In the use of the radio, Seventh-day Adventists have found a significant tool for carrying their message to many people resistant to traditional modes of outreach.
The radio has also proved a successful way of expanding the Adventist presence in areas in which the Church has already been active. An example of this is the so-called Radio-Interactive Bible-Study Program broadcast every Saturday afternoon by the Adventist FM Radio Station, Novo Tempo, from the city of Novo Hamburgo, Brazil, to the southern part of that country.
How the program came about
In September 1995, Pastors Irineo E. Koch and Elcio M. Magalhaes started a weekly satellite TV-cable Bible-study series in the city of Bento Gonfalves, in the South of Brazil. Unfortunately, by the end of the year, the series had to be discontinued because of financial challenges. In the face of this, undaunted, the two pastors then decided to initiate a similar program, with much lower cost, over the Adventist FM Radio Station, Novo Tempo in the city of Novo Hamburgo. The main purpose of the new program was to reach non- Adventists with whom further personal contact could be made with the assistance of church members.
When the first Radio-Interactive Bible-Study Program was broadcast on April 13, 1996, there were only six nearby Seventh-day Adventist churches involved in their assigned role of handing out and picking up Bible lessons within their neighborhoods. Within a couple of weeks those six churches were handing out lessons to about 4,500 people. The program was so successful that by June 1997 there were 72 congregations and 2,800 church members supporting the program. By the end of 1997, about 30,000 people had received the lessons personally or by mail, and about 1,300 of them had been baptized as a result of this outreach program.
The Radio-Interactive Bible-Study Program was broadcast every Saturday afternoon from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. It covered the 27 Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists employing a cycle of 22 Bible lessons. Once the series came to an end, it started all over again, addressing the same topics with slight changes in the titles and presentations of the lessons.
The plan itself
The format of the program is simple. Each broadcast begins with a prayer and a short review of the questions of the previous week's lesson. This is followed by a round-table discussion of the subject of the specific lesson for that day. The discussion takes place with three to five people, including, whenever possible, the evangelist and other representatives from the local conference headquarters, one or two district pastors, and the person in charge of answering the correspondence sent to the program. The remaining time is spent in answering questions submitted previously by correspondence, or during the broad casting of the program by telephone, fax, or the radio's two mobile stations. The program ends with a short appeal, fol lowed by appropriate music, and a final prayer.
A special link between the program and its listeners is provided by two mo bile stations, which are driven into some neighborhoods in order to encourage listeners to ask questions. Special gifts are given to listeners who have previously completed the program lesson for that day. Gifts include religious CDs, books from the Brazilian Publishing House, T-shirts, and recordings from the Adventist Radio, Novo Tempo.
Bible lessons are sent by mail to those interested listeners living in areas not covered by any church member willing to deliver them in person.
Training local churches to support the program
Basic to the success of the program is, of course, the involvement of a large number of church members previously trained for specific connected tasks in the program. Such training is carried out through an eight-hour seminar at local churches. The training can be limited to a whole day (usually Sunday) or spread through six evenings (normally from Sunday to Friday).
Each seminar begins by explaining what the Radio-Interactive Bible-Study Program is and how it works, mentioning also some of its most significant past results. Church members are then trained in how to use quality principles both for visiting people in the neighborhood and in receiving and nurturing them within the church. The local church is seen not only as a place of worship but also as an evangelistic center, especially for the Radio-Interactive Bible-Study Program.
After this short preliminary preparation in the initial training seminar, the church members go out two-by-two to interview people of the neighborhood. The interview consists of four questions: (1) "Do you often listen to the radio?" (2) "Have you ever listened to Novo Tempo FM 99.9?" (3) "Do you know the course 'Truths for Today'?" and (4) "Do you want to do the Bible course and receive a free Bible?" Approximately three out of five people interviewed choose to do the Bible course.
Back at the local church where the seminar takes place, the participants discuss the main difficulties faced during their interviewing experience. They are trained in how to answer peoples' questions and lead them to make decisions in connection with the lessons. (No special training in giving Bible studies is required, because the studies are broadcast over the radio itself during the airing of the program.)
The final step of the training process is using a city map to assign the trained participants the specific territory and particular streets that they are to cover two by two as they fulfill the task of handing out and picking up the Bible lessons.
The first visit to a radio listener usually takes place on a Saturday after noon, prior to the broadcasting of the program. At that time the person's attention is called to the program through the interview mentioned above. If the person accepts the Bible course, then he or she receives the specific lesson for that day, as well as the one for the fol lowing Saturday. At each subsequent visit, the student always returns the lesson discussed on the radio program that same day and receives the one to be con sidered the following week. This allows the individual to fill out the lesson in advance and to be already somewhat acquainted with its subject when it is broadcast on the radio.
Leading people to decision through harvesting series
The Rio Grande do Sul Conference, in which the program has been broad cast, sponsors two evangelistic teams who each hold a harvesting series called "Biblical Complementation." These are held at designated places where a significant number of people can gather who are receiving the weekly Bible lessons. Again, these meetings are advertised on the Radio-Interactive Program and provide opportunity to hand out both the certificates for those who have finished the Bible course and to cover some Bible topics difficult to address on the radio program itself. While the radio series focuses on the positive side of the "truths for today," the harvesting series delicately discusses major contemporary distortions of truth within the culture.
These harvesting meetings usually go on for ten to fifteen nights, with the gatherings being held at the church of involved congregations. In places with out a Seventh-day Adventist presence, the number of meetings is often expanded to twenty or even twenty-five, in order to provide enough time for people to become better acquainted with the Adventist message. One or more baptismal services take place at each series with the purpose of encouraging others to make their own personal decision for Christ and the message.
In some locations with a lower congregational involvement, a full-time Bible instructor maybe used to help prepare for the harvesting series, especially when students have not received the assistance of church members. The Bible instructor is usually sent to such places, with his or her family, some three to four months prior to the beginning of the series. There, they start contacting the students of the radio Bible course, with the specific goal of establishing small Bible-study groups. The fellowship provided by such groups helps the students to make their own personal decision for Christ and church membership during the harvesting series.
Advantages of the program
Among the main advantages of the Radio-Interactive Bible-Study Program are: (1) Its unique outreach capability when compared to other conventional religious radio-programs; (2) The ad vantage of using the church member ship potentiality as an effictive link between the broadcasting of the pro gram and its listeners; (3) Its easy method of outreach that allows the involvement of even those who do not feel qualified to give Bible studies; and (4) Its ability to open doors for other creative outreach programs.
Besides the help of local churches, the program has received also the sup port of at least six Seventh-day Adventist schools. The chaplain of one of those schools used the enrollment in the program's Bible course as a requirement for his religion-class students. Some schools have been able to use the course to reach many of their students' parents. Significant, also, has been the practical experience received by some third-year undergraduate students of the South-Brazil Theological Seminary that included such participation as part of the field training in evangelism.
Although the Rio Grande do Sul Conference has developed this interactive Bible-study program around its FM-radio station, a similar program can be implemented also through other broadcasting means, such as a regular TV channel, a TV-cable, etc. The outstanding success of the program is mainly due to the well-planned interaction between its production/broadcasting and the backup support of the church members.
The point is: The church can make more creative use of modern techno logical resources, without losing the warmth of personal contact with those to be reached with our message.