Decision Methods in Small Churches

The personal touch in securing decisions.

Walter M. Starks, Pastor, Washington D.C.

In a day of mass production, mass media, and spacious arenas, filled to capacity by overflowing crowds, it is not too difficult to lose the personal appeal and the personal touch. The label, "handmade" on a garment or other product, which indicates meticulous care and per­sonalized service, has all but given way to the assembly line of mass production so common in our age. The grand scale, the gigantic demonstration, captures the imag­ination and very often carries the day.

Yet behind every success are many per­sonal and individual contributions. The great demonstration and tremendous re­sults realized at Pentecost were not brought about by mass appeal. "The disciples were astonished and overjoyed at the greatness of the harvest of souls. They did not regard this wonderful ingathering as the result of their own efforts; they realized that they were entering into other men's labors."—The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 44, 45.

The Personal Touch in Securing Decisions

While Jesus spoke to multitudes, His most effective and successful work was done with the small audience. It was personal contact with the twelve that welded them into an organization that went forth to evangelize the world. Jesus worked for and with them, personally, individually, and led them to decision. Philip "joined him­self" to the chariot of the Ethiopian and received his decision to follow his Lord in baptism. God said to Peter, "Arise there­fore, and get thee down." He was to make personal contact with Cornelius.

All this simply reveals the fact that de­cisions are brought about by coming close to men in a personal way, whether by heavenly or human agencies. Contact must be established and the fallow ground broken up be­fore decisions for Christ can be secured. The pastor-evangelist, therefore, must effect a personal closeness with the prospective con­vert.

The closer we come to the in­dividual the more lasting will be his decision for Christ. This is where the small church offers better opportunity than the large con­gregations. It lends itself readily to infor­mality and a family atmosphere, thus ef­fecting a more relaxed at-home feeling. It is not difficult to identify with the group, and the warmth of welcome, friendliness, fellowship, and rapport are easily discern­ible. However, in a small church it is much easier for opposition to arise and hinder decisions from being made. This is because of the fact that almost everyone knows everyone else and what he is doing.

Predecision preparation is most impor­tant to the final response of the prospec­tive convert. Ofttimes we hear of one in the valley of decision. But he must be brought there by some means. He will not arrive of himself. And he must have some basis on which to predicate his decision. He must be informed, convinced, con­victed, and persuaded. Pre-eminent in this preparatory work are Bible studies, cottage meetings, Bible school enrollments, and personal social contacts.

Analyzing the Congregation for Decision

To know when to press a point, when to let up, when to bind up, when to ex­hort, when to rebuke, when to reprove, when to be long-suffering, when to appeal for decision, requires more than human wisdom. However, God will not do for us what He has qualified us to do. To know the audience, and to be able to analyze the congregation, helps in securing deci­sions. Our Lord was adept in this regard. We are told, "Jesus watched with deep earnestness the changing countenances of His hearers. The faces that expressed in­terest and pleasure gave Him great satis­faction. As the arrows of truth pierced to the soul, breaking through the barriers of selfishness, and working contrition, and fi­nally gratitude, the Saviour was made glad. When his eyes swept over the throng of listeners, and He recognized among them the faces He had before seen, His counte­nance lighted up with joy. . . . When the truth, plainly spoken, touched some cher­ished idol, He marked the change of coun­tenance, the cold, forbidding look, which told that the light was unwelcome. When He saw men refuse the message of peace, His heart was pierced to the.very depths." —The Desire of Ages, p. 255.

Here is illustrated the effective use of our physical arsenal, consecrated and sanc­tified by the Spirit of God in the ministry of decisions. Christ used His total person­ality in His appeals. And this was usually done before an audience of a size that made it possible for Him to scan every face and analyze every countenance. So ef­fective was the appeal of His eyes, so evi­dent the love, compassion, pity, and for­giveness upon His countenance, that it was almost impossible to resist His invita­tion. As His eyes met the eyes of Peter after the denial, we are told: "In that gen­tle countenance he read deep pity and sor­row, but there was no anger there. The sight of that pale, suffering face, those quivering lips, that look of compassion and forgiveness, pierced his heart like an arrow."—Ibid., p. 713. The Scripture says, "And Peter went out, and wept bitterly." Yes, the consecrated, sanctified, eye-to-eye spiritual confrontation can be effectively used in the small church setting, where the pastor-evangelist is close to and well acquainted with his flock.

The Relationship of Background to Decision

Jesus "spoke directly to every mind and appealed to every heart" (Education, p. 231). Here is brought to light the great scope of knowledge that Jesus had of His audience. He knew something of their background, their struggles, their sorrows, and their joys. In no other way could He suit a message to every mind and appeal to every heart. After the denial, his look at Peter would have been practically mean­ingless, had He not known Peter so well. But as Christ looked at His disciple "a tide of memories rushed over him. The Saviour's tender mercy, His kindness and long-suffering, His gentleness and patience toward His erring disciples,—all was re­membered."—The Desire of Ages, p. 713. It was these precious memories that made the look of Christ so meaningful. The ap­peal of the eye and the countenance can­not have its full impact unless we are able to communicate, and this communication is based largely upon previous contact. An appeal for decisions "cold" or without this background of knowledge or contact very seldom succeeds.

It was Christ's knowledge of the woman at the well that gripped her and held her attention while He was driving home the message of truth. Because He knew all about her and understood her problem so well, she was easily led to a decision. Her witness to the community was, "Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ? Then they went out of the city, and came unto him" (John 4:29, 30).

Jesus always knew His audience. To the farmer He could talk of the sower who went forth to sow. To the fisherman He spoke of ships and nets. To the collectors of revenue taxes, heavenly treasures were His subject, and to the poor He talked of sparrows, lilies, and grass.

The small church lends itself most fa­vorably to a knowledge of backgrounds and close relationships, and thus gives a sense of rapport that makes it easier for the pastor-evangelist to communicate as he stands before his audience.

Christ Did Not Expose

When making his appeal for final deci­sion, the pastor of the small church has to be careful or he may embarrass the pro­spective convert.

It is of vital importance that he reach the individual and get him to make a de­cision; but he must do so in such a way that the prospect will be drawn to Christ and not driven farther away. Jesus set for us a wonderful example. We are told, "The disciples knew nothing of the purpose of Judas. Jesus alone could read his secret. Yet He did not expose him. Jesus hungered for his soul. He felt for him such a burden as for Jerusalem when He wept over the doomed city. His heart was crying, How can I give thee up? The constraining power of that love was felt by Judas. When the Saviour's hands were bathing those soiled feet, and wiping them with the towel, the heart of Judas thrilled through and through with the impulse then and there to confess his sin. But he would not humble himself."—Ibid., p. 645.

Identifying With the Audience in Securing  Decisions

One way this might be done may be il­lustrated by the prayer of Daniel the prophet. While no charge of known wrongdoing could be placed against Dan­iel, yet he identified himself with the trans­gressions of his people. His prayer was: "We have sinned, and have committed in­iquity and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy pre­cepts and from thy judgments: neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets. . . . Neither have we obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in his laws, which he has set before us by his servants the prophets" (Dan. 9:5, 6, 10).

The apostle Paul called himself chief of sinners. And in subsequent efforts to lead men to Christ declared, "For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. . . . To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1 Cor. 9:19, 22). Scripture says of Jesus Christ, "And he was numbered with the transgressors" (Isa. 53:12).

In the small church the call to decision must identify not only the pastor but the entire congregation with the one to be led to Christ. Then in the midst of this general identification, and in an atmosphere charged with the presence of the Holy Spirit, a call may be made for a more in­dividual and definite surrender. This may be done in an appeal to the congregation to stand; all standing takes the pressure off the prospective convert, and makes it easier for him to make his decision to walk with Jesus all the way.

Each united congregational appeal strengthens and lays the groundwork for the more personal and definite call.

The Positive Approach in Securing Decisions

A positive approach, expressing faith that the prospective convert will yield to the will of God, is often effective. In ap­pealing to men for decision, Christ was positive. He indicated no doubt whatever as He summoned men to the gospel colors. His appeal to Andrew and Peter was, "Follow me." Even to the rich young ruler who turned Him down, the appeal of Christ was positive, "Sell all that thou hast . . . : and come, follow me." So we might say, "I am sure we all love Jesus, and I am certain that not one of us will want to disappoint our Lord. I know every heart will respond to the great love of God in positive terms."

An evangelist in a small town made a list of those in the valley of decision. The list came to seventy prospects. He person­ally visited every one, using a positive ap­proach. He said, "I know that you love the Lord Jesus. I know that as a Christian you are determined to follow Him fully and completely. I have in my hands a list of seventy people whom God has impressed me will obey Him fully. I have included your name, and I know that you do not desire me to remove it from the list." Usu­ally the answer was not to remove the name. Sixty-five out of the seventy were baptized.

The Personal Commitment

There is nothing so powerful and effec­tive in securing decisions, as the out­shining of the Spirit and power of God in one's own life. Moses, descending from the mountain, reflected the power and the glory of God. Israel was affected and moved by this evidence of heavenly con­nection. Jesus described John the Baptist as "a burning and a shining light." The powerful force of his message, the sacred holiness of his countenance, the blazing animated gleam of his eye, burned his mes­sage into the very soul of his hearers, bringing conviction and conversion. Inspi­ration says of him, "with the spirit and power of Elijah he denounced the national corruption, and rebuked the prevailing sins. His words were plain, pointed, and convincing. . . . Princes and rabbis, sol­diers, publicans, and peasants came to hear the prophet. . . . Many were brought to repentance, and received baptism."—Ibid., pp. 104, 105.

It is said of Jesus, "What He taught, He was." In this lies the greatest power of all. "The silent witness of a true, unselfish, godly life carries an almost irresistible in­fluence. . . . When those who profess to serve God follow Christ's example, prac­ticing the principles of the law in their daily life; when every act bears witness that they love God supremely and their neighbor as themselves, then will the church have power to move the world."—Christ's Object Lessons, p. 340.

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Walter M. Starks, Pastor, Washington D.C.

May 1964

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