When our missionaries went to China forty-five years ago they followed practices in gospel evangelism that had been carried on by other mission bodies for many years. The general plan was to secure some store front on a main street of a town, and open a "chapel." Then a Chinese Christian who had some ability in speaking to groups of people was employed and set to work. Daily the shutters were taken down, and half the chapel front was opened to the crowds who passed by during the day. Songs would be sung to attract the people, and sometimes a bell would be rung and people invited into the place as they hesitated a moment at the sounds they were hearing.
The meetings were a sort of continuous performance. They went on just as long as the evangelist felt at all able to speak, and it was astonishing what ability some of these men manifested. Furthermore, they were not at all affected by the number in the audience. They seemed just as willing to preach to one as a dozen. And apparently it mattered not whether the people stayed to listen for any extended period or not. The audience was constantly changing. This went on day in and day out for months and years. The message preached was just what the man was impressed to speak about at the moment. There was no list of subjects, no time to begin or close.
Besides this type of work one more can be added—temple preaching. The evangelist would enlist some members, and they would go to the temple courts on special occasions when they could expect large crowds. Then they would stop at some point and begin singing. As the people gathered round, someone would address them. After this tracts would be handed out. Of course, the listeners were invited to the chapel. But no attempt was made to secure names of interested people, either at the chapel or on these expeditions, and little personal work was done.
This is the kind of evangelistic work that was carried on for many years in the large and small towns throughout China. But later some of us launched out on a new program of evangelism, based quite largely on methods used in other countries where regular evangelistic campaigns have been conducted with such success in a suitable hail or in a well-ordered tent.
Gradually we launched out into more extended efforts with a regular evangelistic company. The people were gathered into the meeting, not from the curious crowds on the streets, but through well-chosen advertising and announcements taken from door to door. We.soon found that we could fill our halls with people who came to listen, and stayed through the service to the end. Calls to consecration and the acceptance of truths were made. Names were handed in. The workers were organized to do personal work.
Such meetings as this were conducted in most of the large cities of China in the Chinese language. During some of these meetings institutes were held with special workers who had been invited to participate in the meetings. These men then were encouraged to go on and hold a series of meetings in the same manner.
This type of work was getting a good start when the wars that have afflicted China for twelve years broke out. Now this new evangelism is being revived and greatly extended in China. All our able workers are being encouraged to participate in it. At the beginning of 1948 a large evangelistic institute was held in Shanghai, and a goodly number of evangelistic workers were able to attend this meeting. Every aspect of a well-ordered evangelistic effort was discussed. Plans were then laid to begin at least fifty efforts of this type in all parts of China. Each effort was to be conducted with a systematic course of subjects for not less than three months.
In connection with this widespread campaign I was invited to come to China and conduct an effort with my son Milton, in the city of Peiping (Peking). This effort was typical of the new evangelism that is reaping such excellent Tesults all over China.
The first matter of consequence was a suitable place of meeting. What was wanted was not some place on a crowded thoroughfare where only the passers-by might fill the place for a little time each evening. We looked for a central location, and a place of good repute whether or not it was near the crowds. We wanted a place where the meetings could be held in an orderly manner and under strict control. This we settled by securing a large national auditorium in a memorial park of the Forbidden City. It was one of the most popular places of assemblage in the city, but it had never before been used as a place for Christian services. The name of the place would help attract the best people.
The auditorium was a long way from the main thoroughfare, and inside a park, entrance to which was gained only by ticket. The big question was, Could we fill the hall and have a good regular attendance for three months ? This objective was met in a number of ways.
One month before the effort church members were divided up into groups and assigned to certain sections of the city. The members then went out with invitations soliciting students for the Bible correspondence school. About one thousand names were secured before the meetings began. Letters were sent to these names, announcing the meetings and asking them to send in for tickets for themselves and their friends. Our best response came from this group. Before the meetings were half through we had 2,500 enrolled in this Bible school, and these people were our best source in keeping up a regular attendance at our meetings. We had two rallies during the series, especially for them, more than 1,200 attending each meeting. At the close of the series we had a graduating exercise, when 155 diplomas were handed out to those who had completed the Bible lessons. Many of these people were among those baptized.
Another drawing factor was a large and strikinc, poster. This was put up all over the city. You could not go more than a block or two on the main streets of the city without taking note Of this poster. It gave the first subject, which was "The Atom Bomb and the End of the World." It announced that two Americans, father and son, would speak in the Chinese language and present Bible truths that everyone should know. It stated that entrance would be by ticket only, and that tickets could be secured at such-and-such places.
A large banner was put up before the park entrance. Announcements were handed out from door to door by members and workers. Several modest, well-placed advertisements were put in three leading newspapers. With this special emphasis at the beginning, and with the use of the ticket method, we were able to keep up a most excellent attendance. At the first meeting 1,600 were in attendance. The hall was more than crowded. For the first month or two we had audiences from Soo to 1,000, and at times 1,200. Later the attendance went lower, after some of the testing truths were presented. We found that one third to one half of our audience at first was made up of Christian people. They reacted the same as such people do in other countries when they first hear about the Sabbath. Opposition then began in all the churches, and the members were warned not to attend the meetings. However, we estimated that our average attendance for the whole effort was 500 a night.
So far as the meetings were concerned we had little to attract the people except the Bible truths we were presenting. A half-hour song service was conducted. My son and I alternated in conducting this service. The night I gave the lecture he led the song service. The night he spoke I conducted the service. Now and then we would have some special music.
We used the projector mostly for showing the words of songs, the texts, and a few illustrations. That which appealed to the people was the way we presented our subjects in a consecutive series and used the exact Bible texts to give authority to the truths we were presenting. The reading of the text on the screen by the audience while it was being read by the speaker tended to keep up the interest during the lecture.
The ticket feature definitely helped to keep up a regular attendance and increased the interest of many who finally accepted the truth. On the border of the ticket numbers I to 6o were printed, representing the number of subjects on which we were going to speak. These tickets were handed out on the third night of the meeting to those who requested them. As the holders of these tickets came to the door each evening, an usher punched a hole in the number that represented the number of the subject to be given that evening. The people were thus encouraged not to miss a meeting. Every so often we would ask the people how many nights they had attended. We promised those who did not miss more than ten nights of the sixty a special remembrance.
From the very first week calls were made for signatures and addresses of people interested in securing literature on some subject, and opportunity was given to those who were willing to take some step in accepting truths that had been presented to them. Thus a large list of names was gathered in, and soon we had several hundred addresses. These were divided among the workers assisting in the efforts, and each one was visited. If someone revealed a special interest, this was indicated on a certain list, and one of the evangelists visited that person. Bible readings were given to clarify certain truths that had been presented.
Thus as the weeks rolled by, we began to see a goodly group being separated, as it were, from the crowds who attended the services. The ushers noted their presence each evening, and before the service began, some worker would converse with them. It was an inspiration to note the large number who attended regularly.
—To be concluded in February