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EVANGELISM: Integrating the Health Program in the Evangelistic Campaign

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Archives / 1952 / June

 

 

EVANGELISM: Integrating the Health Program in the Evangelistic Campaign

Roger W. Coon

Secretary, Public Relations Department, Southern California Conference

 

It is paradoxical that such a large number of people appear infinitely more interested in the state of their bodies than in the state of their souls, yet this is often the case. To ignore this fact as we consider evangelism is materially to limit the scope of our usefulness to God and man. To recognize, and then to capitalize upon it, is to increase the effectiveness of our public ministry.

The pastor of a small congregation near Los Angeles, in a suburban city of fifteen thousand where no public work had been done for several years, was anxiously anticipating the opening of an evangelistic campaign. Investigation revealed that the only suitable auditorium that could be secured was available only on Sunday and Thursday nights. He questioned the feasibility of holding revival services on Thursday evenings, but his burden for soul winning caused him to follow what seemed apparently to be the Lord's leading. He engaged the hall, scheduling his regular evangelistic services on Sunday evenings and devoting Thursday nights to a decidedly different program of health education from what had usually been followed.

The Health Lyceum

Ten Thursday evenings were set aside for this health lyceum, as it was called. The first lecture was given in the third week of the campaign. At each Sunday night meeting the audience was invited to attend the health sessions, and a similar invitation to attend the evangelistic services was given on the health nights.

The over-all program was extensively advertised as "a community public service by the members and friends of the Seventh-day Adventist Church." This frank approach not only served to increase attendance at both services but also lent a considerable amount of prestige to the work and stature of the congregation in that city.

Six physicians, a psychologist, and a nutritionist all Adventists and all well known in this area, recognized specialists in their fields were secured to speak. They were not given the customary five-to-ten minutes sandwiched somewhere in the evangelistic song service, but were offered a full hour or more to speak on a topic of their own choosing. Each one also conducted a question-and-answer period at the close of the lecture.

Recorded after-dinner music was played from 7:15 to 7:45 P.M. Following a few brief announcements and the distribution of health literature request cards, the minister welcomed the guest speaker on behalf of the church and the community. Later, at the close of the discussion period which was usually quite lively and extended, an offering was taken. However, no invocation, benediction, or other religious forms were used at this strictly secular program. This precluded any accusation that the evangelist was using health as a "come-on" to trap the unwary for his theological propaganda.

The following subjects were presented in the first half of the series: "You and Your Heart," by Dr. James J. Short; "Your Chances Against Cancer," by Dr. Albert F. Brown; "How to Live Longer," "Eating for Health's Sake," and "How to Build Healthy Bodies," by Nutritionist Alfaretta C. Johnson.

The lyceum series was concluded by lectures on "Social Hygiene and Our Children," by Dr. Louis J. Klingbeil; "The Person in the Body," by Dr. Otto Arndal; "Health in the Home," by Dr. Ezra E. Richards; "How to Achieve Emotional Maturity," by Dr. Arthur L. Bietz; and "Why Mix Medicine and Religion?" by Dr. El ton Morel.

Some of the health literature of the Pacific Press was offered at several sessions. A few other pamphlets on specific diseases were secured through the courtesy of the Metropoli tan Life Insurance Company. All who attended the last lecture in the series received a complimentary six months' subscription to Life and Health, paid for by several offerings taken for that purpose.

Excellent Publicity

While nominally interested in news of our religious services, the editors of the local papers continually "front paged" stories on the health meetings, using as many pictures as could be supplied them. The five large metropolitan dailies in nearby Los Angeles also showed marked interest in the venture, the Los Angeles Times prominently featuring a large three- column picture of the participants and a story on the opening of the series.

Religious News Service was intrigued by a religious group who believed in "spending more time telling people how to live than how to die" (an outworn phrase, yet apparently these newsmen had never heard it before). This large press association sent an article on the health campaign to all newspaper and radio sub scribers across the nation, identifying it as a project sponsored by Seventh-day Adventists.

Publicity in all the papers averaged, twenty- five inches a week and resulted in bringing- people from cities as far as thirty miles distant. Naturally there was no charge for any of the news stories, which were worth far more than the few paid advertisements strategically placed with them.

In evaluating the results of the over-all health program, the .workers discovered from attendance records that many who eventually came to the regular evangelistic meetings made their first trip to the auditorium on a Thursday night. Unquestionably the many who attended only the health services went away with a different opinion of "those queer Adventists," thanks to the factual and yet interesting and appealing- approach of the medical speakers.

Naturally there were some of the poorer classes of society who attended solely for free medical advice, but the preponderance of those who came regularly were of the intellectual group (how seldom we reach them!) who were interested in the latest findings in the different scientific fields represented. Neither group went away disappointed.

Offerings frequently were larger on Thursday night than on Sunday night, and the health project virtually carried its own weight. The good will created in the community and the long-range benefits accruing as the result of the campaign were of inestimable value, although they could not be computed in dollars and cents.

After the first thirteen weeks the evangelist, his sustentation Bible instructor, and the lay man song director took a Christmas-New Year's recess, reopening with Sunday night meetings in the public auditorium and Tuesday and Friday evening services in the local church.

The campaign was not a large one, in either personnel or expenditures, nor was it intended to be. The attendance rarely exceeded one hundred, which, however, was fairly good for that particular area.

Three modest baptisms, bringing in ten new church members, have already been held, and three separate classes for people in various stages of indoctrination who were interested by the meetings are still under way. Countless others who gained their first contact with this denomination through such a program were left with a feeling of satisfaction that they had gained immeasurably from what they had heard and seen. Friendly now in their attitude toward the church, they will perhaps be garnered in with the harvest of some other worker who will later come to the same community.

Ingathering solicitors were warmly received months later upon mention of the health work done by the church, and the congregation was among the first in the conference to attain Minute Man status, eventually reaching a per capita of $22.03 in the 1951 campaign.

Such a program could obviously be held only in an area where such a wide variety of professional talent exists. The basic idea, however, can be adapted, and the format varied sufficiently to hold the interest of all who attend.

 

 

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