A YEAR'S experience had proved the effectiveness of the witnessing concept at the local church level. We wondered what now might be the potential of this concept when combined directly with a crusade. We had the summer field school of evangelism crusade coming up for Southwestern Union College and decided to experiment.
We had five weeks and only $300 for advertising. We put it together like this: First two weeks, train the students in New Testament Witnessing and knock on doors daytime and evening with a goal of 200 professions. (That is, one who professes to accept Christ as Saviour and Lord after a gospel presentation on our first visit.) Then open the crusade with three meetings that weekend. Concentrate the next week on visiting the 200 professions with the gift-Bible doctrinal studies.
We started each person who professed Christ with the series of six "Steps to Eternal Life" within hours of their acceptance of Christ, and then transferred them right on to the gift-Bible lessons. We left three lessons at a time and called back twice each week.
Then we had another weekend of three meetings followed by the week of visitation with Bible lessons. The last, or fifth week, we had meetings every night, reviewing the doctrines with the whole audience, baptismal class style, using decision-type sermons. We also had a baptism every night.
The real test of the whole concept was to see what might be done with very little money (we did not even put an ad in the newspaper) in a church where there were no waiting children or interests to be baptized. (The pastor had been diligent ingathering in the prospects and having regular baptisms.) In other words, Could the New Testament Witnessing plan provide a viable audience of interested visitors who could be gathered in immediately by a crusade?
The answer is an exciting "Yes!" The eight teams of field school students were all making successful gospel presentations within a couple of days and saw well over 200 accept Christ as their Saviour. Almost all of these were basically outside the circle of the influence of the church. Many had never known anything of Seventh-day Adventists before.
Three fourths (more than 160) began the follow-up Bible lessons. About one hundred came out to some of the meetings. Forty-two made decisions to be baptized and join the church. Half of these did so before closing night. About fifty more are continuing the Bible studies. It is likely we will ultimately baptize fifty to seventy-five of the two hundred. Reaching as many brand-new people as we did, we are seeing more chain re action with relatives and friends than usual. The potential of the follow-up is increasing as a result.
Obviously, we are thoroughly convinced that this new plan of evangelism is the best answer to the challenge the average minister faces small budget, few interests, and no sensational program or preaching to provide any unusual attraction. (In this field school crusade, an intern pastor did the preaching and students provided the musical program.)
Everyone involved is enthusiastically recommending the plan as a pattern for future evangelism. However, all are persuaded that the time frame should be longer, even for a field school, where you have students to visit five or six hours a day. And certainly where the pastor of a local church would use trained laymen to get the basic group of professions and carry on the follow-up lessons, it would be best to plan for an over-all time frame of at least twelve to fourteen weeks.
I was not surprised by the success of the over-all plan. It made sense and carried out the inspired instructions. But I was not prepared for what, to me, was a bonus advantage. The effect on the soul-winning expertise of the students was amazing to me. I have been conducting field schools of evangelism for colleges and the Seminary since 1958. I have watched the development of many students in evangelistic work. But the effect the New Testament Witnessing training program had on these students, giving them confidence and skill in leading souls all the way through to baptism was some thing else. They did not experience the usual anxieties when decision time came. They had learned how to lead a soul to accept Christ as Saviour and Lord as the first step in their work. And this knowledge in leading a person to that first big decision made the subsequent doctrinal and baptismal decisions seem the natural thing to do.
It might also be recognized that when the interest has been led to Christ and His truth by this divinely recommended way, it is not nearly the crisis for him. It is when we ignore this counsel and teach all the doctrines and standards first, and then appeal for a decision to join the church, to be baptized and accept Christ all at once, that we create the tension of a breach birth in the delivery room! No wonder beginners feel inadequate when it is done that way! I have never seen a group of young men as mature in their soul-winning skills as this group of students. They are eager to get at it on their own.
Greater days are ahead for evangelism if we write the formula: New Testament Witnessing + Gift Bible Doctrinal Lessons + Decision Meetings = Souls for Eternity!