The minister who would bear fruit for the kingdom is wise to recognize that his work in the desk is less than half effective unless the people he preaches to are visited and prayed with personally.
We here present the visiting technique we follow in our evangelistic meetings. All the principles described will not apply to a pastoral call, but some will. If I had known these simple principles when I was in pastoral work, I could have saved endless hours and my visiting would have been immeasurably more effective.
I didn't devise the plan. But it is so simple and it works so well that I would be proud to claim it as my own brain child. However, I learned it while working as campaign manager with Fordyce Detamore, the man who pioneered the techniques of short campaign evangelism.
One of the first things the worker who follows this type of a program should aim at is brevity. When we have from two to three hundred names of people who need to be visited within three weeks, we will obviously have to keep right on the move to get around to them. But we should not let the pressure hurry us or force us into a briskness that might be interpreted by the person we visit as unfriendliness. If we take charge of the visit from the moment we step inside the home, it is possible, in a smiling, easygoing manner, to determine the degree of interest, learn something of the religious background of the person, have prayer, and be out of the home in from four to eight minutes.
In the first place we need to get into the home. If we have had canvassing experience we will have our own method of doing this. When a person responds to my knock at the door, and I ascertain that this is the Mr. Brown I want to talk to, I smile happily and extend my hand, saying, "Well, I am Brother Holley, Mr. Brown, from over at the church." I want him to know I'm from the church and am therefore not a dangerous character. Usually lie doesn't think to ask what church until after I'm inside. Then I answer very matter of factly, "Seventh-day Adventist church," just as though that were the only church in the city.
Then I come right to the point.
Usually before I am seated I ask the question, "Did you receive the invitation we sent out for the meetings we are holding over at the hall?" Usually they have received the invitation and are acquainted with the fact that the meetings are going on.
"Have you ever attended any Adventist meetings?" If the answer is "No," I ask him, "Have you ever taken any of our Bible courses—either the Voice of Prophecy or Faith for Today, or It Is Written?" A great many of the people we visit, although never having attended any of our formal meetings, are well acquainted with our doctrines by having taken these excellent Bible courses of our network pro-Grams
Usually I ask the question fairly early, "What church do you attend?" The answer to that question opens up to me a whole field of understanding of the religious thinking that is going on in the person's mind. Of course all of these questions are asked in a very casual, friendly way.
"I suppose you found in your study that the main difference of the Adventist teachings from those of your own church is the Sabbath. You know we keep the seventh-day, Saturday, as the Sabbath." Usually the person will agree that the Sabbath is the main difference between our churches.
The next important question is "Do you believe the Sabbath?" If the person hesitates, I add, "Have you studied the Sabbath enough to know if it makes sense to you?" You would be surprised how often the answer to that question is in the affirmative—something like, "Yes, I really believe you people are right on the Sabbath."
Be careful right here that you don't get a glint in your eye and treat him as though he should join the church next Sabbath. Pass the admission off very casually. Agree with him, and keep your tone and manner matter-of-fact as though you were talking about the weather.
Well, it is there, isn't it? right in the Ten Commandments. Personally, I keep the Sabbath for the same reason I wouldn't steal or lie, or worship idols, or commit adultery, or murder. [Smiling] I didn't put the Sabbath there. God did. And frankly, don't know what to do with it but try to keep it."
The next question is even more important but still very casual. "Have you ever thought of keeping the Sabbath?" The conversation has been going steady with no lull or lag; we have been asking the questions. He has been talking about the things we have wanted him to talk about and because of the friendliness of the atmosphere it hasn't been painful to him. Now, with this question coming right on the heels of the others, the chances are that if he has ever considered keeping the Sabbath, he will admit it.
If the answer is "No," and he indicates he has never thought of keeping the Sabbath, we conclude immediately that here is a person with whom the message has not made enough headway for us to do much with him. Your rating of him will depend upon his general attitude. If he is friendly and unprejudiced and receptive he should be rated as a good future prospect, and a follow-up program should be carried on for him after the short series is over.
If the answer is in the affirmative—he has given thought to keeping the Sabbath —we know immediately that a lot of groundwork has already been done in this person's mind. He believes the Sabbath is right and has thought about how he might keep it. Here is an excellent opportunity to sermonize and expound to him about the need of an immediate surrender. Be sure to resist this urge. He is going to think about this visit for a long time after we are gone. He will go over and over in his mind the things we said, and the way we said them. If the visit has in any sense made him feel "on the spot" or in any way uncomfortable, he is not going to have pleasant memories of us, and he will not come out to hear us preach.
So in response to his admission, still smiling and casual and giving no indication of the importance we attach to all this, we say: "Just don't put it off too long; we wish you would make it a subject of prayer. God will help you. He has so many ways of working out these problems that are too much for us."
And that's enough. We get ready now for the prayer and departure. Usually at this juncture I show him the handbill, mark a few of the key meetings, urge him especially to be out for the meeting in which there is going to be a call for surrender (though of course he isn't told this), then I say, "I am so glad for this chance of talking with you, Brother Brown. I must hurry on. We have so many to visit that we can't stay anywhere very long, but let us have a word of prayer." And without asking for permission we begin to pray. If we ask, some may refuse.
In the prayer we can say things to the Lord in his behalf that he will appreciate, whereas if we said them to him directly as a little sermonet or exhortation, he might resent it.
"Lord, I am thankful for the visit I have had here with Brother Brown. He hasn't been able to get out to the meetings, but I am thankful for his interest in Thy Word. He has taken the Bible course and he has appreciated the great truths of the Bible he has studied there. He has learned that Saturday is the true Sabbath of the Bible and the Ten Commandments. Help him not to by-pass this. Help Brother Brown to determine soon that he will keep holy the commandments of God. What we do, Lord, we don't want to do because of a church or a denomination, but because it is taught in Thy Word. We believe that Jesus is coming soon and we want above all else to be ready to meet Him. Help Brother Brown to make haste to come in soon with those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. We ask all this in Jesus' name. Amen."
Now get out! Don't stay and visit longer, or the effect of the prayer will be largely undone. Leave the words we have spoken in prayer for him ringing in his ears.
Suppose the contact you are visiting is from a former evangelistic series. We may know the answers to the questions we ask, but to get the person to respond, we ask anyway.
"Have you ever attended Adventist meetings before?" If the answer is in the affirmative, then we quickly get on to the Sabbath. "Do you believe the Sabbath is right?" If the answer is "Yes"; we continue, "Have you ever thought of keeping it?" The answer has to be either Yes or No. If "Yes," then once again let me emphasize it is not a time for sermonizing or exhortation, but for prayer. We should just comment on how happy we are to make his acquaintance. Show him the handbill and mark the meetings we especially want him to attend, then get right into the prayer, and say everything to the Lord about him that we would like to say to him. We are praying for him, therefore he will not resent it. When the prayer is over—again, get out.
If the person we are visiting is a former member and is hateful and resentful of everything connected with Seventh-day Adventists, let him unload his bitterness on us. We should not defend anybody he's bitter against—even our own parents. If we raise one word of defense for those whom he feels have hurt him, we are immediately classed by him as being for those he's against, and therefore against him. It won't hurt us to let him unload on us and it may help him a great deal. When he is through we can tell him honestly and simply, "Well, Brother Brown, I am sorry that this has ever happened. It has caused you to drop out of the church. I don't criticize you for it. It could be that had I gone through the same experience, I might feel the same way you do."
When talking with a former member, watch for an opportunity to ask him who baptized him. That brings to his mind a pleasant subject, because usually people have pleasant memories of the one who brought them into the church.
"Do you still believe the message?" Usually the answer is "Yes." People seldom get to the place when they are no longer believers of the message, no matter what their reason is for dropping out.
"Have you ever thought of coming back?" Usually the answer to that question is "Yes." And when we have this committal from him, please remember, since he is a former member, anything we say about what he ought to do is superfluous.
He knows it just as well as we do. He needs his heart warmed, and prayer will do it quicker than anything we can say.
We should tell him how glad we are we found him. Point out on the handbill the meetings that will be especially helpful. Beg him earnestly to come to the meetings that we know will have a call for surrender. Then get into the prayer. Tell the Lord how glad we are that we found this brother, how sorry we are for the circumstances that took him out of the message. Ask the Lord to let him know we and the members of the church love him and want him back. Pray he will not put off the day when he makes a full surrender and comes back to the fold. Pray for the meetings that they will be a blessing to this man and that he (call him by name in the prayer) will be back in the fold before Jesus returns.
When the prayer is over, immediately clasp his hand, "Brother Brown, you don't know how glad I am to meet you. I must go now, but please try to get out to these meetings. Try to come tonight. We will be looking for you." Then be gone.
It is hard to put down on paper an actual conversation with a prospect that will convey in all respects the attitudes present. This has to be presented in an extremely warmhearted and friendly attitude, otherwise the effect of the whole visit is undone.
Any interruption during the visit is almost as disconcerting as an interruption in a sermon or a Bible study. These visits are brief but they have a purpose. And these questions are highly significant. They lead up to the proper moment when psychologically the prayer should be offered.
Some people think these short visits don't accomplish anything more than a Hello and Good-by. But here in a few minutes we have discovered an interest—a person who has taken the Voice of Prophecy or Faith for Today course, is convinced on the Sabbath and has thought of keeping it. And we have taken him to God in prayer. We asked God in his presence that he might be helped by Heaven to arrange his program so he can keep the Sabbath. That is accomplishing almost as much as we could hope to accomplish if we stayed half an hour.
Whether that person comes out to the meetings or not he is marked as a good prospect, and his name is turned over to the pastor.
Of course, the more meetings he can attend before the call the better prepared he is to make his decision. But you would be surprised at the number of people there are in these cities who have had a back-around in the message. If they were at a meeting where a call for surrender was given, the Spirit of God could bring conviction to them and they would take their stand. We know this to be true because we have seen it happen.
When we get into the car after our visit we write up a report on it. Of course, we do not let our friend see us writing about him. We write these reports for two reasons. First, so that when the names are turned back to the pastor at the close of the effort he has a case history of the work that was done for that particular person during the meetings, whether he was visited once, twice, or more. It will help him in determining the kind of follow-up he should employ on that particular name. If we are working in our own district, it still pays to follow this practice both for Our own sakes and for the sake of our successor. When he comes into our district after we have moved he will have something to go on in visiting these persons.
Second, I make these notations for my own sake. After visiting from fifteen to twenty persons a day, a week later I find their faces have become a little blurred in my memory, so I write down something that will help in bringing the person to mind. We should be careful what we write, however, for the person we are writing about might come into the church and in time might even be an officer or he might have a friend who is helping in the addressing and what we have written might conceivably get back to that person. It shouldn't happen, but if it did and you had written something like "skinny, homely-faced woman; not too intelligent," you would probably wish you had written nothing at all and let yourself forget her. I use the following terms:
Excellent—This person believes all and is under conviction. In fact, he is ready to walk right into the church.
Very Good Prospect—Believes almost all of the message. Is under conviction about the Sabbath, and if present during a call for surrender surely would take his stand. Good Prospect—Unprejudiced. Likes what he has studied or heard of Seventh-day Adventist teachings. Inclined to believe Sabbath. If he would come out and hear the message he would possibly take his stand during this series.
Fair—This person may believe but has little indication or desire to come. Sometimes such people do start coming, however, and then their rating jumps to Good or Vely Good. Likewise some people marked Very Good on the first visit drop to Fair or Future before the series is over.
Very Good Future—Not prejudiced. Likes what he has heard of Seventh-day Adventist teachings but his attendance is irregular and will have to be followed up after the meetings are over. However, if he is followed up he gives very good promise of being won.
Future—A possibility of winning by follow-up and future studies.
Dim Future—Pretty much self-explanatory. Invited Out—Prejudiced; wants nothing to do with Seventh-day Adventists. The name should not have been given to us but we had it and visited the person. NOTE: A former member may act bitter too, but I seldom, if ever, rate him in this category. He may be bitter and antagonistic, but there may be good reasons for this, and if given love and friendship he might change, even though we fail to win him in this particular series.
Our estimation of people will grow more accurate with experience, but I would like to emphasize the need of being optimistic. Remember we are working as an instrument of the Holy Spirit. Every person we meet is a prospect for the kingdom.
The type of visiting we're describing here is to get 'People out to the meetings where they will hear a call for surrender and make a decision. The more meetings they can attend before the call the greater their conviction will be. Yet many such people have taken their stand after attending only one meeting. Once a person has taken his stand we should believe in him with all our heart. It won't hurt us if he lets us down, but it will certainly hurt him if we let him down. He needs someone to believe in him and to encourage him. If we have unbounded faith and show by our faith that we are expecting miracles we will see miracles and we will have experiences that will make our ministry a perpetual thrill.
Let us think of ourselves as standing outside the ark, urging people to get in. They should do it now—not next month. They should not join the church until they are fully instructed, but let me emphasize that once they have taken their stand and have responded to the invitation to come forward, it is positively amazing how quickly they can be prepared for baptism. The cigarettes drop off. They get their Sabbath work arranged. They throw away their jewelry and accept the principles of the message in a way that is absolutely thrilling. This is the kind of thrill we simply never get used to.
Our discussion today is on visiting for decisions, not on the call for surrender, yet these statements belong here because no one can be an effective visitor unless he carries an overpowering conviction of what God can do for the people if they will follow Him. None of us are prophets. We do not know how they will react in a call for surrender. Some of the people we are the most sure of are the very ones that can sit right through every call for surrender and will not move. We feel disappointed and let down, but the Lord usually makes it up to us by having other people respond whom we didn't think knew the doctrines well enough or had faith enough to take their stand.
This optimism or faith is an absolute must in order for us to do our best work in the home. It is far better to work hard for fifty people that we don't get than to give up on one person we might have won if we had kept after him.
These visits before the call for surrender are short visits as described at the beginning of this article. However, once the individual has taken his stand he needs another kind of visiting. He must not be left alone. He must be visited at once. All kinds of things can happen to him and very often do. He needs encouragement. He must get out to the Bible class. If he doesn't he must be studied with in the home. His faith must be strengthened. If he ever needed help in his life he needs it now. And if we ever needed faith in the power of God we need it now too. The struggle is not over for these people by any means, just because they have come down the aisle. They must give up their cigarettes right now—not next week. They must get their Sabbath work arranged now—not a week or two or a month later. Don't let them put you off. They may give you a convincing story, but remember, God doesn't call a pickpocket and expect him to