PRAYER meeting attendance at the Long Beach Seventh-day Adventist church was running about average with most other large churches I had heard of. On some occasions we were fortunate in having as many as 10 percent of our membership present. I had tried to increase attendance in many ways. I had spent much time in discussing last-day events, a favorite attendance getter. I had covered most of the Spirit of Prophecy books. The material, I thought, was adequate. What was the matter with our attendance?
John Osborn, union Ministerial secretary, had conducted classes in Biblical preaching. It occurred to me that maybe the people were just as hungry at prayer meeting as they had been on Sabbath morning for pure expository study of the Word of God.
It Doubled the Attendance
It was not particularly a new thing for me to go through some specific book of the Bible, but the approach I had used before was different. I think I would describe the difference as from academic theology to applied theology. After several months of the latter kind of Biblical study the attendance more than doubled and held up consistently. Many who had never come to prayer meeting before began to attend weekly.
We added one extra to the midweek service. This was a premeeting on human relations held in another room. This class was conducted by a gifted layman in this field. I wondered if this might be the cause of our added attendance, but while this was an asset, to be sure, many did not come until seven-forty when his class ended. The transition from his class to the midweek Bible study was made by coming to our prayer chapel for a couple of songs. The song service was always brief but lively. Sometimes someone at this point might bring an appropriate appeal song, one that seemed to fit the theme of the evening.
We began by using the short books of the Bible--Jude, Obadiah, the prison Epistles, and others. In each case I gave a historical background of the book. As I got into the study I tried to make the verses of the Bible fit the contemporary setting of our day. I sort of recasted the Word into a modern mold.
One of our most enthusiastic studies was in the book of Job. As I described Job's terrible plight I think we all itched and suffered pain along with him. The nagging wife, the so-called friends, were not too unlike some we have today. Sometimes in the presentation I had my associate join me in a dialog about the book. The informal discussion invited audience participation and dialog along with us. At the close of our meetings people said, "You make the book live," or "Now we're acquainted with Job [or with Philemon and Onesimus, or Paul]," depending on the particular book under consideration. I give God the credit for this, for He blessed my initiative to study deeply for the meeting. I usually spent six to eight hours in study for this midweek service. At the end of such a period of prayerful study the gems of truth began to sparkle.
For Job I bought the book, Living Patiently, by J. Alien Blair, Lozeaux Publishers. I also referred to Clovis Chapel's Sermons from Job, Abingdon. These, with the Spirit of Prophecy and The SDA Bible Commentary books, gave me good back ground material.
Studying the Psalms
Recently we studied the Psalms, and delved into the nature of Hebrew poetry. I bought Spurgeon's commentaries in the two-volume edition on the Psalms. We bought for the people the ten-cent edition of the Psalms in Today's English from the American Bible Society. For New Testament books, we had Living Letters paper back editions in the pews. We encouraged many to buy The New English Bible by securing paperback copies for those who wanted them.
I used few notes, but used a Bible that I could mark up without concern. With a felt pen I highlighted the portions of Scripture that seemed to jump out and grab me in my private study. I wrote in comments in the margin with a fine pen. Sometimes I marked in cross references, drew in arrows to other verses that gave explanations, et cetera. With Bible in hand I could look people in the eye and talk with them and not at them.
I recommend this plan to each of you. Begin a series of studies on books of the Bible. Let the Bible speak for this day. Apply its messages to our current needs. Promises in the Psalms and in Job became contemporary in our study. Some of us shared the same doubts as did those so long ago in Bible times. It is good to know that we are not alone. If God could love such sinful, doubting people of the past, and even had the grace to lay before us their weaknesses, surely He could love each of us too.
The Prayer Session
I also worked to make the prayer portion of the service more meaningful. I had the elders present stand, then would say, "Brother _____, you take the area at the rear corner of the room," defining the number of rows. Then I would assign other men to other sections of the room and quickly divide the entire group into prayer bands of eight to ten persons. Each individual was given the opportunity to pray. When finally the last one had prayed, I would then lead the audience in the Lord's Prayer.
We were out promptly at eight-thirty, and I was at the door to shake hands as the happy people went home.
I will guarantee that if you follow the above approach the Bible will become a new book. You will get excited about it and so will your members. Consequently, you will make the prayer meeting service really LIVE!