The Religious Interest Story

Is there an opportunity for laymen?

ELLIS W. STORING, Minister. Pacific Union Conference

The Opportunity: "There are many who are reading the Scriptures who cannot under­stand their true import. All over the world men and women are looking wistfully to heaven. Prayers and tears and inquiries go up from souls longing for light, for grace, for the Holy Spirit. Many are on the verge of the kingdom, waiting only to be gathered in."—The Acts of the Apos­tles, p. 109.

The Challenge: "Wherever a church is es­tablished, all the members should engage ac­tively in missionary work. They should visit ev­ery family in the neighborhood and know their spiritual condition."—Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 296.

The Question most often asked by our lay­men: "How can I find these who are looking 'wistfully' to heaven? I'm willing to give Bible studies, but how do I find interests? How do you go about it?"

The Problem: To find methods--

  1. That are simple and easy to follow by any layman.
  2. That will have such an appeal to the lay­man that he will want to continue.
  3. That will open up to the untrained layman the spiritual condition of each home.
  4. That will open the way for Bible studies.

We believe that the Religious Interest Sur­vey here outlined is one method that will help greatly to meet these problems. This survey con­sists of four sections with four or five questions in each, most of which can be answered by checking "Yes," "No," or "?." These four sec­tions come under the headings of final events, church attendance, Holy Scriptures, and proph­ecy. Sections one, two, and four open with a gen­eral statement of fact such as that of section one: "At the last World Council of Churches, these three topics were under discussion: the union of churches, the return of Christ, and the end of the world."

Purpose of the Survey

The purpose of the survey, stated simply, is to get a picture of the religious life and inter­ests of the individual. This is accomplished by the layman's asking his opinion on the vari­ous questions. His answers generally reflect the extent of his own knowledge of the Bible, his religious experience, and his prejudice.

[In an accompanying letter the writer gives this testimony concerning the success of the survey plan: "Nothing we have ever done has opened homes to us as has this survey."]

If the answers indicate a probable interest in the study of the Bible, the layman endeavors to enroll the individual in the Home Bible Study Course. Even should the course be refused, the layman has in the survey the answer as to why he is not interested. This record can then be filed and used with a different type of approach that might be more successful.

Let me illustrate the possible picture-giving answers to only four of these questions. An­swers are recorded as given. A failure to under­stand the question indicates a lack of knowl­edge along that particular line.

In section two of the survey we want to find out if the person attends church, how he feels about his church, if he is satisfied or dissatisfied. If these questions were asked directly, the an­swers probably would be colored by one's en­vironment. This question, "Recent surveys in­dicate that over 70 percent of Americans ab­sent themselves from church each week. How do you account for this?" brings out an array of answers, usually resulting in the person's telling his own experience. Answer 1: "We own a res­taurant. That tells you why we don't go." An­swer 2: "I work every day of the week and Sun­day is the only day I have to do my housework." Answer 3: "I don't know. I go to church ev­ery Sunday." Answer 4: "I guess people are not spiritual-minded."

In section three of the survey we want to find out the person's knowledge of the Bible gen­erally and his attitude toward it. Thus, the an­swers to the question "Which is your favorite translation of the Bible?" tell us many things, and indicate definite trends in the life of the in­dividual. Note a few typical answers. Answer 1: "St. James Version." Answer 2: "Douay Ver­sion." Answer 3: "The Scofield Bible." Answer 4: "The book of Sams [Psalms]." Answer 5: "Well, we have the Revised Standard Version, the Revised Version as well as the King James Version." These are all actual answers given by different individuals. In fact, one lady re­plied, "De book of Genesis."

Section four is designed to stir an interest in Bible study. Using Daniel and Revelation as an opener we probe the person's knowledge of, and interest in, prophecy. This section brings out prejudices, if any, toward the prophetic books, and also indicates in a marked way the interest in present-day events. A few actual an­swers brought out by the question "Are you fa­miliar with the prophecies of these books?" are: Answer 1: We are studying them in church now." Answer 2: "I don't study any­thing but the Bible." (They didn't know that these are two books of the Bible.) Answer 3: "I don't know too much about them." Answer 4: "Yes, God wouldn't have put them there if He didn't intend that we should study them." Answer 5: "They can't be understood."

The last question, "Are you interested in studying the Bible?" is a straightforward one bringing out the desires of the individual. An­swer 1: "Yes, I am," is the most general answer. Answer 2: "No, I can't understand it. The Bi­ble contradicts itself." Answer 3: "I don't know too much about it." Answer 4: "I wish I had someone to explain things to me." Answer 5: "I'm too busy. Don't have time to study." An­swer 6: "My pastor tells us all we need to know."

Let me describe three composite pictures from this week's survey program.

Case /: A young married woman, about twenty-three, with a ten-month-old baby. Father a drunkard. Went to Sunday school a couple of years when she was in the seventh grade. Wanted her child to be brought up in the church. Wished they could move to a small com­munity where everyone went to church. Was anxious and willing to take the Bible course. Note how many items are brought out that are not direct answers to the survey.

Case 2: A retired oil man of sixty. Has trailer court. Was reared a Catholic. Is reading a King James Version of the Bible. Has diffi­culty understanding what he reads. Has trav­eled the world. Was anxious to take the course.

Case 3: Middle-aged woman. Didn't think it mattered whether churches united or not. Was not a member of a church. Had no preference.

Had a Bible, but was too busy to read it. Didn't know what version it was. Didn't know what Daniel and the Revelation were. Was not in­terested in studying the Bible. Refused the Bi­ble course.

The study of these surveys indicates a very definite pattern in human behavior. In spite of differences in communities, after eighteen months of survey work in a few of the churches in the Pacific Union, the following is a definite pattern:

Out of every one hundred homes contacted we found that--

  1. There will be no one at home in 37-40 houses.
  2. Of those contacted, 10-19 will refuse to an­swer the survey questions.
  3. Approximately 45-48 will answer the ques­tions.
  4. About 27-31 will agree to take the Bible course lessons.
  5. Approximately 3 will send in the lessons without further follow-up.

There are several methods of follow-up. To this point, we have only found interests. Results will depend upon the amount of personal contact, Bible study, and prayer. There is no short cut in soul winning. It always means hard work. But the apostolic method of evangelism cannot be improved. The apostles went from house to house. God commissions us to give the gospel to our neighbors, friends, and ene­mies. They can learn of the love of God through us if we are willing to carry it to them.

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ELLIS W. STORING, Minister. Pacific Union Conference

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