ONE of the most challenging and rewarding phases of evangelistic ministry is the spiritual fol low-up of the interest created by our use of the mass media. For Seventh-day Adventist pastors and lay men this is, specifically, the broadcast interest aroused and developed through the programs of Faith for Today, Voice of Prophecy, It Is Written, and other denominationally sponsored broadcasts.
We might ask, Who are these broadcast interests? What are they looking for? How can we best serve them, especially in the final stage of the follow-up ministry? Certainly, our understanding and attitude toward these people must be something vastly more than is expressed in the verbal quip "Just another name and address from the ............ Bible School or program!"
Seventh-day Adventists can now retrospectively draw valuable observations as they reflect over many years of religious broadcast experience, and particularly as these observations relate to their own programs. The observations come from denominational leaders, as well as from reports of research studies:
The Voice of Prophecy has a special appeal to Bible-loving Christians, to those dissatisfied with the so-called social gospel who seek a more literal approach to Bible truth, to those interested in prophecy and history.
Faith for Today reaches people with problems. According to a survey by the New York-based Motivation Dynamics, Faith for Today cuts a wide swath through the public. But this broad cross section contends with a common need. . . . "All these people, how ever, seemed to have one thing in common intensified personal needs. Whatever the difference in their personal backgrounds, they exhibited urgent needs to overcome their sense of deprivation, whether it were spiritual, emotional, economic, or racial." 1
It Is Written, as a religious telecast, has special appeal to people who are in search of a definitely Biblically-oriented saving faith. The program comes through to the people with a strong inspirational and spiritual appeal.
Through all of these mass media programs and the follow-up listener services, the broadcast interest is taken step-by-step from a casual desire to under stand the Bible, satisfy a personal need, or progress from some other starting point to a desire to know Christ better. Certainly, the ultimate objective is to know and accept Jesus Christ in the fullness of truth. Many of these people initially would not think of contacting a church, nor do they necessarily think of a church eventually contacting them.
Our specific challenge in follow-up becomes one of building a bridge of Christian friendship so we can communicate with the broadcast interest. The moment we begin the follow-up ministry and make plans for the first visit, it is wise to recognize that we begin with a gap. The broadcast interest identifies with the particular program and its speaker; we the follow-up visitors start as disadvantaged strangers. Again, it must be emphasized the follow-up worker must build a bridge over which the prospect can find his way to Christ and church fellowship.
Confrontation Evangelism and Interest Follow-up
How do we best build this needed bridge in fol low-up? What shall be the philosophy and the methodology of our follow-up approach? Shall we consider our traditional methods of follow-up as being adequate as an approach? Do some of the new methods of confrontation evangelism and witnessing have helpful techniques by which we could improve our follow-up?
Traditionally, in our past follow-up many have used the first visit to meet pleasantly the broadcast interest. It goes without saying that this first interview often becomes the opportunity for two strangers to assess and evaluate each other. This will happen naturally. But what else do we make out of it? Do we merely gently probe with our questions to find out whether or not the prospects through their past listening and study have already come to know and believe our distinctive Seventh-day Adventist doctrines? If we find they understand and believe the Bible Sabbath, the non-immortality of the soul, tithing, and the judgment-hour message, do we then consider the bridge is already built? But have we handled the interview in such a way that it has become a mere intellectual check-off list of our truths and a check-off on our system of belief? One wonders how many broadcast interests of the past have received the predominant impression that this first visit was to "pick their brains" as a student of some far-away Bible correspondence school. It is obvious that this method has a weakness if no deep impression is given of the love and salvation to be found in Jesus Christ.
What about the new confrontation evangelism technique as a first approach? In confrontation evangelism, one person immediately confronts an other person with Jesus Christ in a brief interview. The gospel is presented in a short list of propositions consisting of about five spiritual facts. The last proposition usually climaxes with an immediate appeal to receive Jesus Christ as Saviour, based on Revelation 3:20, "If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him."
The advantages of the confrontation evangelism techniques are: (1) It is personal; (2) the gospel is presented in simple form; and (3) the interested person is immediately confronted with making a decision for Christ. Satisfactory or unsatisfactory results will vary widely depending upon the spiritual foundation that has already been laid in the life of the prospect, and the timely or untimely use of the method by the follow-up worker. The obvious danger is the untimely use resulting in merely an ecstatic emotional experience producing only a superficial conversion in the life.
Perhaps it would be wise to pause here to state that as a church we believe every prospective Christian needs a good doctrinal foundation of faith; and for this belief to become saving faith, the individual needs a conversion experience in which Jesus Christ becomes his Saviour and Lord. It becomes a question of how follow-up workers can best help broad cast interests to enter into such an experience.
Certainly, Christianity is Christ, and Christ is Christianity. Salvation is through Jesus Christ. In 1 John 5:12 we read, "He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life."
But what about the use of confrontation evangelism? Contemporary evangelistic leaders state that true gospel evangelism calls for presentation and saturation before confrontation can take place. We recognize that our use of the mass media does present the gospel of Jesus Christ. But what about the resulting personal saturation with the gospel? This saturation may vary from interest to interest. Some interests are found to be immediately ready to make their decision and acceptance of Christ. Others will be found who are lacking in spiritual understanding and conviction, needing further study and spiritual counseling before they are ready for a decision confrontation.
A book published in 1970 entitled Saturation Evangelism gives some good counsel from George W. Peters regarding the need for gospel saturation preceding the use of confrontation decision techniques to secure sound and lasting results:
There is a time for sowing and there is a time for reaping. This is explicitly taught by our Lord, who knows the laws of the natural and the spiritual and is well acquainted with the fields of the world. (1 John 4:35-38.) Not every field is immediately a harvest field.
Much evangelism specializes in confrontation. This is the right emphasis in areas and among people where the groundwork has been laid and the counsel of God has been taught. Confrontation, however, without the necessary saturation is futile. It may result in numerous responses and professions, but in few regenerations and lasting results. Such failure is not because the motivation is not right in the respondent, but simply because the seed of regeneration is not present and the new birth does not take place.
Careful preparation and the building of new and Biblical concepts of God, sin, and moral accountability before confrontation are at least as significant as a. sound follow-through program after confrontation.
However, to fail in confrontation when saturation has taken place may become harmful to the individual. Psychological conditioning to the claims of Christ and the gospel of God may take place. Eventually this makes the message meaningless and impotent. This danger is as real as premature confrontation. This danger hangs like a dark cloud over many Christian institutions, where the teaching of religion becomes just another subject. . . . Great wisdom and deep spiritual insight and guidance are required to know just when God's moment has come to confront people very definitely with the claims of Christ, and to lead them to a definite decision for Christ. 2
How true that wisdom and insight are needed to know just when the right moment has come to appeal for a decision. Follow-up workers will make sure that gospel saturation that is essential to meaningful confrontation and sound decisions has taken place.
In our follow-up ministry we must lead the broad cast interests to accept Jesus Christ fully and completely for conversion and the new life experience. In this sense, our visits with these interests must go beyond merely using the interview to conduct a check-off on a list of truths or our system of belief. We must prayerfully bring them into the love of Christ for a conversion experience. It calls for presenting the wonderful love of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Only through the power from above can the miracle of conversion take place.
Speaking of this new life in Christ, The Living Bible in 2 Corinthians 5:17, 18 reads: "When some one becomes a Christian he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same any more. A new life has begun! All these new things are from God who brought us back to himself through what Christ Jesus did" (Taylor).*
Seventh-day Adventists believe in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Redeemer. They believe that to accept Jesus Christ as Saviour brings justification from past sin through His imputed righteousness. Adventists further believe that it is necessary to accept Christ as Lord of the life to receive the daily strength needed to overcome the power of sin and to experience His imparted righteousness for victorious living. In conversion Christ is established as the center of life and the doing of His will becomes the new Christian's primary concern. In this way obedience to the law and Word of God becomes the evidence, and not the means, of salvation. Surely the new Christian who has made Jesus Christ the Saviour and Lord of his life will give evidence by the fruitage of obedience in godly living.
Many of the broadcast interests will need considerable visitation and personal work prior to committing their lives to Christ in baptism. The visits during this time need to be made deeply spiritual as we seek to move them to surrender fully to the Lord.
Sometimes we have the idea in the follow-up ministry that we have to restudy the doctrines with the interests, but is this needed so much as some thing else? We agree that any Bible truths that are not understood need study and clarification before the interested one connects with the church, but the Spirit of Prophecy points to some other follow-up factors.
The gospel is to be presented, not as a lifeless theory, but as a living force to change the life. ... So His servants are to present the riches of the glory of the unspeakable Gift. The wonderful love of Christ will melt and subdue hearts, when the mere reiteration of doctrines would accomplish nothing. 3
The real test of the follow-up ministry comes in being able to help people enter into a genuine conversion experience.
Accepting new theories, and uniting with a church, does not bring new life to anyone, even though the church with which he unites may be established on the true foundation. Connection with a church does not take the place of conversion. To subscribe the name to a church creed is not of the least value to anyone if the heart is not truly changed. . . . We must have more than an intellectual belief in the truth. 4
Obviously, the follow-up ministry calls for winning ways to lead people into conversion and the new life in Christ. A guide for follow-up by pastors, Bible instructors, and visiting lay workers is now available from the Review and Herald Publishing Association. This follow-up guidelines booklet is entitled Winning Ways. We highly recommend it for your personal use and in conducting training classes for lay workers who will be visiting broadcast interests.
Now, for some practical helps in building bridges to bring people to Christ. Often this follow-up ministry calls for accommodating our personality with out compromising the truth in order to reach all people. The apostle Paul knew how to do this and he explained how it is done:
"I have freely and happily become a servant of any and all so that I can win them to Christ.
"When I am with the Jews I seem as one of them so that they will listen to the Gospel and I can win them to Christ. When I am with Gentiles who follow Jewish customs and ceremonies I don't argue, even though I don't agree, because I want to help them.
"When with the heathen I agree with them as much as I can, except of course that I must always do what is right as a Christian. And so, by agreeing, I can win their confidence and help them too. . . .
"Yes, whatever a person is like, I try to find common ground with him so that he will let me tell him about Christ and let Christ save him" (1 Cor. 9:19-22, Taylor).
Finding common ground with the broadcast interests and building bridges to bring them to Christ is our special ministry in the local church as an auxiliary of the Voice of Prophecy, Faith for Today, It Is Written, and other programs. Here are some things to which we need to give careful attention if we are successfully to build such bridges for Christian communication with these interested persons:
1. Care for people. If we begin our follow-up visits sounding as if we care more about truth than people, they will not listen very long. Our real objective is to win a soul.
2. Be kind and helpful. If we make only a single follow-up visit to invite them to church, but have little or no time for them otherwise, we will not win very many.
3. Communicate Christ. If, by what we say, we communicate "our church" rather than Christ, we will not close the gap between us. Everything we do and say must exalt the love of Jesus Christ. He is the bridge of salvation.
May God help us to be Spirit-filled living witnesses. The best follow-up workers are those whose hearts have been made warm and whose lips have been made eloquent through a living knowledge of Jesus Christ.
1. Walter R. L. Scragg, Winning Ways (Review and Herald, 1971), p. 32.
2. George W. Peters, Saturation Evangelism (Zondervan Press, 1970), pp. 189, 190. Used by permission.
3. Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Pacific Press, 1898), p. 826.
4. Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Review and Herald, 1946), pp. 290, 291.
* Texts credited to Taylor are from: The Living Bible, Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois. Used by permission.