I add my voice to the swelling chorus of a missionary song, "Dark Megalopolis."
A queer title? Perhaps, but was it not the dark horses of the recent political campaign who kept our interest lively for a time? And was it not the Dark Continent that so fired the imagination of this gospel-minded people that missionaries, money, and literature poured into Africa?
Christ's great commission is being fulfilled with power in the Dark Continent because Christians at home recognized the need and were interested enough to do something about it. And because I spent so many years in Africa myself, I know that the very term "Dark Continent" was in itself both a challenge and an appeal.
Here in America the Southern Union used the same epithet when they mapped out their States, showing the dark counties. I remember the personal interest and satisfaction we all felt in vigorous evangelizing campaigns to erase these dark blots.
But darker—much darker than continent or county—is the blot on our denominational shield that I choose to call Megalopolis—the large city.
That assertion is based on two main factors, plus my own observation during the last five years, spent in New York City. The first factor is a series of testimonies written by Ellen G. 'White more than half a century ago. As the need of our large cities was kept before her through the years,' she wrote many admonitions like the following:
God is displeased with the lack of appreciation and support shown our faithful workers in our large cities by His English-speaking people in our own land. The work in the home field is a vital problem just now. The present time is the most favorable opportunity that we shall have to work these fields. In a little while the situation will not be so favorable as it is now.—Manuscript 154, 1902.
I point you to the city of New York. One hundred workers might be laboring there where now there is but one. . . . A few faithful workers have been trying to do something in this great, wicked city. But their work has been difficult, because they have had so few facilities.—General Conference Bulletin, April 7, 1903.
Let not the fields lying in the shadow of our doors, such as New York City, be passed over lightly and neglected. This field is just as important as any foreign field.—Manuscript 154, 1902.
God wants the work to go forward in New York. There ought to be thousands of Sabbath keepers in that place, and there would be if the work were carried on as it should be.—Life Sketches, p. 385. (April 22, 1901).
Those who bear the burden of the work in Greater New York should have the help of the best workers that can be secured. Here let a center for God's work be made, and let all that is done be a symbol of the work the Lord desires to see done in the world.—Testimonies, vol. 7, p. 37.
Such quotations, sometimes speaking of our large cities in general, sometimes of New York in particular, could be multiplied. Since Mrs. White herself assisted in planting the work in New York with a personal donation of one thousand dollars,' may not these questions which she posed be rightfully asked of us fifty-five years later:
How many of you have taken a practical interest in the work in this city?—General Conference Bulletin, April 7, 1903.
What representation for the truth is there in that city?—Life Sketches, p. 384.
The answer to those questions constitutes the second main reason for labeling Megalopolis "dark." Most revealing is the comparison of the percentage of Adventists to total population in three so-called dark areas—Africa, the South, and Megalopolis. In the Southern African Division, for instance, there is one Seventh-day Adventist to every 464 of the total population. In the Southern Union, there is one Seventh-day Adventist to every 675 of the total population. In metropolitan New York, there is one Seventh-day Adventist to every 1,224 of the total population. If we exclude the Negro and Puerto Rican populations of New York, the percentage dropi even more sharply, to one Seventh-day Adventist to every 3,263 New Yorkers. Surely these figures should reawaken our missionary zeal for the work in large cities, if we have allowed it to flag.
Many ministers and laymen have put in years of faithful work in New York and other cities. The indictment for the neglect of these fields lies not upon them, nor upon any person or group within the church. It lies upon all of us. Whether our fault was indifference, or not recognizing need, or being attracted by more glamorous or distant fields, it matters not. What matters is the here and now, the potentials and prospects for the future. What are the potentials?
Again, comparison may outline the shadow on Megalopolis. Even though New York City and California State are two extremes, geographically speaking, their total populations are almost the same. And since Mrs. White herself made an unfavorable comparison between the two,' let us compare their potentials for missionary endeavor as far as our Adventist work is concerned:
(SEE PDF FOR FIGURES)
Many of our large cities have problems and needs similar to those of New York. But New York is so spectacular in itself that emphasis there must lead the way. One out of every ten Americans actually lives within sight of the Empire State Building, while one out of twenty Americans lives in the metropolitan area proper. Over 13 million visitors came to New York last year, and the city budget is well over $1,850,000,000—more than that for any State and greater than for most sovereign nations.5
Quite apart from its sheer size, New York City has a special importance for missionary-minded people. Here is a city about the area of a wheat farm, wherein "are decided the bulk of the ideas that are distributed to the people of the United States. . . . This is the Idea Belt." 6 "It has been determined by social physicists that New York City is the focal point where a person or organization can and does exert maximum influence on others." This is the solar plexus of the great mass communications industries, with headquarters of--
5 radio networks (28 local stations)
4 TV networks (7 local stations)
3 news wire services (and 78 other news services and syndicates)
5 newsreel companies
10 of the largest producers and worldwide distributors of American films
58 magazines with circulation of more than 1,000,000 each
All the largest advertising agencies in the U.S.A.
In addition, it ranks a monotonous first in every major industrial branch except agriculture and mining.'
A Protestant Problem
Enough has been said concerning the needs of Megalopolis, and its claims upon the interest and energy of every Seventh-day Adventist. We are not alone in our feeling of guilt at long neglect. Other Protestant denominations are bestirring themselves with increasing enthusiasm, and we share with them both the concern at problems that have outstripped our facilities for adjustment, and our determination to do something about these missionary fields. What are they doing? What are we doing?
There is no question about general awareness of the peculiar needs of our modern cities. "American Protestantism is undergoing a . . . change in its attitude toward the heart of our metropolitan areas. Time was when we for the most part just quit and ran. The church is now saying, 'Turn, boys. we're going back in strength with top grade personnel, with inventiveness and imagination, with adequate resources, into the difficult places at the heart of our cities.' It looks as if we had turned a corner." Have the Protestant churches found the answer Ellen G. White was seeking when she wrote, "Night after night I am praying and trying to devise methods by which we can enter these cities and give the warning message"? "
Since March, 1950, the National Council of Churches has been publishing The City Church, a bimonthly journal of articles on, and experiences in, city evangelism and church work. The Evangelical and Reformed Church has issued Strategies for City Churches in bulletin form. This and like publications are under special urban church departments in their respective denominations. The autumn, 1955, issue of Religion in Life (Cokesbury Press) carried forty-one pages of urban material. Denominational planning, ministerial councils, church centers, conferences, articles, and books have been dedicated to the very problem laid before us years ago:
In the cities of today, where there is so much to attract and please, the people can be interested by no ordinary efforts. Ministers of God's appointment will find it necessary to put forth extraordinary efforts in order to arrest the attention of multitudes. . . . They must make use of every means that can possibly be devised for causing the truth to stand out clearly and distinctly. Let every worker in the Master's vineyard study, plan, and devise methods to reach the people where they are. We must do something out of the common course of things. We must arrest the attention. We must be deadly in earnest. We are on the very verge of times of trouble and perplexities that are scarcely dreamed of.--Evangelism, pp. 122, 123.
Doing something "out of the common course of things" to "reach the people where they are" is the goal of our own Adventist city workers, as well as that of other denominations. Because our traditional Protestant concept of the "professional soul saver" is not adequate for the evangelization of the city," our London and New York centers are proving for themselves the value of a "team ministry," and of a long-range strategy that is flexible enough to adjust to immediate needs without dissipating its original strength and purpose.
Discovering the Needs
In this period of tremendous urban evolution, it is no small task to discover what these immediate needs are, and where the people are. But vigorous and city-trained workers have learned to go after the facts they need, and get them. The most recent instance of such practical directness is the street survey conducted last month by our New York Center team and assistants. They wanted to determine the nature of the street population in the area of the new Adventist Center, so they went right out and talked to the people who were on the street. At 46th and Broadway, one-half block from the Center, they interviewed from nine o'clock Thursday morning through midnight on Monday, dividing the days into five three-hour shifts. Not only are their findings revealing, but they are important in that they suggest possible adaptations of the evangelistic program so as to reach the people where they are.
Those who follow the progress of our big-city centers will be interested to learn that just over half the number of persons interviewed were non-New Yorkers. Of these, three-fifths knew of Seventh-day Adventists, and a third of this number could make at least one significant comment or identification. Of the New Yorkers, however, fewer than half had ever heard of Seventh-day Adventists, and less than a third of those could make any identification whatsoever. Instead, New Yorkers were often inclined to confuse us with Jehovah's Witnesses or the Mormons.
For the mission-minded Adventists everywhere, a summary of the comments made by non-New Yorkers from all over the world might give us a good start on projecting our own soul-winning efforts for 1957. From embassy employees to aircraft mechanics, from physicians to restaurant managers, from nurses to housewives, these people were a wonderful cross section of the neighbors whom we seek out daily in Christian fellowship. The largest percentage were from the group we often seek in vain, ages 21 to 30. A very small percentage indeed were under 20 or over 50. The young adults—vigorous, mature, the leaders of their home communities—swarm the metropolitan centers today just as they did when Jesus chose Capernaum as the center for His Galilean ministry. From such centers, Christian influences should indeed be radial."
The findings of this intensive street survey deserve a separate article. Suffice it to say, however, that the interviewers were in agreement:
I. That people in general are not prejudiced against Seventh-day Adventists; they are simply unaware of their existence (lights under a bushel or just not in the right places?).
2. That cards introducing the Center as a place of worship, fellowship, and service were accepted with appreciation and interest.
3. That the influence of individual Adyentists in home towns from Denver to Australia predisposes visitors toward big-city centers.
This article has done a hop, skip, and jump among several specialized areas in the approach to problems of religion in Megalopolis. If it arouses curiosity where there was none before, or if it encourages someone to undertake the careful study and training necessary for these understaffed fields, then the good Lord is granting understanding of what has been so sketchily presented.
He is blessing those who have pioneered in London and New York evangelism. New York, for instance, now ranks fourth place in percentage of baptisms to church membership. This membership is the valuable nucleus for work in the Center, where exhibits from General Conference departments, publishing houses, and overseas divisions are contributing to the furnishings.
Now may a lively and consistent interest on the part of every Seventh-day Adventist, plus our united voices in prayer, call forth for every Megalopolis the fulfillment of the promise: "In that great city the message of truth will be given with the power of God." "
1 Used by Dr. Ross Sanderson, in an address at the 1956 annual meeting of the Manhattan Division of the Protestant Council of the City of New York.
2 Life Sketches, p. 417.
3 President's report at the 34th Biennial Session of the Greater New York Conference, Dec. 31, 1955.
4 "There is certainly not a dearth of means among our people in California. But in spite of this, the great field of New York is left untouched."—General Conference Bulletin, April 10, 1901.
5 Mayor Robert F. Wagner, "What the City Is," New Pork Times Magazine, April 29, 1956, p. 10.
6 Marion Harper, Jr., president of McCann-Erichson, quoting Shepard Mead's Magnificent MacInnes.
7 National Council of Churches document, "The Case for New York."
8 Public Relations Department. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, "This Is New York."
9 Dr. Ross Sanderson in The City Church, Sept.-Oct., 195'5, p. 6.
10 Evangelism, p. 62.
11 Meryl Ross, director of the Department of Research and Church Planning of the Protestant Council of the City of New York, in The City Church, Sept.-Oct., 1955, p. 10.
12 "Here [New York] /et a center for God's work be made, and let all that is done be a symbol of the work the Lord desires to see done in the world.'—Testimonies, vol. 7, p. 37.
13 Ibid., p. 54.