The question, "Why do people become Seventh-day Adventists?" was asked in one of those usual office round-table discussions. And from this, with the aid and suggestions of many men who have had experience in evangelism, a questionnaire was finally pre pared with ten simple questions. All these questions were arranged so as to be answered by one word, as "yes" or "no," or else they were of the multiple-choice type.
At first the questionnaire, together with a letter of welcome into the church, was sent only to the newly baptized. But because of the interesting and helpful information received, the questionnaire was finally taken into a number of churches. With the aid of a few workers in other conferences, these questionnaires were finally received from churches scattered throughout ten States.
No attempt has been made to make an exhaustive survey, yet it has been apparent throughout the study that, with slight variations in percentages, certain facts have been evident at all times. Although it is recognized that 1,500 questionnaires are not sufficient to answer all questions, yet there are certain pertinent facts for soul winners.
It is said that an inexperienced hunter was one day hunting quail. New to the field, he was startled when a large bevy of quail whirred away into the distance. Where should he aim? On the spur of the moment he pulled the trigger and swung the gun hoping in this way to kill as many as possible. This is not the recommended method of experienced hunters. It is hoped that the report of this questionnaire may help us as workers to direct our aim more accurately.
METHOD OF APPROACH. The completed questionnaires were divided into two groups: (1) those who had been baptized within the past two years, and (2) those who have been in the truth for a longer period. Since most of the questionnaires were taken within the church, it is to be recognized that even the newly baptized are those who are largely integrated into the church program and would not include those who are already on the way out. Also the established group does not include those members who are weak in the faith and who do not attend church services regularly.
GENERAL OBSERVATIONS. After this arrangement a careful study was made of each group and also of the combined facts for the entire group, that certain helpful suggestions might be found. Some striking facts appear even in a casual observation of the reports. Considering the entire group, we find that 57 percent say their first contact with Seventh- day Adventists was through relatives, neighbors, and friends and 49 percent say they were influenced to accept this message for the same reason. Such facts make the statements in the Spirit of prophecy concerning the importance of utilizing the laymen in our work even more striking. What a mighty power lies dormant!
Only 60 percent of the group had any of our books in their homes when they accepted this message. If 40 percent of those who are even interested enough to accept this message do not have our books, what must be the picture among those who are not as yet interested? What an unworked field! Our bookmen often wonder how nearly their task is completed. Surely as the messenger of the Lord has said, we need one hundred colporteurs where now we have but one.
More than 50 per cent of those questioned had been members of another church before becoming Seventh-day Adventists. After de ducting those who were reared in Adventist homes from the remaining, we find that only twenty out of each hundred were actually non- church members when we found them. Could it be that we have not directed our aim toward the really unchurched people as yet?
One other striking fact stands out in the report. Among the newly baptized members, 47 percent say they have studied, at least in part, the Voice of Prophecy, the 20th Century Bible Course, or a similar correspondence course given by our denomination. Even among the established group 32 percent say they have taken such a course, in most cases after coming into the message. Here, then, is a medium of great importance in our work of instructing new members, of indoctrinating and encouraging established members.
Application of Facts Gathered
Figures may be interesting, but unless they are of value they become useless and time absorbing. So the question may properly be asked, "How may I apply the facts gathered to my own soul-winning program?" Here are a few suggestions:
1. Since 56.7 percent of the established membership are those who have Seventh-day Adventist relatives, then a pastor may look for more than half of his future membership gains to be from this group. Would it not be wise to build a file with the names of relatives of Adventists within the territory, and use these for evangelistic purposes, such as Signs of the Times literature distribution and other soul- winning endeavors?
2. Inasmuch as 55 percent of the established group had attended some Seventh-day Adventist church service at least once a year or more before being baptized, then we may look to this group for fruitage. Should we not secure the name and address of every visitor who attends our churches? No stranger should come into our midst and slip away without such a contact, yet how often people leave without a greeting.
3. Should we not give more promotion to our Bible correspondence courses, since 47 percent of the newly baptized people say they have taken such a course? Spearhead evangelism, citywide literature programs, and every other means should be employed to increase such enrollments.
4. Since 21.4 percent of the newly baptized and 31.4 percent of the older members were reared in Seventh-day homes, why not make this another source of evangelism? It will surprise many a pastor when he compiles a list of those in his city who fall in this category, yet one out of four of our members comes from the youth of the church.
5. If 22 percent of the older members and 26 percent of the newly baptized declare that their first contact with Seventh-day Adventists was through evangelism, this then is a fruitful avenue by which to acquaint people with our doctrines. Note that 38 percent of the newly baptized and 29 percent of the other group claim this as the greatest influence causing them to accept our truth. Even the "foolishness of preaching" should be constantly used, for it is a very fruitful field of soul winning.
6. Since 40 percent of the entire group say they did not have any Adventist books in their homes when they were baptized, we should therefore make every effort to see that available literature is in the hands of every convert.
7. When all the efforts of the laymen are combined we find that 49 percent of the entire group feel that relatives, neighbors, and Bible studies by laymen were the greatest influence in causing them to become members. Surely since half of our members feel that laymen were the strongest influence in their conversion, we should utilize this great sleeping giant in an intense soul-winning program.
Reasons for Large Losses
"Do you detect any reasons for the large evangelistic losses?" Our evangelists are often criticized unjustly for the large number of apostasies between baptism and the final established state in the church. All are conscious of this fact, but what may be done to check it? Where does the loss occur? A few observations may be helpful:
1. Of the newly baptized, 59 percent declare they were baptized within five years of the time when they first heard of Adventists, whereas only 34 percent of the established members gave this answer. This 25 percent difference may account for some of the loss. It would seem to indicate that many of the newly baptized had an inadequate knowledge of Seventh-day Adventists, and may have looked upon us as just another church. Forty per cent of the newer members say they were baptized within a year of hearing of Adventists for the first time.
Since this percentage is rather high, it may be possible that many thought of a very definite contact which led to their final interest rather than some incidental knowledge from former years. Yet it would still indicate they were not fully aware of what we stand for. Perhaps some method might be devised by which those wholly unacquainted with us could have a longer orientation study to better fit them for the responsibilities and duties of church membership. At least greater care in preparing these for baptism may help conserve some of this loss.
2. Of the newly baptized, 38 percent claim evangelism as the determining factor in their decision and 29 percent of the others. Again the recentness of their experience might have influenced their answer. But if their statements are true, then this extra 9 percent would include those of whom the evangelist has always been conscious those who take the step because of the glamour of the meeting or the personality of the evangelistic company. Perhaps but little can be done to conserve this loss.
3. In a careful study of the new converts from a few carefully selected larger efforts it was found that the number of those who had previously attended one of our church services was relatively small. Only one third had at tended any of our church services as compared with 55 percent for the established group, or a difference of 22 percent. In fact, taking the entire group of newly baptized, which would naturally include a larger per cent of Seventh- day Adventist youth, we find that the figure is raised to just a little over 40 percent. This great difference also shows that the evangelistic loss comes in that group who are not acquainted with Seventh-day Adventists.
Summing it all up, most of our loss comes in that group who have never been in any of our services before and who have no Seventh-day Adventist relatives. Added to these, of course, are those who are enamored with the evangelist and his company. The only solution to conserve this loss would be in some study directed toward supplying this lack in their experience either in a longer and more thorough preparation, or a careful program on the part of the evangelistic company and laity in integrating them into the church and its functions after baptism.
Other facts are evident from the study, but those given here are sufficient to aid any worker in more efficiently directing his aim to ward larger baptisms by directing more of his work into the fields where baptisms lie.