In evangelistc meetings we spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars in advertising. Are we getting our money's worth? Are the needs and interests of people in 1965 essentially the same as those of a generation ago? Do the titles used by such stalwarts as C. T. Everson, J. L. Shuler, and H. M. S. Richards in past decades still draw people today? Could we appeal to more people by revising our advertising? Which subject should be used to advertise the opening meeting? Which topics are the most effective for Sunday night meetings during the series?
Many factors naturally enter into the effectiveness of evangelistic advertising. Interest in a particular subject varies with each community. The format of the ad or handbill, the handling of the by-lines, the illustrations, even the type of ink and paper used, all play a part in determining the reader's interest in the advertising piece. If it gives the impression that the meeting is the biggest thing that ever has come to town, the handbill, even without naming a particular topic, will attract some to the lecture out of sheer curiosity.
Preparing a Poll Sheet
Some time ago we prepared a poll sheet in an attempt to discover what type of subject would have the most universal appeal in evangelistic advertising. A printed form was used with the words "Poll of Public Opinion" at the top of the form. Under these words the sheet read, "This poll is being taken to determine the extent of interest the general public has in the following topics. Your cooperation will be appreciated. You need not give your name and address." The poll, which covered nine subjects, was divided into three sections with three subjects in each. In groups I and II, two so-called doctrinal subjects were pitted against a practical subject. In the third group all three subjects were doctrinal in nature.
How the Poll Was Taken
The church members were organized and provided with a pad of poll sheets. At each door the poll taker explained that some meetings were to be held in the women's clubhouse, and an effort was being made to discover which subjects the people in the community would prefer to have discussed. The poll taker read the three topics in group I, asked the person at the door which subject interested him most, and marked the sheet accordingly. The same procedure was followed for the other two groups.
After the group choices were made, the poll taker then read the top choice in each group and asked the person which of these three topics interested him most. This top choice also was recorded on the poll sheet.
The last question on the sheet was "Should the subjects you have checked be discussed by a lyceum lecturer in your community, would you like to have an announcement of the meetings mailed to you?" If the answer was Yes, the person's name and address were procured.
The Results of Poll A
About one in three persons was willing to complete the poll. Of the 300 who completed the entire poll, 45 per cent requested that an announcement of the meetings be mailed to them; 2 per cent of those who had announcements mailed to them requested reserved tickets for the opening meeting. This corresponded favorably to the Voice of Prophecy and Faith for Today mailing-list response. The response from the local Bible school was about double, or a 4-per-cent response.
The results on the poll were as follows:
(See PDF for results)
A Second Poll
The results of the first poll made it clear that another poll would need to be taken in order accurately to interpret public interest. It was obvious from the first poll that the title "Did a good God make a bad devil?" was not good and should be dropped from the poll sheet. It was also clear to those who took the poll that the subject "How Jesus may be real in your life. The secret of happiness" was really two subjects in one and that this probably accounted for its popularity. The value of the title "Why does a God of love allow war and suffering?" was difficult to interpret because it was pitted against this dual topic. Doctrinal and practical titles were so intermingled in the poll that their relative value could not be determined.
A new questionnaire, which we shall call Poll B, was prepared and completed by I50, people in a nearby community. In Poll B the title "Did a good God make a bad devil?" was dropped from the poll, and the subject "How Jesus may be real in your life. The secret of happiness" was listed as two topics. Thus there were still nine titles on the sheet. These nine titles were so arranged that in Group I all three subjects were purely practical in nature; in Group II, political; and in Group HI, doctrinal.
Probably the most practical interpretations that can be made from the two polls will be found by a comparative study of the results of the top choice on each poll. The first poll has been designated Poll A and the second Poll B.
The corelation between the two polls is very close. The percentages that indicate the top choice are remarkably alike for most titles in both Poll A and Poll B. One noticeable exception of similarity is for the title "Why does a God of love allow war and suffering?" which was pitted against the dual practical subject in Poll A, thereby accounting for the percentage difference. It seems safe to conclude that the position of the ten subjects listed in the chart immediately preceding this paragraph closely indicates the order of their popularity.
Another interesting comparison that can be made is the relative popularity of the three classes of subjects that are listed in Poll A and Poll B.
It is evident from these polls that people are as interested in the practical subjects as they are in the doctrinal and political subjects combined. This fact is markedly indicated in the last comparison. It also is clear that doctrinal subjects are still popular with the people. Political subjects such as world conditions reach a certain class of people, but do not seem to be their chief interest.
The conclusion seems warranted that we should take advantage of advertising subjects on world conditions and subjects on doctrine, in order to reach those who are interested in such topics. But doctrinal and political titles should be undergirded with by-lines revealing the practical nature of the subject advertised, thereby doubling our advertising effectiveness. As an example, the topic "Armageddon, Coming World War as Prophesied in Scripture" may appear very cold to the average reader. The efficiency of our advertising results should increase, however, when this topic is boldly supported by such by-lines as "For your peace of mind, for the inner confidence and assurance you need to face the future, you must hear this striking presentation on the war that will end all wars and usher in lasting peace."
It is my firm conviction that doctrinal and political subjects draw the people because they reveal questions concerning which they have been eager to know the answers. Most of the Protestant churches today preach on happiness, peace of mind, and other subjects of a practical nature.
These things are extremely important, but do they constitute God's distinctive message for twentieth-century man? Our message is such that it answers the great questions about life, about God, and about the future, which men are longing to know. It takes the combination of both the practical and the political, or the practical and the doctrinal, to get a man out of his easy chair, away from his television set, into his car or onto the streetcar on a crisp cool night, and into a meeting hall.
When this person comes to the service, the message must be presented in such a way that it meets some definite need in his life. This poll reveals that men are longing for a practical message that will bring peace of mind. If our aim is only to impart information on some doctrinal theme, then our hearers will leave disappointed. When the doctrines are related to life, a need is met and men are drawn closer to Jesus and enter into a life of joy and peace.
In the past we have sometimes made grave errors in presenting the theory of truth without presenting Jesus in the truth and making the truth practical to life. The messenger of the Lord has told us:
Many of our ministers have made a great mistake in giving discourses which were wholly argumentative. There are souls who listen to the theory of the truth and are impressed with the evidences brought out, and then if a portion of the discourse presents Christ as the Saviour of the world, the seed sown may spring up and bear fruit to the glory of God.. . Had Christ and His redeeming love been exalted in connection with the theory of truth, it might have balanced them on His side.—Testimonies, vol. 4, pp. 393, 394. (Italics supplied.)
There must be a leading along, Christ must be woven into everything that is argumentative as the warp and the woof of the garment. Christ, Christ, Christ is to be in it everywhere, and my heart feels the need of Christ, as I have, seems to me, never felt it more sensibly.—Evangelism, p. 300. (Italics supplied.)
The prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation should be carefully studied, and in connection with them the words, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world."—Gospel Workers, p. 148.
The poll shows a heavy demand for messages that are practical to daily living in a confused and frustrating world. The answer to this demand is not to divorce doctrine from practical godliness. In the above quotations the Lord's messenger emphasizes the need of making the theory of truth practical by exalting Christ in connection with the theory of truth—not that we should stop preaching the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation, but that we make these great subjects practical to life.
To advertise and preach subjects of practical godliness for several nights or for several weeks at the beginning of a campaign will not answer man's present need. One can hear such preaching in almost any church on Sunday morning, so why should he make the effort to come out on Sunday night? As Seventh-day Adventists we have a powerful message to preach to the world, but it is not to be presented as a dry theory. It is to be given in all of its converting power. Its very heart and fiber should be practical in nature and calculated to give joy, release from nervous tension, and bring peace to troubled hearts and minds. From the very first night of the series every message should be founded in the great doctrines of Scripture, and we should also awaken within the hearts of our hearers a new love for Jesus and make Him real in practical, everyday living.
The results of this poll persuade me that as evangelists we should advertise, preach, and reach hearts with these great doctrinal themes, but that we should never forget that real religion is not in presenting dry theory but in relating that theory to life. To present the truth as a mere system of theology strips it of its power to reach hearts because it is separated from Christ, who is the power and center of the message.