Singing Evangelism

The evangelistic song service

LORIE PURDEY, Singing Evangelist, Upper Columbia Conference

Our singing evangelists today are experiencing their finest hour. Their full acceptance as an im­portant part of the min­istry is timely and satis­fying. This is as it should be, as music is often one of the best avenues to the heart. In the Review and Herald of June 6, 1912, we read: "Song is one of the most effective means of impressing spiritual truth upon the heart. Often by the words of sacred song, the springs of penitence and faith have been unsealed."—Page 18.

How wonderfully and powerfully this is seen in the evangelistic service. We who visited the Billy Graham meetings in New York City several years ago, observed this miraculous unsealing power in large scale. Mr. Graham would preach a mighty ser­mon, convicting thousands of souls each night, but the singing of the huge mass choir uniting in "Almost Persuaded," or an­other Christ-centered appeal, seemed to be the key that finally released them from their seats and the devil. We could not fail to see the marvelous regenerating power of music upon those hardened people as they stood around the platform in Madison Square Garden, tears staining their faces, as the choir sang and more souls came up the aisle and to Christ.

Dwight L. Moody recognized the power of song. He often remarked that fifty per cent of the credit for the success of his meet­ings should be given to the musical activi­ties of Sankey. Billy Sunday said the same thing of Homer Rodeheaver.

Share Soul-winning Burden

With the opportunities available to the singing evangelist, it is regrettable that any would allow the evangelist to carry the full burden of soul winning. There is no justi­fication in thinking it is up to the evangelist to lead the souls to Christ, or that the song service is merely a preliminary exercise to keep. the audience interested and enter­tained until the evangelist is ready to de­liver his message. Rather, the evangelistic team presenting the gospel in both song and word has a double advantage in reach­ing and preparing the heart for surrender. One complements the other. Activated by the Holy Spirit, they become soul-winning partners, both contributing invaluably to the spiritual uplifting of those in their care.

How, then, can we best tap this heart-softening agency of music so that it can truly be a soul-winning service, as well as a complement to the preaching portion of the service.

Proper Selection of Solos

First, let us consider the selection of solos we will be singing in relationship to our audience. This is perhaps more important than it appears on the surface, as it can mean souls lost from the kingdom because of our negligence or laziness. For instance, the songs you would sing in a mining town in Arizona would, or should be, different from what you would sing to a group con­sisting mainly of professional people. They should be different in the construction of the music, but not different in the message given.

The songs sung in all evangelistic efforts, whether a gospel song, or a more cultural piecL- of music, should be Christ-centered, heart appealing, bringing out eternal truths that will convict souls. I have personally noted in many successful evangelistic efforts the power of the common gospel song. Per­haps the reason is in its definition. The gospel song is a testimony, or an appeal addressed to our fellow men. This gives it directness and impact. This, however, doesn't mean we should sing only gospel songs. The purpose should be to reach as many people as possible. In many cases the gospel song will reach the greater percent­age of the audience, but there will often be a few professional people in the audi­ence who can be reached only by a higher type of music. Therefore, for two reasons it should be kept in mind that in every meet­ing, besides the gospel song, include at least one that will help to bring the truth to those it would certainly be beneficial to have in the church, and at the same time you will be raising the musical standards of the rest of the audience. It cannot be overly stressed, however, that every song sung from the pulpit must have as its chief ingredient a real Christ-centered heart ap­peal. Ellen G. White has given counsel in regard to this to our churches, which is just as appropriate for evangelistic services:

"In some of our churches I have heard solos that were altogether unsuitable for the service of the Lord's house. The long-drawn-out notes and the peculiar sounds common in operatic singing are not pleas­ing to the angels. They delight to hear the simple songs of praise sung in a natural tone. The songs in which every word is ut­tered clearly, in a musical tone, are the songs that they join us in singing. They take up the refrain that is sung from the heart with the spirit and the understanding."—Evangelism, p. 510.

As important as a few of these higher type songs can be to our service, it is yet clear they must be chosen with discretion, as the art of singing pretty phrases doesn't carry with it the ability to draw souls to Christ.

The Evangelistic Song Service

The evangelistic song service serves sev­eral important purposes.

  1. It provides a medium of congrega­tional testimony. allowing believers an opportunity to tell unbelievers of the joys of serving Christ.
  2. It helps to center the attention of the audience on spiritual things.
  3. It provides an opportunity for non-Christians to receive a definite spirit­ual message and become convicted of sin. It is not uncommon for people to become convicted during a song serv­ice.
  4. The evangelistic song service can be a definite means of attracting non-Christians to the service and to Christ.

An evangelistic service run properly needs organization. Every worker should know his job, and be doing it at the right time. This takes practice and much thought. The song service, which is the first part of the program, generally has much influence upon the people, for they start drawing their conclusions from what they first see and hear. The singing evangelist should time his song service to the minute, knowing how long each song or special selection will take. This gives the stage hands, the operators of the lights, and all concerned a definite plan by which to work. This keeps the service from running over. Have the theme of the song service run progressively, so there will be no need to make a transition or modulation between two themes poles apart. It is good to have the songs become more prayerful as the song service progresses. This brings the audience into a prayerful attitude so that they will be able to enter into the spirit of the sermon when it begins. Choosing songs on the subject of the evening's ser­mon is important.

It is wise to begin the song service with a familiar gospel song. This serves to tune up the audience and to get each one into the attitude of singing. Then, perhaps, a joy­ful-type chorus can be sung. Oftentimes non-Christians are made to sit up and take notice by the happy, enthusiastic singing of a good chorus. As the service progresses, the joyful songs should be followed by sons of a more serious nature. I usually portray one colorfully illustrated favorite church hymn on the screen each evening near the close of the song service. The last song of the music service is the theme song, for which the audience stands.

For some time now I have felt it to be advantageous to have the evangelist and all others slated for platform duty to come on the platform at the time the singing evan­gelist comes on to begin the song service.

This, I feel, helps create in the minds of the audience the feeling that the program begins with the first note of the musical service. Too often the song service has been thought of and used merely as a time filler "until the crowd gets here."

Seasoning the Song Service

The evangelistic song service, properly conducted, is a tool most evangelists prize highly. This is when the audience forgets its prejudice, loses its reserve, and is warmed up, so to speak, in order to be fully receptive to the evening's message. There are many audience warmers that can be useful in breaking down the formal barrier, several of which I'll briefly men­tion. Naturally, the type of audience as well as the circumstances will dictate which, if any, of these you might want to use.

1.   Friendly Greeting. In our program I informally greet the people at the begin­ning of each song service. I say with a smile, "Good evening, Friends," and they respond by greeting me by name. A simple thing, and yet the edge has been taken off, I have their attention, the mood is set.

2.   Round Singing. Several times through­out the series I utilize round singing. Usu­ally the evangelist or one of the team mem­bers assists me, taking a portion of the audi­ence. The people enjoy this immensely, not only for the diversion it brings into the singing but also for the human interest created by the evangelist's assistance.

3.   Antiphonal Singing. Antiphonal sing­ing also can be used to good effect. The audience can be divided in many ways.

4.   Audience as Solo Background. Some­times I will sing a well-known song utiliz­ing the audience as a choir background. By having the ladies hum '66, the men ah, and suggesting they stagger their breathing points, a most interesting effect can be given the solo number. The audience en­joys having a part in the special music in this way.

5.   Children Present. If you have an eve­ning with an unusual number of children present, you can capitalize on this and make them your friends at the same time. Choose a song they know, and have them sing it while the others listen. They will appreciate your recognizing them and will be more interested in bringing their friends, and perhaps their parents, the next time.

6.   Get-Acquainted Night. A method sure to break down stiffness and create a smile is get-acquainted night. I simply an­nounce that we are delegating everyone as a committee of one to be a member of our welcoming committee. I then suggest that during the next twenty seconds each one shake hands with those seated around him, telling them his name and the city where he lives. Organized confusion usually fol­lows. At the close of the twenty-second pe­riod the organ plays a chord to stop the talking. We utilize this about once or twice a week, or whenever we notice a large influx of newcomers.

7. Favorite-Song Night. Another feature we use once each series is favorite-song night. For about three evenings immedi­ately preceding this particular evening, the ushers pass out slips of blank paper. The first evening everyone gets a ballot. On the succeeding evenings only those not present at a previous polling evening take part. The three songs receiving the highest num­ber of votes are featured then on our spe­cial favorite-song night.

8.   Negro Spiritual Night. Also, once a series, we have what we call Negro spirit­ual night. Our whole team joins in by way of solos, mixed quartet, duet, vibra harp, et cetera. We try to utilize the favorites such as "Deep River," "Nobody Knows de Trouble I've Seen," and so forth. This is a feature the audience always enjoys.

9.   Hymn Stories. The songs used for the congregational singing can often be made more meaningful if occasionally a brief account is given as to how the song writer was inspired to write his song. This always adds immeasurably to the song's appeal. There are various books on the market fea­turing stories of famous Christian songs, notably the books Music in Evangelism, by Phil Kerr, and Stories of Hymns We Love, by Cecilia Margaret Rudin.

This is but a sample of the interesting variations that can be worked into the evangelistic song service. These and others have been used by many of our singing evangelists with good results. If used spar­ingly as spice, they will help in relaxing the audience, in releasing pent-up frustra­tions, and will leave them free to receive the more serious things to follow.

In preparing the song service we should keep in mind that it is better to sing too few songs than too many. It also is better to make too few remarks between songs than too many.

The various suggestions I've attempted to bring to you must, of course, be drenched in prayer and inspired by the Holy Spirit or they are valueless. But, as we pick up the various tools and methods that fit us and the area in which we are working, and ask God's help on our efforts, we can expect His blessing. It is then that we will feel and personally experience the potential evangelistic power of inspired and Spirit-anointed singing and preaching.


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LORIE PURDEY, Singing Evangelist, Upper Columbia Conference

October 1966

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