How to keep a lay evangelistic program in motion the year round is a vexing problem to most pastors. Some have declared that, like perpetual motion, it's well-nigh impossible. We have organized literature bands and book-lending bands only to see them disintegrate in a few months. As the iron mixed with miry clay, they do not cleave one to another. In addition to the lack of permanency, this plan of organization includes relatively few of the members of the church. Yet we are confronted with the divine dictum:
The formation of small companies as a basis of Christian effort has been presented to me by One who cannot err.—Testimonies, vol. 7. pp. 21, 22.
Repeatedly we read such statements as:
Time is short, and our forces must he organized to do a larger work. . . . In our churches let companies be formed for service. . . . If there is a large number in the church, let the members be formed into small companies, to work not only for the church members, but for unbelievers. . . God is a God of order. . . . Success can only attend order and harmonious action. . . . Well-organized work must be done in the church.—Christian Service, pp. 72, 73.
As I mentioned in the previous article, we have largely depended on pulpit exhortation to get our people to work for souls. It is evident that they will not earnestly do this simply because we tell them to do so. The reasons for this lack of response are many and complex, but one fact stands out clearly: We have no basic units of organization responsible for winning souls and doing missionary tasks throughout the year. I am profoundly convinced that we will never have a perennial program of evangelism with constant lay involvement until we follow the counsel given and organize our churches into "small companies" as the Lord has directed.
I have found that the Sabbath school provides a ready-made, permanent organization that we may use to implement a perennial program of evangelism. The Sabbath school class then becomes the basic unit of organization, responsible for tasks assigned, and the teacher is the leader. The Lord has declared through His messenger:
The Sabbath school should be one of the greatest instrumentalities, and the most effectual, in bringing souls to Christ. . . . The object of Sabbath school work should be the ingathering of souls.—Counsels on Sabbath School Work, pp. 10, 61.
The Sabbath school has been called "the church at study." Certainly this is a most vital function and nothing should disturb this important activity. But would not our Bible study be vitalized and our classes come to life if our Sabbath school members would go forth as working bands seeking for souls? If as a result of our visitation through the Sabbath school, prospective members were scattered throughout our Sabbath school classes, listening to the Word of God and joining in fellowship with our believers, would this not be as a breath of life to the entire church? The servant of the Lord observes:
They have not worked during the week to carry out the instruction given them on the Sabbath. So long as church members make no effort to give to others the help given them, great spiritual feebleness must result.—Testimonies, vol. 7, pp. 18, 19.
It might be of interest to state what other denominations are accomplishing through their Sunday school organizations. Southern Baptists, now the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, have achieved amazing results in soul winning through their Sunday school. J. N. Barnett, in his book One to Eight, states his thesis as the "challenge of the practical use of the Sunday school forces, the Bible teaching function of the church to win lost multitudes to Christ." Among Southern Baptists it has been found that in those churches where "the Sunday school enrollment is greater than the total church membership, the soul winning opportunity of a church is increasing in that proportion. All reports show that a rapidly growing Sunday school enrollment increases the number of baptisms in a church, while a static Sunday school enrollment reduces the number greatly."
Dr. Barnett has a chart in his book which graphically substantiates his thesis:
(See PDF for stats)
In the study of our statistical records it is most interesting to note that in countries where our Sabbath school membership is far greater than our church membership, such as Africa and Korea, baptisms are relatively higher.
Dr. C. E. Autry, secretary of evangelism, Southern Baptist Convention, declares, "The most effective method in evangelism in the 20th Century is the Sunday School. Evangelical churches today are effective in evangelism in proportion to the type and size of their Bible Schools." Speaking for the Southern Baptists, he goes on to say, "Eight per cent of all converts come through the Sunday School. It should be the contact agency of the church. All ages and types of people are visited and enrolled in the Bible School. Here their hearts are warmed with Bible teaching. They are then led to remain for worship. They are brought into the Bible school, worship service, Christ, and church membership. . . . It provides organizational outreach for evangelism."—Basic Evangelism, pp. 92, 93.
In initiating a lay evangelistic advance through the Sabbath school I used the following seven steps:
I. Find the prospects. If one is to launch a lay program of evangelism, he must know who his prospects are and where they are. Go to the usual sources: Voice of Prophecy, Faith for Today interests, Vacation Bible School, parents of non-Seventh-day Adventist children in church school, colporteur interests, Seventh-day Adventist physicians, church guest book, backsliders, nonSeventh-day Adventists attending Sabbath school. From these names build a master file of prospects.
II. Conduct a Sabbath school teachers' and officers' seminar. To launch a program of this proportion will require a radical change of thinking on the part of your church board and Sabbath school officers. I always have conducted at least four sessions with the above groups, conditioning them for all-out lay evangelism through the Sabbath school organization. I have used the following subjects: "VVhat Constitutes a Successful Sabbath School?" "The Sabbath School Class—a Soul-winning Team," "The Class Soul-winning Discussion and the Monthly Class Meeting," "Sabbath School Leaders With Concern for the Lost."
An earnest season of prayer, asking God to lay concern on our hearts for lost men should conclude each session.
III. Grade your Sabbath school. I have found it very helpful to arrange my Sabbath school members into classes according to ages—young married couples, middle-age, and retirement age. In larger churches one could profitably make the spread even larger. This has many advantages. It recognizes the natural state of human growth; it gives the teacher a teachable unit. If persons in the class are in the same age group, their interests will be similar; it will be easier to build fellowship and hold their attention in teaching. It increases our evangelistic opportunities.
IV. Organize each class. Since our Sabbath school class is moving up from learning to doing, our task is greater, and thus more organization is needed. The teacher, being the one appointed by the church, is, of course, the ranking leader of the class. But it helps a class if they elect a class leader to assist the teacher in the larger undertaking of soul winning. A class secretary is also helpful in keeping records, sending out notices, et cetera. A busy teacher may call on these to assist him in leading out in visitation and class soul-winning projects.
V. The soul-winning period and the monthly class meeting. How can a class have concern for lost people if they never discuss them? At the close of the lesson study the teacher or the class leader can lead out in a brief discussion of the class project, prospects, and sharing of experiences. The individual weekly home missionary report may be taken at this time. Once a month the class should meet informally at someone's home for work and fellowship. The class leader may direct in this phase. This is the time to discuss seriously the prospects assigned to the class—ways to reach them, who is to make the calls, et cetera. A class will be drawn together, lasting friendships will be formed, and the group may be welded into a living, working force for God.
VI. Class visitation assignments and soul-winning projects. There should be a constant flow of visitation assignments from the pastor's master file to appropriate classes or divisions. The class should also have a project such as literature racks, or literature distribution. This will be discussed in a subsequent article in this series.
VII. Set a time to visit. A "visit when you can" policy is not to visit at all, in many cases. The best procedure is to set a definite time each week for "visitation." Tuesday seems to fit most schedules best. A luncheon at noon, followed by two hours of visitation, works well. Brief instruction may be given and then they may be sent out two by two, as did our Lord with His disciples. Evening visitation may begin about 7:00 P.M., following brief encouragement and earnest prayer. Many of our members will return with joy as did the disciples saying, "Even the devils are subject unto us through thy name."
Specifically, then, the Sabbath school may provide the organization for our task. Homogeneous small groups under the leadership of a teacher can lead the people to discover the prospects. It can inspire them to visit consistently and effectively. It makes the keeping of records easier. The Sabbath school can match the visitor with the prospect. It can place the responsibility for the lost person squarely upon a responsible, compatible person or group. Moreover, the Sabbath school can provide a teaching situation where the prospect comes under the redemptive influence of the Word of God. This prepares him for a decision for Christ and leads him toward maturity after his decision. Furthermore, the Sabbath school provides a fellowship circle where the prospect is welcomed and received. This ties him to the church and prepares for an easier decision. This very situation then becomes a most effective means of conserving the gains made by evangelism. A member who is safe in a Sabbath school class, happy in fellowship, working for souls, is not apt to grow cold.
The above suggestions are not merely the product of academic theorizing by "rocking chair" evangelists. These principles have evolved from some years of trial and error, study, and earnest prayer. They have never failed to lead to a real upsurge of lay participation in soul winning. I have found that these methods, conscientiously employed, are a partial solution to the chronic inactivity and deadness found in so many of our churches.
A halfhearted "tongue in cheek" attempt in this direction will only lead to discouragement and failure. A total belief and commitment to these principles on the part of the pastor are necessary in order to stimulate large numbers of people and achieve enthusiastic responses. The pastor must be profoundly stirred; he must see his people as dying for lack of spiritual activity. He must see, as through the eyes of Jesus, the lost condition of men and women everywhere. He must believe that God desires to press every soul into action, and then he must be willing to pay the price demanded. The enemy will resist every effort to awaken and enlist our people in service. But if the worker through earnest prayer refuses to be discouraged and stays at the task, he will be used of God to awaken and lead his people into the ripening harvest fields.