THERE is no greater thrill for any minister or congregation than to see those who formerly walked with us and then became indifferent, suddenly become active again and help carry the load of finishing God's work.
There are three approaches that have proved very successful in working for former members.
First, Invite to Meetings
A former member may just be waiting for a visit by the pastor or evangelist to encourage him to attend a series of meetings. When he attends and comes into the fellowship and warmth of the church anew, he may soon become an active member again.
I have discovered that a former member who will attend a series of meetings, especially near its beginning, will almost always come back to full fellowship and membership as a result of attending and getting in contact with the church and permitting the Holy Spirit again to come into his heart. But what should be said on that first visit to get him out to the meeting?
Upon arriving at the door of a former member, I always establish that he still lives at the address that has been supplied by simply stating, "Is this the John Jones residence?" Upon establishing that it is, I introduce myself and proceed by asking if he received a notice of the series of meetings. After his response, I state, "I understand that you used to be an active member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church." If the answer is in the affirmative, I continue: "How long were you an active member?" I like to use the word "active" because it tells me a great deal about the family and relieves them of embarrassment. If he states that they were members for five years or longer, I know that ninety-nine per cent still believe the message, and I will continue by saying, "We are glad that you believe this is God's message, and we are so anxious to have you fellowship with us. I'm not here today to put you on the spot and ask you to make a decision to come back as of this minute, but won't you begin to attend the series of meetings? We really do love you as a Christian brother. We solicit your help to encourage your friends to attend the series. Won't you help us by being there yourself and by bringing others?" I wait for his response. If he begins attending, I will visit the home about once a week to make sure that the problems the devil will place in the way will be solved as we go along, so he will be able to make a full commitment at the decision meeting. About two days before the decision meeting, I try to visit in the home once again so he will be prepared to respond when the call is made.
The Second Visit
Should he not attend the series after my first invitation, my second visit in that home will go much as follows:
Upon arriving at the door, when Mr. Jones meets me, I say, "Mr. Jones, I have been looking for you at the meeting and I haven't seen you; perhaps you were there and I didn't notice you. Have you been able to attend?" If the answer is negative and he says, "We have been unable to attend," my answer will go something like this: "I know that circumstances sometimes prevent people from coming to the meetings who really want to come, so I'll pray that things will work out for you to attend. There is something even more important than this that I want to talk about with you. I know that you believe tnat this is God's message and I know that your greatest desire is to be an integral part of it. Again, I am not here to put pressure upon you. I know that you are unable to tell me at this moment just what your decision will be, but I am going to do something, and I hope you will do it with me. I am going to begin to pray that the Lord will help you within this next week to come to a definite decision for Him. I want you to pray about it for the next seven days. A week from today I will come back again, and I want you to let me know exactly what you want to do with Christ. If you want to go on living just as you have been and leave Him out of your life, that is your privilege. You can let me know this, and I will not bother you again. But if you really do want to put Christ first, I will help you in any way I can so that you will be ready to meet Him when He comes. You'd be willing to do this wouldn't you?" In almost every case, he will give an affirmative answer and will pray about it. Many decisions are made in this way.
The Third Visit
There is a third way that works with some people. There always seems to be the former member who says, "Yes, I know I should, and I want to and will try to come out to the meetings," but he does not come. When you visit him, he says, "Now don't crowd me; don't push me," so you don't dare put him on the spot or he will give you a negative response every time. The Lord gave me an approach that has worked very well with this type of person.
The first visit would be as described. The second visit he again tells you that he doesn't want to be pushed or crowded, so you proceed cautiously, hoping that he will come out to one of the meetings, but still no response.
When you call for the third time and he meets you at the door, it may very well be that he will say, "Oh, no, not you again!" He won't say this in so many words, but you can tell this is what he is thinking by his actions. This is what I like to say then: "Mr. Jones, I just dropped by for one more visit. I know the Lord is coming, and you know He is coming. We must spend eternity together, so I just wondered if our situations were reversed what you would do to help me. Let's say that you came to visit me, Mr. Jones, and you knew I was out of contact with the church that I know is carrying God's message to a dying world. I want to get back and yet I am not moving. I am not acting. Would you love me enough to come back just one more time and invite me once more?" I have yet to see a door that remained closed with this type of approach. You will be invited in and he will say, "I do want to do something about it." He will tell you not to stop working with him, and almost every time he will begin to discuss the problems that have held him back.
These are three approaches that the Lord has given me through personal visitation, and I hope these illustrations will be of help to those who visit former members.
We surely realize the tremendous avenue of soul winning in this one area of God's great vineyard as we think of the 325,000 lost to this message throughout the world field in the last ten years.