Evangelism is hard but rewarding work. The climax of our evangelistic endeavors is the ordinance of baptism. Since this is the convert's introduction to church membership, it should be conducted in such a way as to leave a lasting impression of simple beauty and dignity. The service of baptism should not be sandwiched into an already full program, but should be made the center around which that particular ,worship service is planned. We receive many expressions of appreciation for the beauty of the baptismal services at the conclusion of our evangelistic series. The following is our general procedure.
Where conditions are favorable we have the candidates dress for baptism immediately at the close of Sabbath school. A section of pews is reserved at the front of the sanctuary so the candidates can sit together as a group for the worship service. Flow-ever, some churches do not have adequate facilities for the candidates to dress for baptism before the worship service begins. And the robes provided by some churches are not presentable enough for this purpose. Therefore, where conditions are not suited to having the candidates robed in advance we allow ten minutes for dressing after they have been voted into membership subject to baptism. During this interval I often have a sermonet for the church members, dealing with the church's responsibility to new members.
When there are twenty or more candidates for baptism in one service there is no time for a sermon, as such. When the time for the sermon occurs in the service I choose one challenging text of Scripture, which I comment upon briefly (about five minutes). I give the Scripture passage to the candidates as a special remembrance of the day of their baptism. Texts that I have used for this purpose include Hebrews 10:23-25; 35-39; 12:1, 2. I then recommend the candidates to the pastor. He reads the baptismal vows while the candidates remain seated. They raise their hands in assent to each principle. The pastor then entertains a motion from the church welcoming the new believers into fellowship subject to baptism. It is important that this be done warmly and lovingly and not in a cold and legalistic manner.
After being voted into membership subject to baptism, the candidates are invited by the pastor to form a line across the front of the church facing the congregation. A deacon stands at one end of the line and a deaconess at the other, so there is no confusion as to -where to stand. "Blest Be the Tie That Binds" is softly played on the organ as the ministers and local elders extend the right hand of fellowship to the candidates. As the ministers return to the rostrum the pastor announces that the candidates may retire to the dressing rooms (if they have not already prepared for baptism). The deacon and deaconess graciously escort the ladies and gentlemen, respectively, to the appropriate exits. The candidates feel at ease because there is no confusion or uncertainty.
Before the immersion of each candidate the worker who has prepared the candidate for baptism gives a brief (one to two minutes) history of how the candidate found the truth. Recognition is given to laymen who have had a part. The part of radio, TV, and Bible courses are also mentioned when appropriate. A spiritual guardian is assigned to each candidate. The spiritual guardian, those who have had a part in the experience leading to conversion, and the members of the family are invited to stand as the pastor immerses the candidate. A background of soft organ music further beautifies the service. The relating of the experiences of the candidates as they stand with the pastor in the pool becomes a living sermon. It proves true that people would "rather see a sermon than hear one any day." It is an enriching experience for all of our members, and especially for those who have trophies being baptized. It makes others more determined to work for souls. Often during such a service I have conducted an altar call by asking those to whom the Spirit is speaking to come forward at any time during the service and occupy the places vacated by the candidates, thus indicating that they will prepare for a future baptism.
The candidates are invited home to dinner by their spiritual guardians after the service. Often by introducing them to friends in the church they arrange for other dinner invitations on the following Sabbaths. This is a tremendous help to those to whom Sabbathkeeping is a new experience. It is a great help to be in the atmosphere of a good Adventist home for the first few Sabbaths. As hosts and guests have sundown worship together it helps to make this a part of the practice of the new member.
Because many churches have limited facilities for baptismal dressing rooms, we have had a great deal of use from some lightweight portable screens that we carry as part of our evangelistic equipment. These screens are made of two 72- by 30-inch frames of 1 by 4 inches hinged together and covered with cotton material. Used along a wall with the hinges opened at a 90-degree angle, they make private cubicles 30 by 30 inches. The deacons put a chair, a mat, and a coat hanger in each booth. The candidate's name is tacked or pinned on the booth assigned for his use. When he comes in with his clothes for baptism an usher takes his name and then takes the clothes to the appropriate booth where they are in readiness when the candidate comes to dress. It may be surprising to some how much this privacy and good order is appreciated by candidates of culture. As a matter of fact, if we wish to appeal to people of good cultural background we need to do things in a way not offensive to them.
In order to put the candidates at ease, a meeting should be arranged at which time the pastor can explain the procedure to be followed in baptism. If such a meeting is not possible, the infoimation should be supplied in printed form along with a list of what to bring to the baptism, and what to wear. We make a practice of recommending that women wear a washable house dress and that men wear a pair of washable trousers under the robes in addition to underclothing. I believe that making the service of baptism beautiful, and having order rather than confusion, is an excellent way to put into practice the counsel of the apostle who said, "Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:40).
For a number of years I hauled around cumbersome signs of wood and metal of different shapes and sizes. They were difficult to erect and difficult to store when not in use. Now I use canvas signs entirely. They are light in weight, easy to store, and when lighted with a battery of floodlights they are equally as effective as large electric signs.
Names for Literature
When offering copies of sermons or literature the simplest way of getting names is to hand out the envelope in which the material will later be mailed. This saves the expense of printing cards and saves the labor of addressing envelopes from cards. The people address their own. I believe that people address an envelope more readily than they sign a card.
I have found an alphabetized loose-leaf notebook more simple than a card file to keep an attendance and progress record.
In a recent effort I was fortunate to obtain a well-kept file of names from the last evangelistic effort held in the church. To find such a file is the exception rather than the rule. Usually we have no record of the names of those who have attended previous efforts. It seems to me that it would be a great asset if we could have a secretary of evangelism appointed or elected in each church to compile and keep such records. It would be a file of potential members just as the church clerk keeps a file of baptized members. This file should be kept on a permanent basis and should be kept up to date. It should contain the names of all former church members in the area, as well as those taking Bible studies or Bible courses, and those receiving the Signs or other missionary journals. Such a file would be referred to often by an alert pastor, and also by the various departments of the church, as well as by the evangelist. Soul winning is the greatest business in all the world, and yet we go about it in such a haphazard way that we make no provision for preserving records of prospects, consequently every new effort must begin from scratch.
Church Guest Book
Finally, a word about the church guest book. It is an untapped source of interest in many churches. Surely in every church there should be a plan in operation to see that every local resident who visits our services (the regular services of the church) receives a visit. If the pastor cannot make these visits in person, representative visiting teams should be appointed to do this work.
There is tremendous potential for baptisms right within the local church if we follow up, with an effective visiting program, the non-Adventists in attendance at our regular services, the children from non-Adventist homes who attend our Sabbath schools and Vacation Bible schools, and the unbaptized companions who come with their Adventist wives to the social functions of the church.