"OH YES. We saw your exhibit at the fair." A friendly smile behind these words said unspoken nice things about the exhibit and gave Ingathering solicitors in one Oklahoma district special entree to the purse strings of the community. Goals came easier. Visits were pleasanter.
"We thank God every day for the fair booth that led us to find Him." A couple in Tennessee who had found God through the church's exhibit at the Henry County Fair thus expressed tender feelings for this once-a-year church activity. No more enthusiastic booth attendants can be found anywhere. At least one church in Tennessee will always have a booth at the fair—and elsewhere if opportunity should offer.
Not all those met at exhibits are easy to talk with. Sometimes it takes a bit of patience, a touch of heavenly wisdom. In Vermont a visitor at a district fair booth seemed very bitter toward the church when she first stopped at the exhibit. When she left, however, her icy opinions had melted considerably. Booth attendants smiled as their eyes followed her. In her hand she carried a copy of The Marked Bible.
Sometimes results can be seen immediately—those more dramatic results that involve a person's habits of living. Perhaps one of the most popular themes for Adventist fairs has been that of temperance. The film One in 20,000 has been shown uncounted times in uncounted places. Almost inevitable at the end of a day is the litter of not-yet-empty cigarette packs. Also almost inevitable is the barrage of requests from other organizations for information as to where they can secure a print of the film for showing at club meetings, schools, et cetera.
There is no question about it, exhibits leave an impression with the people who view them. They may not read all the literature they collect in their tour through the exhibition grounds. They may not even take it home, though many do. But one thing is certain: The words "Seventh-day Adventist Church" will take on new meaning to them if they have caught a glimpse of what the name stands for through a properly prepared and adequately manned exhibit. Some may not even realize that there has been any shift in their thinking mechanism regarding the church. They may not give it another thought until one day someone mentions the name Seventh-day Adventist. Then upon the screen of their mind flashes the memory of the church's exhibit. It is there—almost a subliminal kind of impression.
This is the reason it is not always easy to measure the success of an exhibit in terms of people enrolled in the Bible correspondence course or in quantities of leaflets distributed. This also is the reason it is important to make sure the exhibit truly represents the church, that it declares a faith held dear by the people who embrace it, that it speaks with dignity and power. Truly an exhibit is the show window for the church.
To achieve a fitting "show window" requires considerable effort on the part of cjuite a few people, for there is much involved in preparing an exhibit worthy of the church. First of all, the church members will need to be convinced of the importance of having it. Here are some facts you might pass on to them:
1. Approximately 60 million people attend State and county fairs each year in the United States. Many fairs chalk up visitor figures well over 300,000. The box score in other countries is comparable.
2. At these events people come to you. You do not have to pound pavements or bang on doors. You need not fear you will disturb someone's siesta or noon meal or household chores. There will never be an unfriendly face thrust into yours as a doorswings open. The faces you see will be curious, relaxed, observant. These are the kind of faces we want to see!
3. Your exhibit will be a signboard proclaiming your message to all who pass by even though they may not stop to talk or pick up your literature.
4. The exhibit opens the way for the distribution of literature without question or resentment on the part of the people. They expect it.
5. The exhibit makes the church and its message more "available" to those who would be unlikely to read a book, attend a religious meeting, or tune in their radios or television sets to a religious program. For this reason it should present some item of interest that will catch the eye of the non-religious person. The activities of the church in bringing relief to mankind or its youth program, et cetera, fit into this category.
6. Businesses have realized the value of presenting their merchandise through the medium of exhibits. Should the business of the Lord receive less attention?
7. Ellen G. White tells us that when Christ was on earth He attended the great yearly festivals of the nation, and "wherever a large number of people was gathered for any purpose, His voice was heard, clear and distinct, giving His message."—Evangelism, p-. 35. So we have the example of Christ in the matter of taking the message to where the multitudes gather.
8. Long ago Mrs. White spoke of the importance of representation at fairs and similar expositions. She urged: "We should improve every such opportunity as that presented by the St. Louis Fair. At all such gatherings there should be present men whom God can use. Leaflets containing the light of present truth should be scattered among the people like the leaves of autumn. To many who attend these gatherings these leaflets would be as the leaves of the tree of life, which are for the healing of the nations."—Ibid., p. 36.
Many of the churches have put into practice these precepts. Last year Seventh-day Adventists were represented by exhibits at more than 120 public events. The Ohio Conference, with county fairs coming thick and fast, reported 20 church exhibits in 1959. And the activity has spread abroad, with the story of the church being told through exhibits in Australia, Southern Asia, South America, the Middle East.
Once the enthusiasm of the church members has been aroused, the time is ripe for the appointment of a committee. This will require some finesse, for the committee should be comprised of members who can make a real contribution to the project. They should be able to work harmoniously and effectively. Pick a member for each of the following responsibilities:
1. Designing, with the approval of the committee, the general layout of the exhibit.
2. Securing materials for construction or even constructing the display.
3. Securing appropriate give-away literature and having it at the right place at the right time.
4. Securing special exhibit items called for by the over-all plan. For instance, an electric motor if one is needed, drape material if required, plants, pictures, and the like.
5. Make professionally, or secure from a professional, signs or art work required.
6. Secure, schedule, instruct, and supervise personnel for manning the booth when it is open.
There is not sufficient space here to go into the details of planning and building the exhibit. However, an instructional brochure has been prepared by the General Conference Bureau of Public Relations, which takes up every facet of exhibit operation as well as suggesting themes and devices for catching the public eye and telling where these can be secured. Entitled "Planning Church Exhibits," this 12-page brochure is available to any church at 25 cents a copy.
The conference public relations secretary is prepared to provide assistance in exhibit projects. It may be possible to secure many helpful items from him. He may also have detailed information on when and where fairs and other expositions will be held in which you might be interested. It would be well, therefore, to get in touch with him before actual planning gets under way.
Exhibit plans need to get into the grind early, for often space is quickly gobbled up. It also takes some time to put together a display that presents the church's message
in a dignified and effective way. Allow not less than two months' time for actual planning and construction. There are a multitude of details to be cared for.
It's a big job. "More work than it's worth," you say? Listen to what church members out in Nevada said after their first exhibit at a fair:
"Considering all the work that goes into a fair booth, some may ask, 'Does it really pay?' We are prepared to answer unequivocally, Yes. The good will built up, the friends made, and the seeds of truth sown have already proved to us that making the church available to the milling throngs is well worth the expense and effort."
Will your church have a show window at the next fair?