Recently a daily newspaper in the industrial Midlands of England, with a circulation nearing a quarter of a million, published a lengthy correspondence on the Sabbath - Sunday question. One letter run was an unprovoked attack on Seventh-day Adventists, to which the editor graciously published four replies. The last of these replies ran, in part, as follows:
With reference to . . . the new "front," I am not a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but have been attending some of their meetings and have listened to their teachings, substantiated only by the Bible, during the past six months. I have been amazed and impressed by their teachings, and have arrived at the conclusion that they are correct. I consider Seventh-day Adventists to be doing a wonderful job of work in the world today, and in view of this would suggest that this "new front" be reinforced.
This letter is quoted because it is an unsolicited testimonial to the value and influence of public evangelism. It illustrates that there is truth in Paul's statement that "it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." This text is a revelation of the divine plan for reaching men with the gospel, and is our authority for public evangelism now and until there are no more souls to be saved.
Adapt Methods to New Generation
The techniques of public evangelism today are considerably different from those used and proved effective in the earlier years of our history, and our methods in these times must be adapted to meet the people of this generation. We are going to consider here two aspects of public evangelism—modern methods of approach and effective advertising.
"Approach" Not Advertising
What is meant by the term "approach"? And what difference is there in the approach today as compared with former years? The modern approach may be defined as "the manner in which we attempt to reach the public in this generation." The approach is not the advertising. The advertising is a result of the approach. The approach begins in the mind of the evangelist. It is his attitude toward his task, his understanding of what he is trying to do. And if we are to succeed in making the public preaching of our message what God intends it to be in this age, we must constantly remember that the approach today must be different from what it has been in the past.
Let me illustrate. In years past, our approach to the public has been, with some modifications, something like this:
The evangelist has been given a budget and asked to hold an effort in a certain town. So he has booked a hall, begun to plan his meetings, thought of the most appealing subject and title for his opening night, and perhaps arranged for some special music. On the basis of this approach he has prepared his advertising, handbills, posters, newspaper adverstisements, and whatever other media he can use, and awaited the first meeting. Nov, provided his advertising was good—and that is always an important reservation—he could be reasonably sure of a fairly good attendance on his opening night. But an evangelist can do exactly the same things today, probably with a bigger budget, and he will be fortunate to get a quarter of the crowd his predecessor saw. What has happened? The answer, of course, is obvious—the times have changed, but the approach hasn't. This illustrates the fact that a new approach is called for today. The public has undergone a tremendous revolution in its thinking in the past few years, and of all people we must recognize this fact.
Religious and Nonreligious
I would therefore suggest that this question of the approach is the underlying factor upon which rests the ultimate success or failure of any public campaign. The approach, let us repeat, begins with the evangelist's understanding of what he is trying to accomplish. In view of this extremely important principle, let us analyze the approach a little further.
What are we trying to do by holding evangelistic meetings in this generation? Whom are we trying to reach with the everlasting gospel in its setting of the three angels' messages? The answer to these questions is not so obvious as might appear, and until we are sure of the answer in our own minds, our approach can never be defined clearly. When we attempt to reach the public we are dealing broadly with two classes of people—the church-going and the nonchurch-going; the religious and the apparently nonreligious. The approach must cater to each of these groups. Let us think first of our approach to the churchgoing public, who are, of course, the smaller segment of the population.
Whom Are We Trying to Reach?
In trying to define our approach to these people, it is vitally inportant to remember that our whole evangelistic program is based very largely on Revelation 14 and 18 with the twice-repeated warning that "Babylon is fallen" and the heavenly invitation to "come out of her my people." We have always believed that the "loud cry" of Revelation 18 is essentially a renewed emphasis on the second angel's message. By our own interpretation and preaching of prophecy, we must surely be very near to the time of Revelation 18. In view of this tremendous fact, let me restate the question, "Whom are we trying to reach with our message in this generation?" Notice carefully the following statements from Ellen G. White:
In the eighteenth chapter of the Revelation, the people of God are called upon to come out of Babylon. According to this scripture, many of God's people must still be in Babylon. And in what religious bodies are the greater part of the followers of Christ now to be found? Without doubt, in the various churches professing the Protestant faith.—The Great Controversy, p. 383.
Notwithstanding the spiritual darkness and alienation from God that exist in the churches which constitute Babylon, the great body of Christ's true followers are still to be found in their communion. —Ibid., p. 390. (Italics supplied.)
She is speaking here not of 1844, but of the time just prior to the loud cry.
I saw that God has honest children among the nominal Adventists and the fallen churches, and before the plagues shall be poured out, ministers and people will be called out from these churches and will gladly receive the truth.—Early Writings, p. 261.
The conclusion seems unavoidable that our primary task in these closing days is to appeal directly to God's true people who are yet in "Babylon." the nearer we come to the end of time, the greater will be our responsibility to those souls whom the servant of the Lord describes as "Christ's true followers." And the question in my mind is simply this, How can we reach these people effectively by holding our evangelistic programs at 6:30 P.M. on Sunday evenings when the very ones who should be hearing our message are probably at some other place of worship?
Over the past few years I have become so convinced that week-night evangelism is part of the answer to a successful modern approach that unless forced by circumstances I do not choose Sunday night at 6:30 P.M. for an evangelistic meeting. To do this is to cut off at least 50 per cent of our potential audience, and the very people we want to reach. Many of these folks feel a loyalty to their own church which would prevent them attending our meeting on a regular basis, even though they might be interested. If we have to run our main meetings on Sunday evening, let them be planned at a time when the other Sunday services in town are over.
Let us think further of the average non-churchgoer for a moment, for there is some-
thing about him which we must be prepared to accept. Today's average man-inthe-street is a very different proposition from his counterpart of a generation ago. He is much better educated, and I think we cannot overemphasize that. He thinks differently. He has different social backgrounds and standards. He is part of a society that feels little need and whose attitude to religion is casual if not critical. He is the product of a "space cum TV" age, and he is not going to leave the comfort of his home to come out and listen to us unless he can be convinced that we have something worth while to say and that we are qualified to say it. Gone are the days when people would come out to a meeting because it was a kind of social occasion and there wasn't much else to do anyway.
In our approach, then, we must be up to date, we must be prepared to move with the times, but above all, we must formulate our approach based on the distinctive truths we have been called to proclaim in this generation, an approach, that is, which will reach the multitudes, the "greater part of the followers of Christ," who are still in Babylon.
Films a Method of Approach
Bearing all this in mind, let me say a word about the use of religious films as a method of approach. Besides everything else that can be said of our age, it is an age of visual appeal, and in common with many others I have found the use of good religious films in the early stages of a campaign an approach that consistently brings good returns. I have used such films as Martin Luther, I Beheld His Glory, Day of Triumph, John Wesley, et cetera, as opening attractions for the past five or six years, and they have never failed to bring a capacity audience. Others have used the same approach with virtually identical results.
An analysis of this type of approach and its advantages give the following observations:
- A film, if it is well advertised, will never fail to bring a crowd.
- A religious film will bring essentially people who are religiously inclined; in other words, the very people we have mentioned earlier as those we should be getting to our meetings.
- It results in a start to the campaign that is good for the morale of the evangelist, workers, church members, and of the people themselves.
- It is common ground and helps to break down prejudice.
- Apart from the foregoing considerations I believe that we have a duty to bring these moving and truth-filled films to the wide attention of the public. The particular films mentioned above are the basic part of our message and often have a profound effect on the thinking of all who see them. Especially is this true of the films on the life and death of our Lord, and also of Martin Luther. One could hardly ask for a better background presenting Daniel 7 than the story of Luther!
Tactful Transition Necessary
The value of films as an opening attraction in a series of meetings, however, lies very definitely in the success with which the changeover from films to lectures and sermons can be made. Unless this transition is effected as tactfully and cautiously as possible, a large proportion of the initial crowd will drop away, and the whole effect will have been lost. This transition is really the crucial stage of the film approach.
After using a film in the first two nights, followed by a short epilogue, this transition can be made by using shorter films and screen-illustrated lectures on archeology and astronomy on the third and fourth nights of the series. I have followed this plan for a number of years, and it has worked every time.
It should be pointed out that right from the beginning, even with the films, the whole program should be presented on a spiritual basis. Each meeting is a religious program. Thus by the end of the fourth night we have dealt with such topics as the existence of God, faith, salvation, and inspiration of Scripture. We are now ready to go further into the Scriptures and present the message in its fullness, and the people are more ready to listen because we have first met them on common ground.
Fruitful public evangelism depends ultimately on two factors, getting the people to attend the opening meetings and keeping them coming. Recent years have proved that the principles outlined above have resulted in both attracting an audience initially and keeping them attending. May the Spirit of God guide us all to better methods and an ever more productive approach in these momentous days.