WE HAVE more than 8,000 Bibles out in the homes of our friends and neighbors throughout Georgia-Cumberland Conference. This means 16,000 Bible studies are being given every week, or approximately 55,000 per month. We think the results will be wonderful." Thus Desmond Cummings, Georgia-Cumberland president, pictures the Family Bible Plan, which his conference initiated in February, 1965.
This plan is simply a combination of three existing plans: friendship teams, Bible course enrollments, and Bible studies. But it is simple, easy, and effective. A layman takes a small white Bible and two Bible study guides and leaves them with a friend or neighbor. After showing that this is an effective way of studying the Bible, he explains that the study guides will be picked up personally the following week. The Bible is given to the individual after the series is completed.
The basic plan, developed and first promoted by the Southeastern California Conference, is being used most extensively in the Pacific and Southern unions, although other unions are using the program. Both ministers and laymen are excited about its potential. And why shouldn't they be? William Hatch, Southeastern California lay activities secretary, indicated on a questionnaire sent to more than 20 local and union conferences that 700 direct and 1,000 indirect baptisms have resulted from this program. And this plan was started less than one and a half years ago.
The laymen are instructed to develop a warm, friendly contact and avoid arguments, and the pastor encourages them to be faithful, regular, friendly, patient, and prayerful.
Each conference using such a plan has modified it to meet its particular needs. Georgia-Cumberland uses the School of Bible Prophecy correspondence lessons; Kentucky-Tennessee uses It Is Written study guides. Generally the series has 24 or 30 lessons. Various evangelistic booklets—such as Time Running Out, by Arthur Maxwell; Straightening Out Mrs. Perkins, by Reuben Green; and A Day To Remember and Destination Life, by George Vandemanare supplied by the conferences to be given to the studying families.
The Southeastern California Conference in March, 1965, was first to use this plan, calling it Go-Tell. Leading the department secretaries in promoting this evangelistic thrust is the conference president, John Osborn. To reach the 1,700 converts contacted through Go-Tell, 2,763 laymen gave out 15,000 Bibles and have seen 12,000 people finish the course. One thousand seven hundred people is actually 12 per cent of the conference membership (21,140).
The idea of Bible evangelism quickly spread from Southeastern California. The Florida and Kentucky-Tennessee conferences began in March, 1966, and have already placed 5,000 Bibles in non-Adventist homes. Naturally, it is too early to see a large number of baptisms. Georgia-Cumberland is leading in the Southern Union with 8,000 families receiving lessons weekly.
Not only are conference officials impressed but so are the laymen. This is a layman's program, and it has been accepted with enthusiasm. Here is how local lay activities secretaries describe their laymen's interest. 'William Hatch: "In Southeastern California more laymen are witnessing than ever before"; Florida, C. R. French: "It has an appeal to our folks which no other plan has had in recent years"; Central California, B. W. Mattison: "Many are witnessing that have never done so"; Kentucky-Tennessee, W. E. Peeke: "They are excited over it."
Years ago Ellen White saw "hundreds and thousands . . . visiting families and opening before them the word of God. Hearts were convicted by the power of the Holy Spirit, and a spirit of genuine conversion was manifest. On every side doors were thrown open to the proclamation of the truth."—Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 126. Ernest Stevens, pastor at Cedartown, Georgia, believing that the gospel will never be carried to the world until the laymen become active witnesses, sees his conference's Family Bible Plan as a partial answer.
One lay activities secretary spoke of this plan as "one of the greatest soul-winning plans we have ever come up with as a people."
Directors of laymen's activities in the Southern and Pacific unions see a number of factors that will affect the success of this program. One said, "Personal contact with the non-Adventists will make it easier to bring them to the church." Another stated, "The plan must be well coordinated and led strongly by the pastor. There must be careful, enthusiastic preparation." Phillip Follett, Southern California Conference lay activities secretary, believes that "the key to success is involvement of laymen."
Many church leaders engaged in the plan view it as a means of preparing people for decision meetings held by pastors and evangelists. A number of follow-up methods are being used:
- A pastor's Bible class that further studies the doctrines of the church.
- A graduation in the church followed by additional meetings.
- Special evangelistic meetings.
- A series of evangelistic Sabbath morning sermons.
If you are a pastor wishing to start a Go-Tell program of your own, contact your conference president or lay activities secretary and see if he is planning a similar program. Then come discussion and approval by the church board. With the enthusiastic support of the church board and a supply of Bible study guides you are ready to present the plan to your church for action.
Hundreds of pastors have found their members waiting for just such a simple, effective way personally to witness to neighbors.