Preparing for public meetings

Church members can do more than attend your evangelistic meetings and take up the offering! By their witnessing they can increase baptisms and help ensure that these new members will be around years later.

David Parks is Ministerial director of the Upper Columbia Conference.
Evangelists have been relying increasingly on public media advertising as they attempt to get a reasonable audience for their crusades. Television, radio, news paper, and billboard advertising will often produce a good crowd for the opening night, but the group tends to dwindle through succeeding nights, so that only a few are left at the close of the series.

It's true, some of those who are "pulled off the street" through advertising will show a genuine interest, continue attending, and will ultimately be baptized. But recent studies indicate that of those baptized at the close of a crusade, the ones who have had no previous contact with Seventh-day Adventists suffer a higher rate of apostasy than those who have received Bible studies or have had other contact with the church prior to the start of the crusade.

This fact does not mean that the evangelist did a poor job of presenting the message or that these new converts were not firmly grounded in the teachings of the church. Instead, it usually means that the new convert who had no previous contact with the church simply finds it difficult to become integrated into the church family; they are unacquainted with anyone in the congregation.

The solution to this perplexing problem is not to discontinue evangelistic advertising. Some excellent contacts are made in this way that probably would not have been made otherwise. The real answer is to increase the lay involvement in soul winning so that more baptismal candidates at the close of a crusade will have a close bond of friendship with at least a few of the members. These church members can act as a support group to provide the much-needed spiritual nurture to help new converts become stable, growing Christians.

Counsels from the Bible and the writings of Ellen White make it abundantly clear that God's plan for the church is that every member be involved in the work of sharing the good news with the world. "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining the full measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:11-13, N.I.V.).*

It may come as a surprise, and certainly it is a challenge, to realize that the major responsibility of gospel workers is to "prepare God's people for works of service." Yet this is essential if church members are to maintain the vitality of their own spiritual experience. The spirit of Christ is a missionary spirit. The very first impulse of the renewed heart is to bring others to the Saviour.

I have found the following steps helpful in implementing a program of preparation for public evangelism in the church:

1. In consultation with the church board and the Lay Activities Council, carefully plan the major outline of a year-long program of lay training and outreach that will culminate with a series of evangelistic meetings.

2. A special time of revival for the congregation should precede the soul-winning thrust. This may be a concentrated week of spiritual renewal, a special series of Sabbath sermons, or any other format that will enable the congregation to experience real spiritual growth and awareness.

3. Give the outreach program a high profile by presenting a Sabbath morning sermon on the theme of lay involvement and witnessing. Conclude with an outline of the plan to be followed by the church.

4. On the following Sabbath organize the lay training classes. Some churches are now using a twenty-five minute segment during Sabbath school for this purpose— fifteen minutes previously used for Sabbath school preliminaries are combined with the ten-minute lay activities period. Each church will need to determine its own best time. In many churches a class on the basic concepts and techniques of soul winning should be given initially for a few weeks. All classes should begin immediately after being organized. (These classes must become an in-service training program and not just an intellectual experience.)

5. Start "Operation Andrew" with each of these classes six months before the crusade. In this program, the individual church member covenants to pray for one to ten people of his acquaintance. He continues to cultivate their friendship, seeks to bring them to the services of the church, encourages them to commit their lives to Christ, and follows them up until they are linked with the church and become stable, growing Christians.

6. At this same time, organize the committees that will function during the crusade so they can begin their planning. These committees should include music, ushers, nursery, youth, attendance, publicity, visitation, follow-up, and finance. The chairman of each should be a member of the steering committee that gives overall direction to the crusade.

7. Two weeks before the crusade, lead the congregation in a service of recommitment to the Lord and to soul winning. Give special emphasis to the importance of inviting and personally bringing to the crusade the interests who have been developed through the year.

The class suggestions given below include schedules indicating the length of time before public meetings that each step should be taken. These are suggestions only and are not exhaustive by any means. They will be most useful if they serve to generate additional ideas among your congregation of new and creative ways to make various gifts and talents of your members productive in soul winning. These ideas will capitalize on the interests and abilities of many of your members, but they can be adapted to your own congregation.

When the pastor and his church family begin working together in this way, great things will be accomplished for God. "If Christians were to act in concert, moving forward as one, under the direction of one Power, for the accomplishment of one purpose, they would move the world."—E. G. White, Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 221.

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David Parks is Ministerial director of the Upper Columbia Conference.

April 1982

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