TRAINING VISITOR FOLLOW-UP WORKERS
All visitation has several elements in common-elements that should be discussed in preparation for visitation. In some instances these elements can be shared in writing; at other times they should be
discussed in a group setting. They are as follows:
3. An accepting attitude
4. A conviction that people need the gospel
Prayer is the single essential element of every activity engaged in by the church and its members. This is especially true of evangelistic visitation. The apostle Paul told the Corinthians that he planted the seed and Apollos watered it, “but God made it grow” (1 Corinthians 3:6). He advises the Colossians, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our
message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should” (Colossians 4:2-4).
Evangelistic visitors are utterly dependent upon God to give the increase. Strengthened and supported by prayer, callers can go out knowing they are partners with God in the great gospel harvest. But God expects to be asked to give the harvest. He will honor the prayers of the harvesters.
It is important to pray for the callers. Whether they are calling once a year or on a weekly basis, they always face a number of unknowns: Will they be put on the spot with questions they cannot answer? Will someone be angry at them for interrupting a quiet evening at home? Will they be made to feel like fools? Will they
conduct themselves as worthy representatives of Jesus Christ! It is only as such fears are laid to rest before the God of all grace that courage returns.
Prayer for the people on whom the church calls is also important. In most cases they will not know beforehand that they are to have visitors. They are often unprepared to be invited to a church activity, to give information about themselves, or to consider the direction of their lives. Only God can prepare
their hearts and arrange for a “divine appointment” so that afterward they say, “Those people came at exactly the right time.” Experienced evangelism callers have often found that they called on a person just when that person needed such a visit. This is the Holy Spirit’s work in answer to prayer.
Prayer restores perspective. There are always more things to be done in the church than there is time to do them. Frequently this means that members’ needs will be met while unbelievers’ needs are neglected. When the church asks, “Lord, hat would you have us do?” God calls the church back to its priorities-one of which is to love one’s neighbors and invite them to the heart and home of God. Prayer gives the church new
vision for this great task and thus enables callers to do their work with renewed energy and the confidence that they are doing the work of God.
Finally, prayer enables callers to make their visits with a positive, expectant attitude. God will answer; the work will bear fruit! The callers can affirm with Paul, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord” (2 Timothy 1:7-8). Those who go out in such a spirit will often be surprised at what God has in store for them and will return from their visits with thanksgiving and praise. A church demonstrates its emphasis on prayer in the following ways:
* The devotional practices of members engaged in evangelism calling will be urgent, fervent, and frequent.
* Congregational prayers from the pulpit will regularly mention the work of missions and evangelism.
* Prayer groups in the church will remember the evangelism callers by name as well as those on whom they call.
* Every evangelism caller will have one or more prayer partners who hear regular reports and pray for the specific needs of the person with whom they are in partnership.
* Whenever possible, callers will give a brief report after each calling period. Together they will join in thanksgiving to God for his grace and strength.
A calling program or a single visitation drive needs a definite objective. The church should decide in advance why it is doing this calling, what results it expects, and what it is going to do with the results. When specific objectives are set, the church will know afterwards whether or not it has been successful. If the objective has been reached, celebrate and thank God! If the objective has not been reached, the church
should still celebrate and give thanks for what has been accomplished and carefully analyze what happened and why, so that on a future occasion corrections can be made.
Once a church sets the objective it should write an action plan, make assignments, and recruit people. It is much easier to recruit and train people when everyone knows what is expected of them, what the objectives are, and how much time the assignment will require.
Following is an example of clear objectives and a well-planned program.
Fellowship Church has an active Coffee Break and Story Hour program (evangelistic Bible study for women with a children’s program). In addition, the church wants to start one or more Men’s Life groups (evangelistic Bible study for men). Several women have dropped out of the Coffee Break program, leading the church to decide it needs a major effort to recruit new participants. Its objectives, therefore, are to recruit at least ten new Coffee Break participants and five Men’s Life participants. The objective is to be accomplished by a visit to every home in a designated area with an invitation.
The action plan calls for thirty teams of callers to visit homes in the community on the Sunday afternoon before Coffee Break and Men’s Life begin. A small committee is appointed to design and print doorknob hangers, map out the blocks to be visited, and recruit the callers. Each assignment has a deadline. The
recruitment is accomplished by means of an information sheet that describes the need and the responsibility of each calling team. Members can sign up by signing a sheet posted in an appropriate place
in the church or by calling a designated coordinator.
When the Sunday for calling approaches, members offer prayers from the pulpit and again in the afternoon when the calling teams come together. Teams receive last-minute instructions and assignments; they are to ring doorbells and extend a personal invitation along with the printed one. If no one is at home, the callers are to leave printed information on the doorknob. In the Sunday evening service, the pastor thanks the callers and offers prayer for those who received the invitations.
The above is an example of what actually happened in one congregation. As a result, ten new women and some children came the following Wednesday morning. No new participants came to the Men’s Life group, however. This confirmed previous indications that women who are at home during the day can be recruited by means of a visitation program, but men are usually recruited only by personal invitation from someone they already know.
Fellowship Church set objectives, planned and prepared well, and contacted well over 1,000 homes. The church slipped, however, when the following week’s Sunday bulletin did not thank those who came out or report the results.
A church can write similar objectives and action plans for a community survey, new resident visitation, worship visitor follow-up, and so on.
An Accepting Attitude
This is one of the most difficult lessons to learn. Many believers find it difficult to adopt an attitude that does not judge those on whom they call for their sins and weaknesses, but instead empathizes with people and announces good news. People are responsible for the moral decisions they make, but until they become Christians they have few standards to go by and no power to choose what is right and pleasing to God. The Holy Spirit-not human persuasion convicts people of sin and leads them in obedient listening to God’s Word.
Evangelistic callers sometimes encounter situations and circumstances of which they cannot approve. They must learn, however, to look beyond the circumstances to the person and minister with love and concern to that person. Frequently such persons will already feel guilty; there is no need for the visitor to add to that guilt. Instead, effective visitors think of themselves as bearers of the good news of Jesus Christ, who
can deliver people from darkness. The temptation to “tell unbelievers like it is” should be replaced by the urge to tell what life could be like when Christ is at the center and grace triumphs over sin.
A Conviction that People Need the Gospel
There are many things that motivate the church to share with others the good news of Jesus Christ: the grace experienced through Jesus’ death and resurrection, daily gratitude, and the growth that the Master expects. Common to all these is the conviction that people need the gospel. They need to hear it, see it in action, believe it, and experience its power in their own lives. The only way to life is through the gospel, for “it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).
As gospel stewards, believers possess an infallible instrument that can deliver all who hear and believe. To deny one’s neighbor the privilege of hearing this gospel and seeing it in action is to withhold the greatest solution to their needs. Love and obedience spur the church on to use every possible means to reach the lost.
These convictions must be engraved on the hearts and minds of church visitors. This will give urgency to their task and help them overlook the disappointments and frustrations that may be a part of any calling program. Where such convictions are lacking, churches will find it difficult to recruit church members for visitation and the calling that does take place will lack the edge of genuine concern.
The caller who has adopted a positive and accepting attitude toward people and who longs to share with them the good news has taken the fundamental steps toward caring about people in a Christian way. From this base the church goes on to see people as entire persons who experience a variety of needs. Longtime believers sometimes take for granted that the church is a community of believers that often cares for its members in such a complete way that all their basic needs are met. But the unchurched do not have such a caring network and therefore have many unmet needs.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow summarized basic human needs in what is often called Maslow’s hierarchy of motivational values. At the bottom of this hierarchy are physical needs: bread on the table, a roof over one’s head, and a basic level of health. People will direct all their energies to meeting these needs when they are evident. Next are safety needs: people look for security, for freedom from fear, anxiety, and chaos. A person in danger of being shot will look for cover before thinking about the soul’s eternal welfare.
These two basic levels of need are taken care of in the fellowship of believers as people care for one another, help one another, and pray for one another. Sometimes the church’s deacons will be involved. The early church recognized the importance of meeting these needs when it appointed the first deacons (Acts
6). The church’s mission program has frequently included food programs, medical help, and community development. God cares for the whole person, and gospel communication includes practical demonstration of this care.
A third level of human need is for love and belonging: people need a group where they belong and feel comfortable. Human beings were not created to live alone but in community, in which love and affection can be given and received. There is much hatred, sadness, and hurt in the world; but these can be at least partially eased by belonging to a group in which one feels at home. The fourth level of human need is for esteem: people need to receive recognition from others. They want to feel significant and needed. That is why most people object to being identified by a number or simply by race or nationality. This human need for individual recognition motivates people to achieve something or to be competent in at least one area.
The gospel speaks to these two levels of need. God loves even sinners and places them in the fellowship of the church. He gives them at least one spiritual gift so that they can excel in some ministry. In Jesus Christ, God bestows high honor: believers are ordained as prophets, priests, and kings.
Maslow’s highest level of human need is self-actualization: people working to realize their inner potential, destiny, and purpose. A Christian perspective sees this as grace working its daily miracles in the lives of believers so that they rise above their fallen nature and, living in the assurance of forgiveness, express their
new nature as the royal sons and daughters of the King.
Others have pointed out that parallel with the need of self-actualization are two other needs: the need to know and understand ourselves and the world we live in plus the need for order and beauty. Believers satisfy the need to understand through the sermons they hear and the educational ministries of the church. The need for order and beauty is at least partially satisfied in worship services that take place in a pleasant sanctuary and a carefully planned liturgy in which music has a prominent role.
Why is an understanding of these human needs important to evangelism and to evangelistic visitation in particular? George Hunter (The Contagious Congregation) says that “effective communication of the gospel begins with a demonstration of its relevance. Human beings have many motives, but Christianity is armed with a multi-faceted gospel, and every basic human need or motive is matched by some distinguishable facet of the gospel-which is one of the reasons why the gospel is good news.”
Therefore the church must keep human needs in mind when designing its evangelistic strategy. Evangelistic callers make sure they are ready to talk to people in terms of their desires. This means being sensitive to people as human beings with unique problems and desires. Visitors work hard at getting to know those on whom they call. Visitation is never a matter of barging in with the gospel but of seeking to help people and minister to them. It involves the church’s entire resources-material as well as spiritual-so that people can hear the gospel in the context of love for the whole person.
It is often said that in evangelistic conversation the ear is more important than the mouth. Research has demonstrated that the caller who comes across as a teacher will have few converts; the caller who comes across as a salesperson will have more converts, but many of these will not pursue the confession they have made. The caller who comes across as a friend, however, will have converts who maintain their new profession. One of the chief characteristics of the friendship conversation is sympathetic listening, focusing on the other person in order to discover what makes the good news good for that person.
Listening is a skill that can be learned with a little practice. A caller’s ability and willingness to listen may mean the difference between a visit in which no relationship is established and one in which relationship is established and an opportunity presented to explain the good news on this or a subsequent visit. The basic skill in listening is to determine the feelings expressed in a statement and to respond to the feeling in a way that encourages further explanation.
In evangelistic visitation, visitors will meet all kinds of circumstances and problems that require careful,
nonjudgmental Listening: marital breakup, alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, bitterness toward the church, and so on. A person may say, I went to church one time. What a ridiculous sermon! He
talked about some guy who was swallowed by a big fish. Church is a big joke. Or, You’re from the church? I’m not interested. My brother-in-law is a church member, but he’s too good to come here because my
boyfriend and I live together.
The temptation to defend, preach, warn, advise, lecture, judge, or humor will be strong. What is needed, however, is a response that communicates openness to further conversation without prejudging anyone or any situation.
Listening requires that the visitor try to stand in the shoes of the other person. Can you think like that person! Enter into that person’s world with all its pain and emotion?
Careful listeners will sometimes discover circumstances and needs that are beyond their ability to deal with. In such cases they will seek to bring someone else into the picture if there is openness for a return visit, or refer the person to another source of help.
An excellent initial training program in effective listening is the three-hour workshop Stop! Love and Listen (available from Church Development Resources).
After the callers have listened carefully and tried to discern the needs of the people they are visiting, they will need to respond. Of course, the visitors will have made comments during the discussion, but at the end of the discussion they must decide what message to leave at that point in the relationship. Perhaps the time is right to begin an explanation of the gospel; more often, however, the callers will offer to help in some concrete way or suggest a church program that may be helpful. Sometimes it may be appropriate to refer the person to another church or agency. Or the caller may offer to research the resources that are available and return for a second visit with the information. Even saying “I don’t know how to respond” can be an honest way to advance the relationship. There are times when the most appropriate response is a simple “Thank you.” This especially happens when the visit is simply to elicit information or when the visitors discover that those they call on are already believers and active members of a congregation. In such cases no return visit is necessary.
The temptation is to bring a message-to preach. On the first visit, however, the primary “message” to bring is that the church and its members are genuinely interested in their neighbors. Experienced and sensitive visitors soon learn to discern when it is appropriate to give a step-by-step gospel presentation.
An important principle to observe here is that the caller’s response should be phrased in such a way that the door of this home remains open to the caller and, hopefully, to the church. One of the most significant things a visit accomplishes is an open door to continue the conversation in the future.
The gospel is a declaration of what God has done in Jesus Christ and, at the same time, an invitation to new life. Even where the situation is not ripe for a formal explanation of the gospel, the caller can usually give some kind of invitation. If the visitation is simply to elicit information or to complete a survey, the caller can offer an invitation to visit the worship services of the church. At other times the entire purpose of the visitation may be to invite people to a particular activity.
Sometimes the invitation may be spoken; at other times it may come in the form of a written pamphlet about the church and its ministry, a gospel pamphlet, or a complete gospel presentation. Whatever form it takes, an invitation of some kind can be a part of every visit.
All evangelistic visitation should be marked by an unfailing courtesy and cheerfulness. Visitors represent Jesus Christ; they should remember that a person may judge Christ and the church by the impression they leave. Callers should thank even the person who expresses no interest at all in the church and its message. A brief but courteous conversation may lead to further interest in the church.
This same rule of unfailing courtesy precludes arguing with people. Though visitors may be sorely tempted in some occasions, they do well to suppress that urge. Guests do not argue with their host. Even if they win the argument, the door will be closed more firmly than ever before.
In conclusion, characteristics of an effective visit are the following:
* Brevity – especially when the visit is unannounced. In some cultures it would be impolite to pay only a brief visit. In North America, however, only very good friends can expect to drop in and stay a while. If the initial visit is brief, the possibility of future visits is greater.
* Courtesy. Visitors do not engage in arguments; they avoid excessive familiarity or probing into personal circumstances.
* Bridge building. The gospel is heard best when presented in terms of the hearers’ needs and in a relationship of mutual trust.
* An open door for a return visit. Since friendship is a key to gospel communication, a visit is successful when another visit is welcomed. The return visit can be arranged in advance or left open.
* Genuine concern. The focus of the visit is the person’s needs rather than church’s or the caller’s needs. In other words, the church asks, “Is there something we can do for you?”
Every kind of visitation requires training. Sometimes the training is very simple. For example, recruiting children for vacation Bible school requires only a pamphlet, a clear description of the area each person is to cover, and a couple of role plays. In fact, this kind of calling seems so easy that leaders may offer no preparation at all. That would be a mistake, however, since everyone feels more at ease with at least some instruction. People also volunteer more willingly if they are promised clear instructions and training.
Other kinds of calling require extensive training. Programs such as Evangelism Explosion, Congregational Evangelism Training, and Night of Caring require up to sixteen weeks of training while visitation is going on. Such training is valuable not only for harpening one’s evangelistic skills but also for spiritual growth. One disadvantage of such a program is that callers may feel compelled to make as many gospel presentations as possible for the sake of learning the presentation. One strength, however, is that training takes place not only in a classroom setting but also while doing the calling: trainees always go out with an experienced caller who demonstrates how it is done. This is excellent training for any kind of evangelistic
This manual can be put to good use in training sessions where the calling group spends forty-five minutes to an hour systematically going through each chapter. Frequent role-playing will strengthen such classroom training and produce skilled callers, who in turn can train others.