How to Discover Home Bible Study Prospects
By Larry L. Lewis
Discovering Home Bible Study prospects may be the number-one task in any church’s outreach for the unreached. There is no easy way. But the task must be done and done well if the church is to experience growth.
An up-to-date Home Bible Study prospect file is imperative. Not only should there be a master file for the church’s general visitation, but also a file of some sort for every class and department.
The prospect file should be cared for like a baby—changed when necessary, corrected if needed, and fed constantly. Also, like a baby, it should be loved and protected. Cards represent precious lives demanding concern and attention.
Perhaps one of the best prospect files is the pocket-packet developed by Eugene Skelton. (See Appendix.) This three-ring notebook binder contains a packet for each prospect. The prospect’s name, address, age, and other pertinent information is typed on the packet, with the identical information on a prospect card which slips inside the pocket.
When an assignment is given, the card is removed and handed to the visitor. The pocket remains empty until the card is returned. A notation on the packet indicates the card’s assignee, and a written report reveals the result of the visit. The pocket-Packet can be ordered from the Baptist Sunday School Board, Nashville, Tennessee.
What are some means you can use to find the names and addresses of potential members for your church or Sunday School? Kenneth M. Dean lists 101 different ways for discovering prospects (People Search Guide, Convention Press, pp. 45). Probably, an imaginative, creative person can think of others as well. The following 10 methods are those most frequently and successfully used by many churches of various sizes and kinds.
The Community Census
Every successful pastor should learn the art and the importance of the simple “door-to-door” survey. In this mobile, transient society, the importance and potential of the survey is even more pronounced.
Many churches, especially in urban areas, should plan a complete community survey at least every four years. Perhaps the best approach is to survey one fourth of the community each year.
Who can and should conduct the survey? Ladies, youth groups, lay teams—all make excellent surveyors if properly trained. First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Florida has more than 100 young people canvassing for several hours every Saturday (Homer G. Lindsay, Jr., “How We’re Building a New Testament Church,” Southern Baptist Journal, 1975, p. 32).
A church in New Jersey surveyed more than 7,000 homes one summer.
As in every area of church life, it is important for the pastor to set the example. He should not be reluctant to go with his people “house to house.” Few sheep are likely to go anywhere the shepherd doesn’t lead them.
The telephone survey is a modern approach to an old technique. Most cities produce a crisscross directory listing subscribers by street names and house numbers rather than alphabetically. Such a directory can be purchased (or leased) by the church and given to the telephone canvassers, assigning each one a particular street or section. As many as 20 calls can be made per hour. Of course information on those indicating interest is placed on prospect cards and printed in the appropriate file.
The newest twist to the age-old survey is called “Action.” This approach, developed by Andy Anderson, simply adds to the standard survey a deliberate effort to enroll those contacted in Sunday School.
Anderson believes that people should be enrolled anywhere, anytime they agree (Where Action Is, Broadman Press, pp. 7689). Hundreds of churches have increased both enrollment and attendance, using “Action.”
In his book How to Have a Soul-Winning Church, Gene Edwards says: “The newcomer list is about the most important single necessity to locating evangelistic prospects. It is just about indispensable…. Such a list is available in every town and city in America” (Gospel Publishing House, p. 113).
If it’s not available through the Chamber of Commerce, try the utility and phone companies. If that doesn’t work, try Welcome Wagon or a real estate agent. The company that publishes the city directory may offer a newcomer subscription service for a fee.
If all else fails, go to the county courthouse and get a listing of new owners. However you have to do it, get this list. It is important to the growing church. Three things should be done with the newcomer list:
•A letter of welcome to the community and to your church should be sent to every newcomer. This letter must be attractive and neat, printed rather than mimeographed.
•Someone (perhaps a homebound widow or retired person) should be assigned the task of phoning each newcomer with a personal word of welcome. Prospect cards should be filled out on any who indicate interest in your church.
•Visitation teams should visit those who indicate interest. Let the newcomers know you care and welcome them to your services.
Many have found form letters a tremendous way of discovering prospects. (See Appendix.) As already mentioned, a letter should be sent to every newcomer in your community. Also, a letter of congratulations should be sent to every newly married couple and every couple with a new baby. A letter of sympathy may be sent to anyone suffering the loss of a loved one.
A careful check of the newspaper will provide names and addresses of all such persons. Members of the congregation can be enlisted to assist in this meaningful ministry. Again, homebound members or retirees often are anxious to help.
Each letter should be printed or carefully mimeographed and personally signed. (Perhaps the letter to the bereaved should be typed personally.) You may wish to enclose a Gospel tract and /or a self-addressed, postage-paid reply card. (See Appendix.)
One of the greatest ways of discovering prospects is by meeting needs. The ministering church will always have ripe and ready prospects.
A food pantry, a clothes closet, a job placement service, legal aid, a counseling service, a day care center, a Christian school —these services bring a parade of people to your door. These are people for whom Christ died.
Every ministry should be redemptive. As important as it may be no ministry is complete until those reached are brought to Christ. No one is helped eternally until he is saved.
Is a prospect card made on every person reached through your various ministries?
Do soul-winning teams follow up in an effort to enlist him in Sunday School and win him to Jesus?
One of the most effective means of discovering new prospects and increasing attendance is the bus ministry. Many churches have found this the best means they have ever employed in reaching people. If properly organized, bus workers devote several hours every week discovering prospects and enlisting new riders.
Prospect cards should be made for every unsaved and/or unchurched parent. Sunday School workers and visitation teams must follow up in an effort to enroll these parents in adult classes.
Visitors in Sunday School and Worship
No doubt the “hottest” prospect is the person who has already visited your services, providing his visit was a satisfying experience. Visitor cards should be placed in the hands of every visitor every week, both in Sunday School and worship. Information from the card should be transferred to a prospect card for immediate visitation. In fact, someone should “telephone visit” each visitor that very day.
The pastor himself should personally visit every adult visitor, if at all possible. Visits should be made also by lay teams and Sunday School workers. Don’t let this “hot one” get away! Bombard him with love and concern. Your visits say, “We love you, we need you, we want you!”
Another approach might be called the “inside survey.” Would you dare to go through your present church roll and list as Sunday School prospects all members not now enrolled? Better yet, would you dare to simply enroll them in the proper class and department?
Also, list as prospects any unsaved and /or unchurched family members. The average church probably could increase its prospect files 50 percent by doing this simple survey.
An effective twist to the inside survey is the Sunday School witnessing plan developed by R. Othal Feather (Outreach Evangelism through the Sunday School, Convention Press, pp. 34-42). The heart of this plan is an analysis and assignment meeting.
Here Sunday School workers from every department go through their Sunday School rolls listing every unsaved or unchurched student enrolled (youth and adult) and every unchurched or unsaved parent. Each prospect is then assigned to some church member for visitation and witnessing.
What insurance company or sales organization could exist without referrals? Perhaps the best prospect for any church is that person “somebody knows.”
One church had a “Who Do” Campaign. Every member present was given a “Who Do” card which was filled out and turned in that very day. The card simply inquired,” ‘Who Do’ you know who might be a prospect for our church?” Members gave the names, ages, and addresses of prospects.
Of course, there are many other methods for discovering prospects. You must decide what will work for your church and situation.
“How To Discover Prospects,” excerpted from “Organize to Evangelize” by Larry L. Lewis
“This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”