A VISITATION PROGRAM
By: Joe Henry Hankins
“And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?” -Gen. 3:8-9.
“For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” -Luke 19:10.
“And the Lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” -Luke 14:23.
In Mark 16:15 is the Lord’s last command to the church:
“And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”
I have divided my discussion into three parts. First, Why a visitation program; Second, How to get it done; and Third, The reward of it.
I. Why a Visitation Program?
First of all, the whole Bible is a story of a seeking God, a God who is seeking for those who are lost.
Men Do Not Seek God
Sometimes I am afraid that we are prone to feel, as someone has already so pungently stated in this conference, that the unsaved ought to come to hear the gospel. Sometimes we are very critical of the unsaved because they do not come. But the Scripture says in Romans 3:11, “There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.” Lost men do not seek the Lord. They never have. This lost world has always been running away from God, has always been trying to hide from God. In the very beginning of the race, as soon as sin had come into the lives of that first pair, God left Heaven, came down into the garden and began to seek and call. If you will read your Bible you will find that the whole Book is a record of a seeking God. Somebody has said that more than six hundred times in the Scriptures you will find the invitation, “Come.” It is the persistent call of a seeking God.
Men Are Hopelessly Lost, Blind and Without Understanding
My second reason for visitation is the teaching of the Scriptures that unsaved men not only do not seek God but are also absolutely blind and without understanding.
To me some of the most touching words in the New Testament are found in the closing verses of the ninth chapter of Matthew where the Scripture says, “But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. Then saith He unto His disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.”
One of the most tragic things through all the Christian era, even until today, is the fact that the laborers are so few. It is exactly the same today as it was that day when Jesus gave that heartbroken appeal for laborers in the harvest! They have always been so few. Do you know why the world is going to Hell? It is because so few people really care! How long has it been, my friends, even you Christian workers, since you wet your pillow with tears over a lost world? How long has it been since you, in agony of soul on your knees in intercession before God, wept your heart out because people are lost?
Jesus saw the multitude as sheep without a shepherd. Most of us know something about the nature of sheep. We know that when a sheep has no shepherd it is the most helpless creature on earth. I was reared out in the country, and we had a little flock of sheep. My home state, Arkansas, has never been much of a sheep country. But all of the farmers in those days had a small flock of sheep in order to get wool to supply the needs of the family. We had lots of open range country in those days which belonged to the state. Everybody turned his cattle and sheep out in the open range. A bell would be put on the lead-sheep, and the rest of the sheep would follow. We did not have a flock that was large enough to have a shepherd. At first we had an old-fashioned rail fence around our little farm, but the time came when my father was able to put up a wire fence. The sheep were not accustomed to a wire fence, and they did not understand when they came to it. Sometimes in the evening when they were on their way home and would come up to this wire fence most of them would make their way around and find their way into the barn, but one or two that had straggled in would come up to the back of that wire fence and run up and down the fence, bleating, trying to get through. About sundown my dad would say,
“Son, you had better go back there and get those sheep.
I would say,
“Dad, they are right in sight of the barn.”
He would say, “Listen, son, you do not understand sheep. Those sheep are lost, and they will never find their way to the barn even though they are in sight of it. If you do not go get them, some timber wolves or prowling dogs will get them before daylight. You must go and help them home.”
I think that is exactly what this passage means. “They fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd.” They are lost! They are hopelessly lost! They are blind. Paul said, “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (II Cor. 4:3-4). They are helplessly, hopelessly lost. They are blind in sin. They do not understand. They will never find their way unless somebody who knows the way finds them. That has always been true.
Lost Men Must Be Sought Out
When the Son of God came to this earth, He said that He had come to seek and to save that which was lost. In the parable of the wedding feast the king gave this command to his servants: “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in.” You and I understand that the Lord does not mean by that word compel that we are literally to use physical force to compel them to come in. The Lord does mean, however, that we are to be so earnest about it, so persistent about it that they just cannot keep on saying, “No,” but after awhile will be so constrained by our earnestness, by our compassion, by our evident concern and love for them that they will have to come.
This is the impelling reason for a visitation program. They must be sought out. Somebody must find them or they will never, never find their way to God. There is no use in our saying they ought to have judgment enough to do thus and so. We must face facts and not think about what the unsaved ought to do. This is the truth that God Himself has stated for us. We can advertise, we can put on all the high-powered, attractive programs that we want; but we will never have great numbers of unsaved in our services unless somebody goes after them; unless we have a real visitation program in our churches and in our evangelistic campaigns.
II. How to Get It Done
The next thing, then, is how to get it done. The best way I know to tell you how to get it done is to tell you something of my own experiences in getting it done. In my own church, one of the things that I believed in and practiced intensely was a real visitation program, a continuous visitation program. There is never any place to stop. There is never any place to let up. You never finish the task. There are always some who need to be sought out. It takes a long time to build a real visitation program. It cannot be done overnight. In the first place, it is difficult to find the people who will stay at the task, and are willing to make the necessary sacrifice. My experience is that it is easier to get members of the church to do anything else than it is to get them to do this, which, after all, is the main thing. You can get people to teach a Sunday School class; you can get people to lead young people’s groups. It is much easier to get women to stand over a hot stove in August and cook and sweat to prepare meals to serve than it is to get that same crowd of women to go after somebody who is lost. And yet, going after the lost is the main thing. I say again, we are willing somehow to do everything but the main thing.
How to Secure Workers
It takes a long time and patience and prayer on the part of the pastor to build an organization for visitation. He must handpick the workers, he must lay it on their hearts, he must train them, he must live with them, he must organize them. He must stay with them and keep on staying with them. I care not how good the people may be, I care not how interested, they may be the best group in the entire church membership, yet the pastor must keep the enthusiasm up, he must keep them inspired and keep on pushing this thing in order to get it done. After awhile the enthusiasm of it dies out and they let down unless he keeps them inspired and stays on the job with them. It takes a period of years to build a real group who have caught the vision, who have had results, who have had the joy and have the passion for souls to keep on going.
You will have to start with a little group. Do not ever give a wholesale invitation for anybody who will to come and do it. Select them, hand-pick them yourself. Watch them in their church life. Select a few of your most spiritual and faithful people to begin with, go to them, get on your knees with them and pray with them that God will lay the matter on their hearts. If you do, after awhile you will have built up a group who will really do the job for the Lord.
How to Secure the List of Prospects
The next thing is to get the prospects. You must know where the people are. This haphazard, hit-or-miss way of going out to do visitation does not work because the hit-or-miss method usually misses. I have had a little experience along that line. I like to hunt. Particularly I like to hunt quails. But no matter how big the covey of quails that gets up in front of your dog, if you point your gun at the covey and pull the trigger, the chances are that you will not “cut a feather.” The air may be full of quails, but you had better single out one and put your gun on him before you pull the trigger. You understand what I mean, the thing must be definite, you must have the information.
A CITY-WIDE CENSUS
The first thing that should be done in preparation for a city-wide evangelistic campaign should be a city-wide census. No matter how big the city is you can and should take a citywide census. This should be done with voluntary workers from the various churches cooperating in the campaign. You will find that Sunday afternoon is the best time to do it, and the sooner after lunch the better. Of course territory must be divided and assigned to each church group. Then each section must be subdivided and assigned to the workers. All groups should by all means do their work the same afternoon.
Cards must be printed on which space has been provided for the information which you desire to obtain, and the workers instructed to fill out a separate card for each prospect and to be sure to get all information called for on the card together with correct address. When the cards are turned in by the workers they should then be assorted into two groups: “unaffiliated church members” and “unsaved.” Permanent typewritten lists should then be made of both of these groups and the cards kept to be given out later to those who agree to do visitation.
A single church should follow very much the same plan in taking a census of its territory. However it is my experience that the best way for a church to do it would be to employ two or three competent women and pay them for the work. Volunteer census takers do not always get the information wanted and do not go back over the territory where they find no one at home when they call. A church census should be assorted and placed in a card index file. Duplicate cards should be made to be given out to the workers.
PROSPECTS FROM THE CHURCH AND SUNDAY SCHOOL FAMILY
Another way of getting prospects is to pass out cards at the church services and have the people give names and addresses of people whom they would like to see reached. Many names will be secured in this way that were missed in the census. Then ask the children in the Sunday School, whose parents are not members of your church, to give the names of their parents. You will get some very valuable prospects in this way. If a child is coming to your Sunday School whose parents are not members of your church you already have a very valuable contact in that home that can be used most effectively in winning the parents.
I would also suggest that in every public worship service you take time to have the visitors in the congregation stand for recognition. Have your ushers pass visitor’s cards to each of them and ask that they fill them out and drop them on the offering plate or leave them in the pew. Be sure that this visitor’s card asks for information about their relationship to the Lord and the church. From these cards you will secure many of your most interested and most likely prospects. I have always used these visitor’s cards every night of a revival campaign. On these cards I always asked the question, “Are you interested in becoming a Christian?” You will be surprised how many will answer that question frankly, “Yes.” When you get that reply, you know you are on a warm trail. Somebody who has been in your service has put it down in black and white that he is interested in knowing the Lord. If this plan is followed you will always have a sizable list of “live” prospects, and the group that you have been training to go after the unsaved will have material to work with.
Preparation of the Workers for This Important Work
I said that the group should be carefully picked and trained. Take one or two or three at a time with you and let them watch you as you work with unsaved people. Let them see just how you do it. Urge them to watch every step. This is the best possible training for beginners. You should also teach them books on personal soul winning. I cannot urge you pastors too strongly that you teach, instruct and train these groups carefully and thoroughly. The destiny of souls depends upon it.
In my own personal workers group when they could not lead an unsaved person to the Lord, I urged them to bring that person to me. I could not be all over the city, but I could be in my study for the making of appointments with my workers. They called me again and again and again. I was open for appointments day and night. I do not know how preachers have office hours. I see signs on study doors saying that the pastor is in certain hours. When it came to a soul for Christ I was in any hour of the day or night.
I also instructed this group: “When the visitors stand, keep your eyes open and do not miss a single one. When the service is dismissed, find out whether that person is saved or not. If you find that he is unsaved try to stir up interest. Then before you leave the building say to that person, ‘Would you not like to meet our pastor?’ When you have brought him to me, you need not tell me a thing about whether he is unsaved or not. Just say, ‘Brother Hankins, here is Mr. So and So whom I wanted you to meet.’ I will
get the cue. I will open the way. The first thing I will do is to say to that person, ‘We are glad to have you in our service this morning. I wonder if you are a Christian?’ If he answers, ‘No,’ I will say, ‘Well, I wonder if you would not like to go back to my study with me and let me tell you something about how to know the Lord?'” You would be surprised to know how many went back into that study with me. A service seldom passed that somebody was not in that study following the benediction. I would have the
worker who brought that one to go into my study with me. But my workers were instructed that-and here is a thing you must do – no two must talk to a person at the same time. I told them: “You sit there and pray while I lead that person to the Lord.”
That accomplished another thing: the worker had the opportunity to see how I, the pastor, did it. I had had more experience in leading souls into a saving knowledge of Christ, and I was also training a worker and letting the worker in on the joy of that experience.
Visitation During a Revival
I have always used the same methods of getting a list of prospects for a revival campaign as I have used for my regular church visitation. All of these I have already described. But in getting my church ready for a revival effort I always augmented my regular personal workers group with volunteers for an intensive visitation campaign. For example, in one revival campaign when I was pastor in a town of about seventy-five hundred population, I began several weeks before the time set for the revival to enlist a hundred people who would agree to visit one hour each day during the two weeks of the campaign. I wrote a brief covenant to that effect, placed it on the communion table and asked those who would agree to do it to come forward and sign the covenant. I called attention to it every service and had special prayer about it until the hundred people had signed the agreement. Then I placed another covenant on the table calling for another hundred who would agree to make at least one visit each day, unless providentially hindered, to come forward and sign. I got the other hundred. Now, visualize the possibilities in such a group of two hundred members of your church definitely committed to daily visitation during the entire campaign!
We began the visitation a week before the opening date for the revival. Each of the two hundred workers was given a complete printed list of the prospects, the territory was properly divided, the visitors divided into teams, and every prospect was contacted before the meetings began. An attractive folder announcing the revival and carrying a picture of the evangelistic party was left in each home. A good soul-winning tract was also left with each person visited.
The evangelist did not get to our place until Monday night. But when the campaign opened, on that first Monday night we had over fifteen hundred people to hear the evangelist in that little town of about seventy-five hundred. Those two hundred visitors went out during those two weeks to visit in homes. In the second week of the meetings one of my women came to me, handed me a name and address and said, “Here is a place I would like for you to go.” I went at about three o’clock in the afternoon to visit
that home. Before I got to the door the woman said, “I’ll be there tonight. You are the ninth person that has already been here today.”
In a union campaign you can divide up the town by blocks or sections. Assign the territory to your workers, and they can visit every house in the town. There is no excuse for a revival meeting without a visitation program, regardless of whether it is a one-church meeting or whether it is a union meeting. You can always get more results by visitation than you can by anything else you do.
Let me close my message by just mentioning the rewards of it. The first reward is that you will have crowds to preach to. The second reward is that you will have unsaved people there who would never go inside of a church building unless somebody went after them. The third reward is that almost every time you get up to preach, if this visitation work is operating in your church, some of your workers will have come to you before you get into the pulpit and told you that they have somebody ready to walk down the aisle. I want to tell you that it is going to help the preacher to preach if he knows somebody is coming down that aisle when he gives the invitation. Oh, the inspiration to the preacher, the joy to the worker! Oh, your joy will be full, and you will be growing Christians in Christ. You will be growing soul winners. You will be growing a people with a passion for the lost. And the reward, the reward!
A young man, a druggist, a member of my church, brought the city night watchman to church one Sunday morning. This night watchman had been in the hospital and had had an operation for stomach cancer. The doctor saw such a condition that he sewed the man up and left him to die. The man got strong enough to walk around before the end came. One Sunday morning this young druggist walked into the service with him, sat down about four or five pews back from the pulpit near the end of the pew. I knew he was sitting near the end so that he would be able to get out when the invitation was given. When I gave the invitation that morning the young man leaned over close to the night watchman and earnestly whispered a few words into his ear. I saw the man nod his head, and presently the two came to the altar together. There the night watchman found the Lord. He stood in the altar of that church that day and gave one of the most touching testimonies I have ever heard. After the service the young man said to me, “I have had many thrills in life. I was for several years an automobile racer. I have had some hair-raising and thrilling experiences on the race course, but I have never had such a thrill in all my life as I got this morning when I led that man to the altar. What a thrill when I heard him give his testimony of salvation in Christ, knowing as I did that he would be in Heaven in a few days, and
realizing that I had had a part in bringing him to Christ!”
These are but a few of the many rewards of a real visitation program. But one of the greatest rewards to the pastor, the workers and the church is a continuous harvest of souls from week to week. Yes, I believe that souls should be saved in every worship service of the church. There is nothing that will mean half so much to the whole church life and program. It will deepen the spiritual life of the entire membership, keep the fires burning and bring the blessing and power of the Holy Spirit upon the whole church. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind but that this is God’s plan, and my experience has been that He has always put the stamp of His approval upon it by blessing it.
(The above material was published by How to Have a Revival, Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1946.)
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