DISCOVERING & REACHING PROSPECTS
By: R. S. Taylor
At every point one’s goals must be clear: “Reaching people” means winning them to Christ and getting them into the church. After
reaching them comes nurturing, leading them to full salvation, putting them to work, and helping them all the way to heaven. But first we must reach them.
While conversion and church membership are the consummation points of reaching people, many preparatory steps and stages mark the way. In this the pastor is the leader, but the whole church is involved. People who are to be reached must come not just to the preacher but to the church. Therefore the pastor-church team together must operate in such a way that they will create a web of influences extending throughout an entire community. These influences usually proceed along some ordinary and natural lines. Assuming that prayer impregnates all other activities, the Spirit customarily works through the Psychological and sociological dynamics of human nature, both as created and as fallen.
People must become aware that this church exists. This may be brought about by advertising as one possibility. Regular newspaper advertising, radio or TV spots, various mailings, will keep the church in the public eye. Even telemarketing has a place-about which more will be said later.
An alert pastor can cultivate good relations with the religion editor of the local newspaper through whom judiciously written and timely news stories can occasionally find their way into the paper.
People will become aware of the church through neat, well-located signs. They will also be attracted to the church by beautifully kept lawns and buildings. A prominent location will multiply this awareness.
To a limited extent a community-wide awareness and stock of goodwill accrue through the recitals, cantatas, pageants, concerts, and films (missionary or evangelistic) that constitute a path of a church’s ministry to its own people. However, if a pastor relies on these events as his primary mode of outreach, he may be springing a booby trap on himself. It is an easy way to get people in, which in the long run may prove to be a cheapie way. For in time people will come to see this church as a glorified religious Chatauqua-a wholesome, pleasant, upbeat entertainment center. The spiritual power will be diluted (if present at all) and people sedated into religious blahs. The more Sunday services are diverted from preaching the Word the more the people’s appetites will be perverted, and the less interest they will have in the Word. To resort weakly to this easy method of operating a church is already a confession of failure. While occasional special attractions may foster awareness and lead to valuable contacts, an
excessive dependency on this mode of church growth will produce a house of cards not a New Testament ecclesia.
The best awareness is that which comes by word of mouth: neighbors, fellow-workers, other patients in hospitals. “Yes, I’ve heard of that church,” is the first signal of awareness; and thousands of people in the area should be able to say that, and say it with a smile.
PASTORAL PUBLIC RELATIONS
If pastors are pushy, demanding, and crotchety in their dealings with newspaper editors and other media persons, or if they or their associates do not know how to write, they will create antagonism and close this door. But let the pastor think of these people as human beings who need him more than he needs them. He should cultivate warm, friendly relations with them not as a means of serving them but as a means of serving them, his church, and the community.
One pastor, whose church benefited by far more newspaper space than was their share, was asked his secret. He said, “When I came to town, I immediately introduced myself to various editors. I got to know them on a first-name basis. There is not a week that I have not had some association with them-playing golf, having coffee, or even sending flowers to their wives.”
That may be going too far in “kissing the Blarney stone,” but the principle is sound: cultivate these persons. These are days when in some quarters the hostility between media and church is barely checked beneath a thin veneer of civility. While the pastor must be willing to take moral stands openly, and must never stoop to fawning over media people (which will prompt them to despise him in their hearts), he does not need to allow an adversarial relationship to develop by his own bungling. After all, they hold the trump card of publicity. If they get it in for a pastor, they can ruin him.
If a pastor cannot work with all Th heads of newspapers, radio, and TV in his city, let him find two or three persons of clout with whom he can safely be intimate. They will guide him-without attempting to compromise him-and at times run interference. There are Christian media people. Pastors should know them, lean on them, and listen to them-certainly never take advantage of them or embartass them. When a Journalist or radio person burns his fingers a time or two coming to the aid of clergy who prove unworthy, even the best of them become wary and frosty.
Business people-including media professionals are supersensitive to trickiness in the clergy. Their own practices may be far from lily white, but they idealize men of the cloth. This is one reason they hound a case of dereliction to death. Their rage and cynicism is the backhand of disappointment. They would Like to think that there is at least one profession that is honest and genuine all the way through. When they are let down by the clergy, they are more bitter than they would be with the same hanky-panky in doctors or lawyers.
Furthermore, it is the fine points of ethics that these observers are sensitive about. IRS agents can testify to the sloppy thinking and shady practices uncovered among clergy-many of whom profess to be honest; but their kind of honesty does not meet the fine points of the law. Bankers, also, could tell some tales. The issues that trouble them are not blank lies, just verbal padding. Not robbing the bank, but misleading it. One banker became interested in a church and began attending. In fact, he became a close confidant and advisor to the pastor. For two years they worked closely on a number of projects. But gradually the banker withdrew and dissociated himself completely from that church. He confided to a friend that he became disillusioned by the case with which the pastor could resort to strategies in dealing with his people, which kept some facts and objectives under the table. Yet the young pastor was a devout man, who would not have viewed his own methods as being manipulative or questionable. The world often thinks more logically about these matters than we do. The banker knew that all sorts of trickery go on daily in the business world, but he did not expect to find a Christian pastor operating on that level.
If, therefore, a pastor would succeed in a community, let him cultivate alienable public relations; but above all, so conduct himself that he will earn among people of the world a good name. A “good name” is still “more desirable than great riches” (Prov. 22:1)–
or high salaries or fine parsonages.
Face-to-face contacts between pastor and unchurched folk are of two kinds: planned and unplanned, purposeful and casual.
1. Casual contacts should be taking place every day and can occur anywhere. Some pastors are more gifted than others with an outgoing personality. It is easy for them to pass the time of day and chat a bit. Their warmth is so natural that it is irresistible. People feel at ease and respond in kind. Every such contact breaks down barriers, dissipates fears and prejudices, and conditions persons toward future more purposeful contacts.
In a way this ability to create rapport almost instantly is one of a pastor’s greatest assets. It opens doors into hearts and homes.
Pastors who by nature are reserved and shy must cultivate the art of bonhomie. For hundreds of casual but pleasant contacts mean hundreds of friends, and generate receptivity everywhere. Later when these persons are in the hospital, or called on purposefully, the receptivity is already there.
A pastor thus spreads his or her influence through a whole community by casual contacts. They may take place in barber shops, elevators, stores, on the street, anywhere. So important is this that the pastor who really wants to reach people had better be out among them every day, in all kinds of settings.
And let him be properly attired and mind his manners. But behind the manners must be human kindness which radiates in unmistakable genuineness. People were drawn to Jesus-children, women, sinners. Yes, men too. Why shouldn’t they be drawn to a pastor not primarily as a pastor, at first, but as a man or a woman.
2- Purposeful contacts especially depend on receptivity for their success. If a person is open toward a pastor and is glad to see him, half the battle is won. Every such purposeful contact can deepen confidence, nourish friendship, and nudge him Just a little closer to a decision for Christ.
A purposeful contact is a conversation that a pastor has in his role as a minister and with a religious objective in mind. It may take
place in a hospital room, an office, the pastor’s study, a home. It may be instigated in a variety of ways-a call from the person himself, or from a friend or relative, a church member who knows the need, or from something read in the newspaper.
Even though the pastor may have met these persons and established a bond of friendliness, their receptivity now, in this more formal situation, is uncertain. Therefore, while the pastor should be straightforward, he should be cautious and tactful.
A STRUCTURAL APPROACH TO IDENTIFYING PROSPECTS
An alert pastor will not lack for prospects. They will multiply like rabbits, if he simply follows flow lines and access points.
1. A flow line is the natural current of interest fanning out through relatives, fellow-workers, and neighbors. Very few are without this flow of influence toward someone-wife, husband, cousins, employees, out through the human relationships that bind people together. They are conductors of spiritual power in many different directions. Let the pastor follow this flow. One person is converted. He is the line to his family and to his social circle. All of these persons in the flow line hear about the change in him. They are shocked, pleased, skeptical, scornful, or wistful. But they are curious. Follow the flow line to these people.
2. An access point or handle is an event or structure which opens doors. The Sunday school roll is a gold mine of access points. Every child on the roll is an entree into that child’s home. Absentees provide opportunities to show the kind of love and interest that families find irresistible. A hospital call is an access point, either to other patients or the patient’s family. And what a plethora of access points arc afforded by funerals and weddings. Every such event extends a pastor’s influence. His name and face become known to more people, friendly responsive feelings are generated, and contact opportunities multiply exponentially, probably far beyond the pastor’s ability to pursue. Any pastor worth his salt who really wants to teach people will soon be loaded with notes and names.
REACHING YOUNG PARENTS
I have mentioned the Sunday school roll as a source of access points. This should include the home department and the cradle roll. Especially is the cradle roll a method ” made in heaven-” Young parents are perhaps more receptive than any other group. They are profoundly moved and sobered as they look into the helpless, innocent face of their firstborn. A new surge of responsibility grips them. No matter how far from God their present lifestyle may be, they instinctively feel a burst of desire to be good parents. If at this time an alert cradle roll supervisor asks to enroll the baby, rate is the mother who (if not already actively church connected) will not leap at the opportunity, usually with the approval of the young father.
Suddenly, and so simply, a church connection has been established. If the cradle roll supervisor is on the job, she will be in that home monthly (at least), inquiring, admiring, extending help, and leaving the provided literature. Likely, the young mother will begin thinking of this as her church, even though she may never have set foot in the door. Sooner or later she will-when Cradle Roll Day comes, for sure; and her husband will follow. Sooner or later, also, occasions will arise For the pastor to be drawn into this little circle. If no one blows it, the probable outcome will be a family reached for Christ and the church.
In three of this writer’s pastorates, the cradle roll, conducted by his wife (the most logical person always, if possible), constituted a
substantial section of the overall ministry, and accounted for an impressive percentage of the statistical gains. But my wife knew how to do it. She was a friend to the mothers, and faithful to them in their typical young-mother problems. The literature was not only distributed, but explained. For the first birthday of each child she made a small cake, topped it with a tiny candle, and delivered it to the home, with suitable fanfare. Often this would be the occasion for the pastor-her husband-to put in his appearance. So if the pastor had not become involved before, he was now. The upshot was that in many cases it was only a matter of time until not only was the child’s name on the cradle roll but the parents’ names were on the church roll.
THE DOOR OF TROUBLE
The most poignant kind of access point is trouble. While being a caring people and a caring pastor does not define the extent of our mission as holiness churches, it is part of that mission. Trouble is often the first point of solid contact. When people are overwhelmed, beyond their ability to cope, they will welcome an extended hand, whether the hand belongs to a Mormon, Catholic, or Wesleyan. They are heartsick, bewildered, trapped. The problem may be domestic, physical, legal, financial. Maybe they have never given the church a thought. But now they are glad for the preacher to involve himself, for in him (and in his people) they see hope.
This may not yet be conviction of sin. It is not necessarily repentance. It is stark need. A man out of work with hungry mouths to
feed, a mother who has no way to get to the hospital to see her sick child, a battered wife, the parents of a runaway, or a pregnant
teenager do not need sermons, yet. They need love and understanding on a practical nuts-and-bolts level. If these persons are handled correctly, conviction, conversion, and assimilation may unfold down the line. Their spiritual welfare will of course always be the uppermost concern of a true man or woman of God.
Helping people in trouble is often a test of a pastor’s motives. Let him pray that God will so wash his eyes with tears of real compassion that he will not see (1) this merely as a golden opportunity to reach those elusive conference goals; or (2) conversely, be tempted to ignore the need because “these are not the sort we want in our church. ” While it is proper to think normally of “reaching people” in terms of both conversion and church membership, let us not be coldly calculating and self-serving in our proffered or withheld benevolence. We may reach some people for heaven by helping them in their hour of deep need without ever getting them into our church.
(The original source and/or publisher of the above material is unknown.)
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