider has been worried about the fast fulfilling signs. Out of approximately six hundred backsliders whom I have prayed with in their homes in the last few years, not more than eight or nine have denied that they felt conviction about the times and the fact that they should make a new start in the church. About one third of all those visited have reunited with the church.
Make your visit very brief. Urge the backslider to come out to the next Sunday night*meeting, and ask him to come up and speak to you at the service. It may help in gaining his confidence if you will end your visit something like this:
"Well, I must be going. Seems as if it keeps us going day and night to keep up with the work, but we like it that way. I have about one hundred and fifty calls I am trying to make in the next four weeks. But I love this work and long to see it finished so we can go home!
"But there's just one thing I want-to tell you; I want you to feel comfortable around me, and know that I am your friend and will be glad to do anything I can to help you if you need me at any time. Here is my card and telephone number. I have not come here to push you back into the church. Of course, if you should decide to come back, you know how happy we will be, and the door is always open. But never exert pressure on you. You know these truths as well as I do, and will come back if you see your way clear. I do want you to know I'll be praying for you and am so anxious for you to be out Sunday night.
"I never like to leave a home without a word of prayer. Let's just bow our heads a moment."
And then follows a brief word of prayer while standing, sitting, or kneeling, whichever you feel is convenient. Tell the Lord how thankful you are that this man's respect for the truth is still firm, and ask God to lead and keep him, and above all pray that "we may, together, be found ready in the gathering day, which seems so startlingly near."
In all our work we need to smile more; we need to give away samples of heaven's joy in the homes we visit. Let our visit in the backslider's home be cheery. If the man you call on is married to a woman who is a member of another church, do not embarrass him by referring to "the truth," or using similar expressions. Adapt your visit to the two types of minds before you. He will understand and appreciate your tactfulness. Make the invitation to come to the meeting pointed, especially to her, for in his heart he probably secretly wishes they could come together.
If the backslider fails to attend, call on him again after about three weeks. In the meantime one of your associates will leave announcements from week to week. Of course the hopeless types may be weeded out at the first call. In this category I would place the haughty and insolent ; those who have gone out because of warped beliefs and have fought in the defense of error during their absence; and those who have joined other churches and are utterly satisfied or complacent. These, however, are decidedly in the extreme minority, and occasionally even one of this type will come back to the fold.
During your second visit bring an enthusiastic report of the way the meetings are going. But tell your friend how disappointed you have been that he has never come out, that you have planned for months on these meetings and you long to have him come out even if it is just once. Many remarkable stories of conversion could be related, to illustrate how often backsliders have been reclaimed from that "just once" contact at the meetings. One service often revives the old love, and the flame kindles anew.
When you begin your calls for surrender (we conduct these on Sabbath afternoon, beginning the sixth week), ask your workers to go to every backslider during the week, urging him to be out to this very important service. You yourself should call on the best prospects, urging them to be present. And during the weeks to follow, you should call again on all backsliders, along with your best interests.
No one in the audience is so moved by a fervent call for surrender as the backslider. Often he will neglect attending all the evening services, but because of your persistence will come out "just once" Sabbath afternoon, not realizing that in a week or two he will again be a full-fledged church member.
One week after preparing this article I called on a backslider who was attending our services. He is an office man. He was under great conviction, and as he reviewed his experience outside the church the past seven years, the perspiration burst out on his forehead. He told me that he had already made his decision to come back into the fold. Just before I left, he said,
"But my greatest burden is my sister in ____________ a hundred miles away. She, too, is a backslider. I'm afraid she will not come back." I told him I was to bein that town the next Sabbath morning, and for him to write and ask her to be present at the morning service. She came. Imagine my joy when she came forward at the end of the sermon during the call for surrender_______ another lost sheep reclaimed!
The hour is late. The great Master of the flock is yearning for us as shepherds to go forth amid the last storm, and bring in the sheep that are lost. (Backslider name card on next page.)