It pays to launch a public relations program before conducting a major evangelistic campaign. This conviction evolved out of years of experience on the part of the writer and other evangelists in meeting icy prejudice or fiery antagonism in work in virgin fields. Wisdom, experience teaches us, is the better part of valor—and machinery runs best when properly oiled.
We should like to cite a concrete example of the extreme measures sometimes taken by uninformed, prejudiced people. A young worker and his wife just out of school were assigned the job of doing some groundwork preparatory to an evangelistic campaign in a key city. Previous to this time some of our brethren had met with severe opposition. Their tent had been burned, and malicious plans had been set afoot to harm them, and consequently they were forced to leave the city. In fact two of them, through misunderstanding, were detained in jail for a night or two. You may ask, Were those who treated our workers in this way wicked men?
Our reply is, Not necessarily, but they were totally ignorant of the high principles of Seventh-day Adventists and of our worldwide missionary program. But no one had ever taken the trouble to inform them.
Contrast these attacks with what actually happened when the same persons became acquainted with us through the public relations program promoted there a number of years later. Even though this was done through the mail, it turned the tide in our favor! Today we have an organized church group and a choice lot on which to build a representative edifice in that city. The city fathers stand ready to assist us in our building program, besides giving most liberally to our Ingathering. They are our well-wishers and appreciate our work. Before this they did not know us. It is human nature to be skeptical of what we do not understand.
We observe that when Jesus was engaged in His ministry on earth, He sent forerunners ahead of His visits: "The Lord sent them two and two . . . into every city and place, whither he himself would come" (Luke 10:1). Shall we say then that this was a public relations program building up good will before the great Evangelist arrived to conduct His important and sacred work?
Our Spearhead Campaign
We named our program the American Bible Reading Club, and by way of introduction mentioned the fact that we were connected with the American Temperance Society. This gave us favor at once. Then the people did not seem to care to which denomination we belonged. They knew that we were doing a good work; we were meeting them on the common ground of uplifting humanity. This is the way we made friends with the business people in our new field. Some of the influential men have been good friends, always ready to assist us in any way to make our program a success. The following public relations program of planned literature distribution proved effective in our work in the dark counties of the Carolinas.
Step No. 1: First, visitation to the business and professional men with our temperance magazine, Listen. To the doctors and nurses a complimentary copy of Life and Health was also given; and to the ministers, officials, and lawyers we presented our religious liberty journal, Liberty.
Step No. 2: Second call upon our business friends about three weeks later. This time we gave them small books, such as Prophecy Speaks or Steps to Christ. These books were received readily. In some isolated cases when we gave the religious literature before we had given the health papers, the Bible books were received reluctantly. If the statement that the health message is the entering wedge is true anywhere, it is doubly so in the conservative South.
Free copies of Listen magazine were sent to all the teachers in the public schools in two of these counties. In Avery County the superintendent of schools asked for a year's subscription for himself.
Step No. 3: On our third visit we distributed the little book God and I Are Partners, by D. E. Rebok, or the Legion of the Tenth, by C. B. Haynes.
Step No. 4: As we continued the consecutive visits and our business friends showed a further interest in religious matters, we left some of the larger books—The Desire of Ages, What Jesus Said, or The Great Controversy (Christian Home Library Series editions), from our lending library.
The Results of Public Relations
There is a private phase of public relations that may be more important than what we have discussed thus far, and that is the practice of the principles of Christian relationships and the prompt payment of bills. We always try to be careful on this point. In fact, in this part of the country one's Christianity is evaluated in this way—"He is a good Christian. He pays his bills."
After completing our spearhead campaign in these dark counties, we were able more intelligently to decide where our major effort should be held. In this case Newland, North Carolina, a county seat town, was chosen. As we were preparing for the evangelistic meetings, a wealthy merchant whom we had visited with our truth-filled literature offered us a beautiful city lot to use for our tent, free of charge. He said, "You are doing a good work and I want to contribute to your program," and gave us a good offering. This man particularly appreciated our temperance work.
As a part of our get-acquainted endeavor we visited the local churches of other denominations. One of our non-Adventist pastor friends is now reading The Midnight Cry, by F. D. Nichol. When the time came for our last baptism and we needed a baptistry, this kind man offered us the tne in his imposing stone church. "We are delighted to help you," said the pastor.
A service station owner from whom we bought our gas and oil one day gave us a happy surprise.
"Mr. Conmack," he said, "I understand that your organization conducts a lending library program."
"Yes, we do," I answered enthusiastically.
"Well, I am the librarian for two county libraries, and I would like to place in our two libraries all the books that your denomination publishes," he continued.
What an order! We soon put Leslie Pitton, director of the public relations department of the Carolina Conference, in touch with this librarian.
Our public relations program created good will and also gained excellent cooperation. When we needed stencil work done, the Chamber of Commerce supplied us with a private secretary. We were told, "The charge is $10, but for you it is free, because we have made you a member of the Chamber of Commerce." When our mimeograph work had to be done, we were referred to the local college, whose doors were open to us. There the wife of a pastor did the copy work at a nominal fee, with the kind assistance of her minister husband.
A number of businessmen, including the postmaster, remarked upon our leaving, "Pastor, we are sorry to see you go." We felt well paid for our relations program—both public and private.
In another instance our precampaign public relations paved the way for obtaining a difficult hall in an important center. Some weeks before the meetings I had personally distributed Listen magazine and some of our other periodicals to all city officials. They associated us with the literature and remembered my visit. The city council decided we could have their courthouse for spearhead meetings. The spokesman said, "Of course, you may have the courthouse. We are acquainted with the fine work you are doing."
I asked, "And the rent will lie how much?" "Not a penny," was the reply. "It is free."
Our Mailing Program
When announcements of spearhead meetings were sent by mail to every family in the respective county, one of the Good News tracts was also sent along, with an invitation for the people to send in to the American Bible Reading Club for the complete series of this little publication. At the spearhead meeting we gave the audience an opportunity to furnish their names for the Bible reading course. There were 850 families throughout the four dark counties who requested this reading course. Quiz sheets accompany the Good News, but regardless of whether the reader answers and returns them, he continues to receive the complete series. Through our lending library, larger books, such as The Desire of Ages, What Jesus Said, and The Great Controversy, are made accessible to the readers of the Bible Reading Club.
Upon completion of the entire series of Good News, all the readers are automatically signed up for the Bible correspondence lessons of the School of Bible Prophecy, directed by E. L. Cardey, of Atlanta, Georgia. In six months' time 90,000 pieces of truth-filled literature, which we believe will inevitably bear much fruit, were sent out into these dark counties. This mailing program was made possible by the faithful assistance of the three nearest churches, Marion, Banner Elk, and Valle Crucis. Taking the lead were Dr. S. G. Dobias and Dr. Francis Miles, who conducts the Bible Reading Club program.
Associated with the Conmack evangelistic team in our county-wide effort at Newland were Elder A. D. Livengood, Brother N. N. Price, and Elder Jack Martz. Elder L. P. Knecht also gave us valuable assistance at different times. Through the generosity of Dr. j. A. Oliver, a mimeograph copy of the book Pioneer Stories, by A. W. Spalding, was mailed to every family in Avery County. The Asheville Quartet made a wonderful contribution in music to our major effort, traveling nearly two hundred miles at the opening meeting, as well as on a number of subsequent occasions.
Although the 50- by 80-foot tent was erected on the highway three miles from town, it was packed to capacity the first night, with about fifty standing and many sitting in the cars outside. At our first Sabbath service, to our happy surprise, 250 people were present to worship with us. One sister remarked, "It seems just like camp meeting!" The good interest continued, and after ten weeks, thirty-one new believers were united with the church and five people were rebaptized. Surely this number of dear ones is only the first fruits of a rich harvest that must come as a direct result of the public relations program and the complete coverage of all the families in four dark Carolina counties Alleghany, Ashe, Wautauga, and Avery—with gospel ammunition, the Word of God in printed form.
In the Spirit of prophecy writings we are told: " 'Never lose sight of the fact that the message you are bearing is a world-wide message. It is to be given to all cities, to all villages; it is to be proclaimed in the highways and the byways.' . . . You are to sow the seeds of truth in every place.... Sow beside all waters. You may not at once see the result of your labors, but be not discouraged."—Testimonies, vol. 7, pp. 35, 36.
We solicit the earnest prayers of our friends everywhere that the seed that has been sown will be watered by the Holy Spirit and a great revival and reformation will come in these hitherto unentered places. We have the comforting assurance in Holy Writ: "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him" (Ps. 126:5, 6).
The servant of the Lord has rightly said that if more tact, love, kindness, and gentleness were practiced, one hundred souls would be saved where we now see one saved. Surely this is a challenge to every minister of the gospel and to each member of the church! When the whole church conducts this kind of relations program, God will do great things through them in the finishing of the work.
Public relations is the golden rule in action. May the Lord help us to see the tremendous importance of little things—may He anoint our eyes with eyesalve, that we may see.