WE ARE instructed by the Word of God that we should do everything "decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:40). We are also told by the servant of the Lord that we are to conduct His work in an "elevated, refined, and conscientious manner."
Some time ago I slipped into the rear of an auditorium to observe an evangelistic service. There was no music while the people were gathering, but just a hubbub of noise and sounds of talking. It wasn't long before a young man arrived and hurriedly rushed to the front of the auditorium. Picking up a songbook, he paged through it, obviously to make a selection—then glanced around the auditorium to find someone to play the piano. Spying a pianist, he made quite a few gestures and finally communicated to her that he would like her to play the piano. Then leaping onto the platform, he announced the first song for the song service, and the program was under way. The program did not seem to be planned. Everything that took place just seemed to "happen."
In other evangelistic meetings I have observed the violinist spend considerable time twisting the little knobs on the violin and whining the strings with the piano in order to tune it while we all sat and waited for the performance. This has also happened with trumpets and other instruments.
Unfortunately, it is not a rare occasion to see an unorganized evangelistic program, and I feel that one of the criticisms that has been leveled against us evangelists—that we do not conduct our program with dignity and order—is a charge we must consider seriously. Too often the program is hurriedly thrown together, apparently with the feeling that the preliminaries will take only a little time and that the main and important part of the program is the sermon itself. This is true, yet I do not believe that such a slipshod performance is in accordance with the desires of our God.
Having been in evangelism only a few years, I have determined to look in on the programs of other evangelists and singing evangelists to glean from them points or procedures that I feel are dignified and in accordance with the wonderful truth we are presenting to those not of our church. I share with you here some of these things that I have observed and that I have tried to incorporate into the program with which I am connected.
The basic philosophy of beginning the evangelistic crusade should be to sell the program of the evangelistic team to the people of the area. This part of the project rests heavily upon the shoulders of the singing evangelist, since in most cases he is the first one to meet these people and the one who organizes the progression of the program to be presented.
The opening moments of any evangelistic crusade are crucial, for it is here that the evangelists are judged by those who are in attendance. If the auditorium is attractively set up, and if lovely music is reaching to every corner, the attitude of the individuals will be respectful and quiet. We are not necessarily interested in making this a church-oriented type atmosphere, but it should be an atmosphere of quietness and restfulness while the people are coming in.
In our Voice of Prophecy evangelistic crusades we always have the organist playing at least fifteen minutes before the song service is to begin, and sometimes for half an hour.
Arrest the Attention
To start the program we try to do something that will arrest the attention of the people. At seven-thirty sharp the organist, Norm Nelson, makes a series of runs on the organ from the high register to the low, and this is a signal that all the lights in the auditorium are to be put out. Of course, it is good if they are on a dimmer switch; but if not, they are put out in an orderly fashion and with planning. As soon as the lights are out Mr. Nelson introduces the opening number on the organ. In the dark my wife slips to the piano, where a microphone is in position, and I step to a microphone on the opposite side of the stage. As soon as Norm finishes the introduction a spotlight comes on me as I sing the first phrase of our opening number, "Coming Again," the spotlight on my wife's side flicks on as she sings, "Coming Again," and then we sing together, "may be morning, may be noon, may be evening, it may be soon. . . ." This is a very short opener, but it serves to acquaint the people with the fact that the program has begun in earnest. This is not just something to fill time while the people still visit and talk. The talking has ceased, and our program is under way. The evangelist takes his place on the platform at this time.
From here on we proceed with our song service for which we use only three songs. At the end of the first stanza of the third song, the organist and pianist modulate into a higher key, and I ask the congregation to stand as we sing the last stanza. At the close of this, the one appointed to have the opening prayer steps immediately to the microphone without announcement, bows his head, and begins to pray. Immediately following this I am at the microphone to introduce the offering. Our opening prayer includes not only asking for God's blessing upon the meeting but also on the offering that will be given, and the offering is received without another prayer. While the offering is taken we have organ music or organ and vibraharp. Following this is our announcement period, when we present our gifts of the evening and announce our future programs. Next our musical program is announced by Evangelist H. M. S. Richards, Jr., and we move immediately toward the sermon in the musical program. Following the last item, Pastor Richards stands and offers a word of prayer preceding his sermon. At the end of the sermon there is prayer, an appeal song, and a call for hand raising or standing. Pastor Richards thanks the people for being there, encourages them to come back again, and I sing a good-night song. Then I ask the people to remain seated for just a moment while those on the platform go to the rear of the auditorium. The organ and piano will be played softly, I tell them, and when there is an increase in volume, they will know it's time to be excused. Those of us on the platform step down to the side and walk quickly back through the auditorium and position ourselves at the doors to greet the people as they leave.
These are a few suggestions on how we have incorporated into our program those features that give it a professional atmosphere. Some will say, "I don't have all these props and individuals to make my program professional. I don't have the King's Heralds, Del Delker, an organist like Norm Nelson, or all the spotlights and paraphernalia that should be used." This may be true. When many of us started out, we didn't have them either. A program does not need all these things to make it successful. The important point is that the program must be planned. This is a most vital part of making it appear professional. To rush in at the last minute, tune instruments, pick out songs, and discuss different matters with the one who is playing the piano, inevitably results in an unprofessional and undignified program. If you have persons in your church who can perform well at the piano or organ, sit down with them before you begin your evangelistic crusade and outline the procedure. They should be on hand in plenty of time each evening so that every musical number can be rehearsed. Make sure that everyone on the program knows just what is happening, and in what sequence.
You can, from among your laymembers, organize your own evangelistic company, but remember it must be organized. I cannot overemphasize this. Just to call on the telephone and say, "I wonder if you would play the piano for us during our meetings," is not enough! There must be organization, there must be counseling together, a reiteration of the philosophy of evangelism and the purpose for which the evangelistic crusade is being held, and a dedication of the entire evangelistic team to the fulfillment of God's purpose in that specific area. Your song leader, whoever he would be, either from your congregation or a minister from the next district, must have an integral part in planning this program. And it must be made clear that his portion of the program is not just a time filler but is to be planned and organized as well as the sermon hour. It is his responsibility to make this program a really professional one that will nightly present the message of our church and of our God.
All those who are to participate in any given program should be at the auditorium in plenty of time to have all rehearsing out of the way before the people come. I am usually there to meet them, and I give them a program outline so they may know just where they come in and how the program is to proceed. Inform them that they should take ample time beforehand to practice with the accompanist, tune their instruments, and take care of all preliminaries, then be ready to step out onto the platform at the right moment that there may not be any waste of precious minutes in the evangelistic crusade.
In order to make this service as dignified as possible while you are introducing the special music, it would be well to have the pianist or organist playing the introduction, making it long enough so you can present the person who is to perform and he or she can proceed to the pulpit and be ready to begin to sing or to play the instrument.
In regard to spotlights, if one plans to use something of this nature, a spotlight can be very easily produced by using a thousand-watt projector. Cut a piece of cardboard the size of a slide for that projector, put just a small hole in the middle of the cardboard slide, slip it into the slide holder, and let the light shine through that small hole. This will produce a spotlight that will be adequate for most situations. I have used this many times, and it has worked very well.
There are many innovations that an imaginative person can use in order to make a program satisfactorily professional. We do not always need to have large and expensive equipment, but we do need to have organization and careful planning!
The greatest hours of evangelism for God's people are just ahead of us, and we must be prepared to meet the challenge. It would be a tragedy if we failed God in this mighty hour. Let every worker join hands with the laity to spread the last warning message quickly in dignity and order.