Recently we began a series of district evangelistic meetings which we feel were of great value and accomplished excellent results in the five churches of our district. I shall try to outline the plan in such a way that all who see light in the procedure may adapt it to their district programs.
These services were held regularly on the same night in the churches of the district during each week of the campaign. The Sunday evening service was held in the largest church, and on each succeeding night a service was held in each of the other churches of the district. The evening program and the sermon were the same in each church through the week.
This method made it possible to use one advertisement to cover the entire week, and in that advertisement we named the five places where the services would be held. One newspaper covered the entire district, and three other papers covered certain areas of the district. For the opening of the campaign we advertised in all four papers. Since the paper published in our largest city covered the entire district, we announced in it the program for the week, naming the five churches where the services would be conducted. In other papers we announced the subject and other items of interest, giving the address of the church in the town covered by that paper. We used paid advertisements occasionally through the winter, but after the campaign was under way news stories gave the report, and effectively advertised the meeting. An announcement of the services appeared in all four newspapers weekly throughout the seven months of the meetings. This kept the Seventh-day Adventist church constantly in the news. (And, incidentally, it gave prestige to our Ingathering campaign which followed right after the meetings.)
From the beginning of the campaign we used I-by-s4-inch window cards announcing certain features and the subject for the week, giving the names of the five places where the meetings would be held. These were changed each week. Our churches gladly cooperated in these meetings. The members invited their friends and neighbors. They phoned their acquaintances and invited them to come. In the Sabbath services the church elders endeavored to present subjects appropriate for newcomers who attended.
Although we did not always follow the same form of procedure each week, the schedule was usually as follows : The first fifteen minutes were devoted to instrumental music as the people assembled. Then followed a fifteen-minute song service in which the audience was invited to participate. The announcements, offering, sermon, pictures, and benediction then followed. A musical postlude was rendered while we greeted the people, shaking hands as they left for their homes.
My wife occasionally played the vibraharp as a special attraction for the first fifteen-minute period. During the song service we usually used the stereopticon and song slides. We did not use songbooks. Occasionally we would vary the song service by dispensing with the pictures and would call for favorite songs by the audience. Without books, we would sing the first stanza of each song from memory. Occasionally we had special numbers during the song service.
A few minutes before eight o'clock I entered the pulpit, and without further singing the congregation stood during the prayer. We then announced the program for the coming week, the subject, the pictures, and any other feature. This was followed by the offering. Occasionally a special selection of music was rendered.
We planned to begin the sermon about 8:05. This lasted from thirty to forty-five minutes, depending somewhat on the nature of the subject. After the sermon we showed a sound motion picture and brought the meeting to a close by giving a final invitation to the service of the coming week, then we had the benediction. No singing was used to close the meeting.
Although this arrangement of order might not be ideal, it did appeal to the children, who were often instrumental in bringing the parents. In this way the children would stay awake during the sermon and would not sleep through the pictures.
We started this program as an experiment, praying and hoping that we might find some way in which district evangelism might be successfully carried on. It undoubtedly has great room for improvement and adaptation. Other means of attracting an audience could be used, of course. Other procedures could be followed and thus effectively reach souls.
We discovered that some of the advantages of this form of evangelism are: (1) One evangelistic meeting a week is not too much for our members to attend regularly. They are glad to come. (2) It keeps the light of evangelism burning in our churches. (3) It strengthens our own people. (4) It provides a service other than a Sabbath service where our people can take their relatives, neighbors, and friends. (5) It gives us opportunity to keep our Sabbath services constantly before those not of our faith. (6) It keeps our churches in the news constantly. (7) It silences any who would charge that we are hiding our identity, since the services are held in our own churches. (8) It gives each church an equal amount of evangelistic service, and they can feel that they share alike.
There are difficulties to overcome, of course. At times the attendance may drop noticeably because of weather conditions. In some places few may appear to be prospects for uniting with God's people, but if we labor on and leave the results with God, fruits are sure to follow. This plan, though not entirely original with us, helped to bring results beyond our greatest expectations.
During the seven months of our meetings we traveled more than ten thousand miles, held nearly two hundred services, and received offerings sufficient to cover all expenses except the travel budget, which was the regular conference allowance for the district. Early in the summer twenty-seven members were received into church fellowship by baptism, and six on profession of faith. Later thirteen others joined by baptism, making a total of forty-six, and others are still in preparation, although some of these would have united with the church even though there had been no district services, we are confident that these meetings have greatly helped. The tithe increased from $14,000 to $18,000 for the district in one year. I mention these figures only that they might show the results that follow this type of evangelism.