Nearly two years ago Pastor Fordyce Detamore presented to the Ministerial Association Precouncil of the General Conference session his growing convictions as to the place of the short campaign in the work of evangelism.
With the passage of time our MINISTRY readers are asking, "What is the present evaluation of this relatively new emphasis?" In answer we publish four recent letters from men whom God is evidently using in a marked way in short-term evangelism. These letters contain their mature convictions and added insight as to their growth in method during recent months.
G. E. V.
You ask for my convictions regarding the short campaigns. I do not believe that the short efforts can or should take the place of the longer meetings, but I feel they are definitely effective in a pastor's busy program.
The majority of the people who attend the shorter meetings have a Seventh-day Adventist background. The reason for this is that most of these meetings are held in our churches, and those who have not heard the message before, or who are prejudiced, do not attend. This leaves us with an audience made up of those who at one time have been Seventh-day Adventists, or who have taken a correspondence course, or who are receiving Bible studies.
With this type of audience I have found that the average doctrinal sermon is not too effective. These people know, or at least have some knowledge of, what we believe and teach. It is my conviction, and I have received it from my experience in the past two years, that every sermon, from the opening night until the closing night, should be 90 per cent conversion and 10 per cent doctrine. Not that I think we should baptize people and bring them into the church without their knowing the doctrine—not at all—but most of these people know what we teach.
I have found that if we can help people to see the need of getting sin out of their lives and accepting Jesus as their Saviour, they can then be properly instructed during the baptismal class.
I have also learned that visiting in the homes before the call to surrender is made, is a good way to help individuals understand our teachings. There must be some doctrine in our sermons. It can be woven all through the fabric of our public messages. But the entire discourse should "cry aloud" to get sin out of our lives and let the love of Jesus in.
I have a special burden for working with men, and the Lord has blessed in uniting families. In working for men we should remember that most of them like straight preaching. Many of them, as they listen to the minister for the first time, try to detect whether or not the message comes from the heart. They try to decide if the minister is sincere. At the same time they want it, as they say, straight from the shoulder.
Sometimes I think we stress too much how wonderful it would be for the man to unite with the church because his wife is a member. Should we not rather plead that he needs God, and God needs him?
Not long ago, in urging a man to surrender to Christ, I said to him, "God needs you." A very strange look came over his face and he said, "This is the fourth Seventh-day Adventist meeting I have attended, and you are the first minister who has told me that God needs me." Many men feel that if they become Christians they want to be of some real use. When they realize that God really needs them, they are willing to accept Him. This is also the case with many women.
While I feel that I cannot overemphasize conversion sermons for these meetings, I recognize that it is also very necessary to prepare the church for these services. I always take the Sabbath service before beginning on Sunday night. Our people need to know that the success of these meetings depends entirely upon them. It is well to organize into prayer bands. Our main purpose in the prayer bands is to pray that there will be a revival in our own hearts, and that every church member will support the meeting by his presence. Also, each family is to be responsible for bringing at least one nonmember. It is always a successful meeting when all church members attend. It does much for nonchurch members—especially those who used to be with us—to see our members at the meetings. It gives them new courage and hope.
Now a few words about visiting. Some feel that with short-term meetings very little can be accomplished by visiting in the homes. I have found it to be the opposite. The shorter the meetings, the stronger our visiting program must be. One reason for this is that those who attend do not receive as much doctrine at the shorter meetings as in the longer efforts, and this means there are more questions to be answered and more instruction to be given in the homes.
One of the mistakes I used to make was to urge persons—especially men—to take their stand before the proper time. My experience has been that men, more often than women, will make their decision when the public call is made, rather than in the home. I do not mean that men should not be visited and asked to surrender. But in many cases if they are urged too strongly they will stay away from the last two or three meetings, and that is just when you want them there. I believe it is wise to give the man an opportunity to surrender in his home. But if he hesitates, do not urge too strongly, but keep him coming to the meetings. You will want him there the nights you make your calls.
Now to sum up my convictions for the two-or three-week meetings:
- Heart-warming conversion sermons given in love. Sermons that will convict people of their sins.
- One-hundred-per-cent church cooperation in attendance, and every family responsible for bringing at least one nonmember to the meeting every night.
- A strong visiting program explaining our doctrines. Do not overurge. Keep the people coming to the meetings.
I like the slogan John Wesley had: "All at it and always at it."
During the past two and one-half years in Alberta, we have seen the miracle of conversions in short-term campaigns. We have held seventeen of these full-message short-term campaigns, and the Lord has put His approval upon them by giving us more than 380 baptismal decisions and converts that remain faithful and active in the work of the cause.
As we review the past, we feel to emphasize the wisdom of preceding every evangelistic series with a complete series of revival services for our church members only. It certainly improves the results of the public campaign.
The work has never been easy, and the short campaign requires intensive visitation, with a constant passion for the lost. I am reminded of a statement one of our visiting ministers made when we went over the names we had to visit. He said, "Why, in our last campaign we threw away better interests than your best ones here!" In spite of the fact that we have not always had what might be considered the best prospects to work for, the Lord has given us many souls. I believe the urgency of the short series has much to do with this.
I do not feel that we need to be afraid of bringing the testing truths to the attention of the public in the short space of time that the series covers. After all, even in the long series, we cannot limit the attendance for the nights of these testing truths to those who have heard the early part of the series. And a tactful presentation of the message, with an attitude of expectancy—taking for granted that they will easily grasp it—helps very much. In fact, we have had virtually no one turn away from the message because of a premature presentation of the message. And we feel that we have been able to leave the people with a good feeling toward the message, even though they may not have accepted it. This gives me courage to preach these mighty truths unflinchingly. It is always done with love, however, and no one takes offense.
We have found, too, that the short-term series does bring in many who were perfect strangers to the truth of this message before the series began. In one small-town series, thirteen of the fifteen baptisms had been perfect strangers to the message before the series opened, and the other two had never been Seventh-day Adventists.
Sometimes our short campaigns have had to extend over a period of from three to six weeks, with fewer nights each week, but most of them have been nightly meetings for two weeks. We have continued the plan of following these public meetings immediately with a nightly baptismal class, beginning the night after the close of the campaign. After trying different methods, we decided that to begin the baptismal classes the night following the close of the public meetings was wisest. This helped to prevent any from drawing back because of unwarranted fears that come with a lapse of time when no one is there to help in the crucial moments.
We have also found that the percentage of those going through with baptism after having made their public decision is virtually one hundred per cent when the team stays by for the classwork. To accomplish this, when a candidate misses a class session he is visited the very next day and brought up to date with the rest of the class in his studies. It gives due importance to the classwork, and maintains the sense of urgency. It is difficult for the pastor to do all of this and still carry his many other district responsibilities. Therefore we have found it wiser for the team to stay by for the baptismal classes. We conduct two classes simultaneously, one for the juniors and one for the adults (sixteen years and older).
No one ever feels that he is being rushed into baptism after he has had class study every night for nearly two weeks, in addition to the nightly two-week public series. Their questions have been answered, their problems have been solved, and their victories have been gained. I am convinced more than ever that what God needs is not time, but surrender. And a soul can do that in a moment!
To illustrate, a woman of social prestige and better-than-average means took her public stand to prepare for baptism. Immediately after that meeting she said, "Now, I don't want to be baptized right away. I want to study this through carefully and really know it. You said we could take as long as we needed to prepare, didn't you?" I said, "Yes," and she quickly added, "That's good, because I'd like to study for about two years!" I assured her that if she needed two years we wanted her to take that time. And then I said, "We'll be having baptismal class every night beginning tomorrow night to get everyone ready as fast as possible, but we'll give everyone all the time needed. If you need two years, fine!" We had three or four class periods, and she said, "Oh, I can hardly wait until I'm baptized!"
This is typical of the anticipation all have had for their baptismal day in the short campaign. I feel a tremendous lack in measuring up to all the Lord is anxious to do for these souls still outside His fold! I believe He waits with a power beyond our comprehension, unable to use it because of our shortsightedness and limited faith!
We have observed that in the places where our church members have worked and prayed the most earnestly, we have had by far the greatest results. When they have, for some reason or other, been inclined to watch the team do it, our results have been much smaller, in spite of the advertising.
We have now incorporated a training program for our laity, and in this we take them out, one at a time, at a time of their own choosing, to go with us on the visitations. Then they go with each other, two by two. We have very few classes to train them, but give them only the material they can put immediately to use. They like it, and here in Calgary we have about thirty that have volunteered for this training and part-time visitation work. We have just begun the plan, so are unable to report on its results, but believe it will increase the harvest.
I hope that many more will catch the vision for short-term campaigns, especially in the great metropolitan areas where we have so many thousands of former Seventh-day Adventists. I believe I am correct in saying that we have seen the Lord reclaim at least 50 per cent of all the former Seventh-day Adventists whose names we have had in our short-term campaigns. And when they return, they are so happy that they make wonderful members. They remind me of the prodigal who knew he was lost, and remembered what his father's house had been like, and made an effort to come back! It's a great thrill to welcome them back to the fold!
God give us faith, and a sense of urgency in this mighty hour!
E. M. CHALMERS
It is difficult to describe my enthusiasm for the three-week plan. Its results and merits are so gratifying that one must experience them to appreciate them. After we had spent a few days with Pastor Detamore a year ago, we could only feel that the Lord was blessing this method in his ministry in a wonderful way. Whether it could be similarly blessed in the Northwest and in our inexperienced hands was a question we must put to practical test and ask the Lord to show the answer. This year has satisfied us that His stamp of approval is upon it. There are perhaps many reasons for the success of the plan, but may I name some of the most outstanding:
[Pastor Walter has recently been transferred to the Texico Conference from the Upper Columbia Conference.]
It is a little hard for me to know what to say about these short campaigns. Some people have the idea that all I talk about or am concerned with is the short campaign. In the institutes that I conduct for the visiting ministers in connection with the three-week series (we have had well over two hundred ministers in attendance at these institutes), I spend most of the class time on long campaigns and regular pastor-evangelistic methods in the different phases of church work, and do not spend a great deal of time on the methods of conducting the short campaign itself. The visiting ministers have an opportunity to see that in action and to decide its value for themselves.
In other words, as far as my teaching periods are concerned, I do not go into the short campaign at all to speak of, yet some seem to have labeled me a short-tem evangelist because I am doing that type of work. I still believe that the long campaigns have their place, particularly in two special fields. One is in new territory. In territory where our work is new, or the area very small and our work unknown, I feel that the long campaign builds much more solidly. Then there are the great city campaigns in connection with which we so often say that our aim is to "crack the city wide open." I believe that it takes longer campaigns to do that. It requires a tremendous investment, and there is no use investing a large amount of money if you are going to be there for only three weeks. Surely we will have to continue the long campaigns in some of the great centers. There is no doubt whatever about that.
Now, as to other impressions about the short campaigns, I still feel that there is a field for them. I wish that every conference had one team conducting the short campaigns. What a tremendous ingathering there could be.
Perhaps you would be interested in the results of our recent campaigns. They will give you a little idea of how things are faring. We closed two weeks ago last evening in Oklahoma City. Fifty-six took their stand in that series. The campaign before that was in Enid, Oklahoma, where we have a considerably smaller church—I believe about sixty-five active members. Forty-five took their stand there. Preceding that, our campaign was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and about sixty-three took their stand. Prior to that we were in Dallas, and 113 took their stand.
Pastor Leighton Holley had organized the church for intensive preparatory work with the slide machines and all manner of Bible studies. It certainly showed up in the harvest. This was our third short series in Dallas. The former one, a year and a half before, had netted sixty, and the one before that, fifty-six. Then I was in the same city many years ago, perhaps ten, and 113 were baptized in a long campaign. Three weeks later we began a second long campaign in another part of the city, in which seventy-eight were baptized. So it is interesting to note that the short campaigns measured up pretty well with the long campaigns. Not a bad comparison, since they were conducted in the same city and the meetings were held in the same areas.
I believe our second campaign in Houston netted about sixty-five. The one before that was in the Valley, in which seventy-three took their stand. That is about as far back as I remember right now. Remember, the series in Houston and in Dallas were repeat campaigns. Also in the Valley. In fact, it was our third campaign in the Valley. I mention this because some have felt that the three-week campaign burns over the territory. However, we have found that when we can go back where meetings have been held before, we sometimes do better than the first time. I believe there were about twenty who took their stand in our first series in Austin, Texas. When we held the second series a year and a half later, there were fifty. So it does not seem that the territory actually burns out because of the short series.
Now, we also hit hard spots sometimes, where everything seems to fail. Such was the case in Paris, Texas. Our work in that area is new, and there is a great deal of bitterness and opposition. We have about twenty members. The opening night we had a good attendance-140. We were moved out of the college auditorium the second night to a classroom, and the attendance began to go downhill, finally to as low as thirty-five. Ten took their stand from that series. Now that is pretty low for a team that is costing so much in the way of conference funds, and so we felt as though it was almost a failure. However, even that number of souls is not a bad harvest for three weeks' time, is it? I just mention this, for this is the lowest that our campaigns have ever gone. I do not mean that you can measure campaigns solely by the number who take their stand. Nevertheless, it is the most conspicuous evidence of success or failure, we believe.
You will be glad to know that we started off with a good attendance here in Cleburne Sunday night. That is about seven miles from the college. The attendance was 1,050. I was more than pleased; I would have been overjoyed with an attendance of six or seven hundred. It is thrilling to see the large number of Adventists present.
One thing I would like to say about the number of those who have taken their stand. I refer to these numbers merely as evidence of the fact that something is happening in the short series. After all, it is all the work of the Holy Spirit, and we enter very little into the picture.
Southwestern Union Conference