Our statistical reports from the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, revealing our numerical gains in membership, are heartening. However, with slightly less than a million baptized believers in a world of more than two billion inhabitants, I am sure we all have a burning desire to make our gains even more impressive.
We are right in emphasizing and building up our evangelical zeal and fervor to gain new converts for the kingdom of God. At the same time we need to protect ourselves against a type of disappointment experienced by the two classes in Haggai 1:6, 9. One class placed their wages in a bag with holes; the other went after much, only to return home and have a gust of wind blow most of it away. We cannot afford to put the precious grain of our evangelism into a bag with holes or to have the fruit of our labor blown away. It places too great a stress upon our evangelistic forces to keep the granary overflowing when we cannot conserve these gains. In light of the fact that our losses have gone as high as 52 percent of those taken in within a year, we offer a few suggestions as a help in conserving our new converts.
We have reference primarily to the situation in which an evangelist and his team have gone to a city, held a successful meeting, and moved, leaving the responsibility of conserving the gains to the local church pastor.
The Eminence of the Pastor's Calling
Every man called of God should feel that his service is of the highest importance. The work of the specialized evangelist may be more spectacular, but in reality the work of the pastor is just as important. A pastor should never feel that his work is of secondary value and become dissatisfied with his work through envy of the glory surrounding evangelism. Rather, he should feel that we are all members of the same body. The apostle Paul states that no one member should glory over the other or feel that he can get along without the other. Jesus Christ is our Head, and every other member must share equal glory.
Evangelism usually calls for large financial expenditures, profuse advertising, and a team of well-trained and talented workers. As a result, the people become enchanted and profoundly intrigued. The sudden leaving of the evangelist at the close of an effort can mitigate the impact of his meeting and result in some casualties. A deep-sea diver must surface gradually or be placed in a decompression chamber upon surfacing, or else he gets "the bends," which can be fatal. Our emotions are subject to like stresses. We must let the pressure down gently. Let the evangelist and his team leave gradually over a reasonable period of time. This helps to prevent losses.
It is advantageous for the pastor to work with the evangelist; thus the people and the pastor will become known to each other before the evangelist leaves. The pastor is benefited when he knows the methods of the evangelist and has an insight into the problems faced in the meetings. When the people witness the friendly relationship between the evangelist and the pastor, they will more readily accept the pastor's service when the evangelist has gone. These new converts appreciate hearing the pastor refer to the evangelist in modest adulation, for they venerate him as being a spiritual father to them. It is wise, however, for the evangelist, before his departure, to prevail upon the people to be faithful to God and to give the pastor their full cooperation.
Eight Pertinent Points
1. To the new convert the church property should appear inviting. It need not necessarily be elaborate or ornate, but it should be well kept. And it should reflect the character of our message—that is, it should have sanitary rest-rooms, cool drinking water, a clean interior, properly cared for floors and rugs, windowpanes intact, proper lighting and ventilation. The landscape should be kept attractive. In a special sense this is God's house, and it corroborates the new believer's faith when it appears that way.
2. In the business world people respect that which is done in a businesslike manner. God's business should have the best management. Proper pulpit decorum, a well-planned order of service, punctuality, and courtesy help to develop a spirit of reverence. This is especially appreciated by those who have come from churches which have such an order of service. A worshipful atmosphere helps to conserve new converts.
3. A pastor must be resolute in visiting. The enemy is constantly at work to confuse the new convert. Disrupted families, tenacious harassing by neighbors and old friends, and a resolving of new business and social relationships ofttimes overwhelm the new believer. Until he becomes inured to his new manner of living he needs constant personal aid and comfort. Make a note of every absence and visit right away. Don't delay! Some people have died because the would-be rescuer arrived too late!
4. Continue some form of evangelistic program, especially on Sunday nights. A review of the doctrines helps to impress them indelibly upon the mind. The opportunity afforded the new believer of bringing his friends,that they may become acquainted with his new-found faith, is conducive in conserving new believers, as is also the sight of others being converted. These Sunday night meetings aid greatly in helping new members to overcome doubts and uncertainties that inevitably arise after the departure of the evangelist.
5. The new converts and the old believers are to become acquainted. The new must be welcomed wholeheartedly, not just tolerated, by the old. The pastor should be alert in anticipating any jealousies, factions, and rivalries that may arise, and he should tactfully plan methods to eliminate these conditions. Often timely social functions are just the help needed here. He should outline a program that will be helpful and satisfying both to the new converts and to the old believers, thus drawing them closer together.
6. Many times new converts are eager to render some service to the church. They should be encouraged. If they are unprepared, various training courses should be started. Let the organizations of the church utilize as much of the new talent as possible. Be careful, however, not to pay too much attention to a few and neglect or slight others. A little prudence here will keep down offense.
7. Be discreet in raising funds. Seventh-day Adventists are renowned for their liberal sacrificial giving. This is as it should be. NVe look upon the sacrifices of our members with humble pride. Let us remember that in the message to the Laodicean church there is a reminder that there may exist at the same time material riches and spiritual poverty. Spiritual depth is not measured in dollars and cents. Goals are sometimes necessary in helping the people to decide how much they can do, to acquaint them with the need, and to give them something at which to aim. To resort to extraction of funds by methods of physical or moral coercion or hostile competition, or to make our financial goals oppressive, is only to defeat the objectives of Christian stewardship. Let us be judicious in setting goals and developing methods of raising them. Giving should be an act of worship and an expression of love.
8. Broaden the new believer's view of the scope of the Adventist movement. Encourage attendance at camp meetings, youth congresses, and JMV summer camps. Encourage the utilization of our church-operated schools, hospitals, and sanitariums. Invite the conference officials and missionaries to visit your church and speak. It is encouraging to the new believer to have the assurance that he is not a part of some small, insignificant, isolated body but of a worldwide movement well organized and managed. We can be justly proud of our spiritual heritage.
God grant that at His coming there will be a bountiful harvest as a result of conserving new converts.