How to Organize an Effective Visitation Program
Larry L. Lewis
Organized visitation is a must. If people are simply left to their own to visit at their convenience, little will be done.
Lee Roberson, the Chattanooga pastor mentioned in chapter 2, was asked to come to a large, but dying church for a workers’ rally.
“Tell me about your visitation program,” Dr. Roberson asked. “When do your people meet for visitation?”
“Oh,” said the pastor, “we don’t have a scheduled visitation program as such. We have prospect cards available here at the church, and the visitors come by at their convenience.”
“Now for the $64-question,” Dr. Roberson continued. “How many came by for a card last week?”
“Only four,” replied the disheartened pastor.
A survey conducted by the Research and Statistics Department of the Baptist Sunday School Board indicates only 8.6 percent of Southern Baptist churches have any kind of organized, systematic witnessing program (H. Joe Denney and Jesse D. McElreach, 70 Onward, Church and Associational Phases, Baptist Sunday School Board, p. 15).
Could this be the reason baptisms are down, Sunday school enrollments and attendance are decreasing and Southern Baptists are reporting a decline in nearly every area? No wonder the average Southern Baptist church baptized only 10 persons per year, and more than 5,000 churches reported no baptisms at all.
A Systematic Program
Pastor, do you have a planned, systematic personal program of visitation and witnessing? How many visits do you plan to make every day? How many every week? What particular hours do you set aside each day and every week for visitation and soul-winning? (Robert G. Witty, Church Visitation Theory and Practice, Broadman Press, p.33)
Every pastor should plan to make at least 30 personal visits, every week. Perhaps as many as half of these will be pastoral visits – delinquent members, homebound, bereaved, hospital patients.
But at least half (15 or more) should be evangelistic, soul/ winning visits to the unsaved and the unchurched. Any pastor who will do this consistently will surely be responsible for winning many to Christ every year.
At a recent state evangelistic conference, a speaker asked those present (mostly pastors) how many had spent at least one hour the previous week talking to someone about the Lord. Of this crowd of more than 500, only 13 raised their hands. Yet, probably every one of them would agree that witnessing and winning souls is the most important work any pastor or any Christian can do.
Work of the Church
In his book A Quest for Vitality in Religion, Findley B. Edge draws a distinction between “the work of the church” and “church work” (Broadman Press, p.78). “Church work” is the humdrum routine of necessary, but often superficial, administrative tasks.
After all, someone has to meet with the flower committee, get the church bus inspected, mimeograph the church bulletin, and take Sunday’s deposits to the bank. Why not the pastor? Isn’t that what he’s paid to do?
On the other hand, “the work of the church” is to do what Jesus would be doing if He were “in the flesh” in your community. “And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the Gospel… and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Matt. 9:35). This, then, is what your church – and you, Pastor – should be doing.
Did you ever go to the bank and find the president running the mimeograph machine? It’s not that he’s too good to run the mimeo, or feels that it’s beneath him. Rather, he’s simply too busy; he’s got far more important things to do. True, the mimeo has to be run, but let others do it. Let the pastor give himself to study, to prayer, and to witnessing.
Some will say, “Shepherds aren’t supposed to produce sheep; sheep produce sheep. My job is to ‘equip the saints,’ then let them do it.” True, but every shepherd should remember he is also a sheep.
What is expected of every Christian must be demanded of every pastor. Sheep will never go anywhere the shepherd doesn’t lead them. Pastor, don’t ever think your people are going to be soul-winners if you’re not a soul-winner. Don’t think your deacons and Sunday school workers are going to visit if they don’t see you visiting regularly and often (Witty, Church Visitation, p.33).
Did Jesus think witnessing was important? Did He Himself set the example? Notice Him with Nicodemus, the woman of Sychar, and the rich young ruler. Notice how carefully He instructed the Twelve, then the seventy, before He sent them out two-by-two. Notice how He required that they return with a report and how He carefully evaluated the results (Luke 10:1- 20).
Apparently the Apostles put a high priority on visitation and witnessing. In Acts 2:46-47, Luke said that the Christians continued “daily with one accord in the temple … breaking bread from house to house … praising God, and having favor with all the people.” Luke added, “They … went every where preaching” (Acts 8:4) and soon had “filled Jerusalem” with their doctrine (Acts 5:28), and had “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).
The Apostle Paul reminded the elders from Ephesus, “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you…. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:18, 20, NIV). The spirit of this great apostle is revealed in Acts 20:31: “I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears” (my). For this reason alone, he could boldly acclaim, “I am innocent of the blood of all men” (Acts 20:26). Thank God for that kind of witness and that kind of witnessing!
Types of Visits
C.S. Lovett categorizes three types of visitation approaches in Visitation Made Easy, Personal Christianity, pp. 3-7.
1. The self -centered visit. The self-centered visit is the initial contact which seeks to win the person’s friendship and confidence. Before you can win someone to Jesus, you must first win him to yourself. He must like you, believe in you, and know you are sincere.
“Howdy, stranger; are you saved?” is not an approach that wins many people to Christ. An expression of genuine concern for the person is a prerequisite to a successful witness.
2. The church-centered visit. The church-centered visit is primarily an effort to win people to the church or the church program. It is the Sunday school teacher inviting a prospect to her class. It is the deacon trying to “pack his pew” or the pastor inviting newcomers to the services. It may be a concerned neighbor inviting friends to church, or a bus captain seeking to fill his bus.
Much can and should be said in support of this approach. “Enlistment Evangelism” has been and probably will continue to be the most popular and fruitful means of reaching people for Christ and for meaningful church membership. Some have estimated that more than 80 percent of those saved and baptized in Baptist churches are reached through the Sunday school.
When a spiritually lost person, regardless of age, is persuaded to come to church, a great victory has been won already. If the Bible is faithfully taught and preached, it will undoubtedly make an impact. “My Word … shall not return unto Me void” (Isa. 55:11).
Use any means necessary, but get these unsaved people under the sound of the Gospel. Use goals, campaigns, contests, special days, and giveaways, but get them to church.
3. The Christ-centered visit. Although much good can result from the self-centered and church-centered visits, these are not the highest levels or finest types of visitations. Perfecting the art of the “Christ-centered” visit should be the goal of every Christian.
When the disciples returned, after having been sent out two-by-two, they happily exclaimed: “Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name” (Luke 10:17, NIV). They did not say “in the name of the church” or “in the name of the Sunday school class.” The devils were subject to them “in Jesus’ name.”
Oh, what power there is in the name of Jesus! “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,” said Peter, “rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6). “If you shall ask anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:14). The Apostle Paul tells of a day when every knee shall bow at the name of Jesus (Phil. 2:10-11).
When you visit, talk about Jesus. Tell people of His love for them. Tell them that, even though they are lost and undone, Christ died for them and wants to save them from their sins. Show them, in the Bible, how they can receive Christ personally. Invite them to pray, asking Jesus to come into their hearts and forgive their sins. Offer to lead them in a simple “sinner’s prayer.”
Bill Bright of Campus Crusade has coined this simple definition of successful witnessing “Successful witnessing is sharing Christ in the power of the Spirit and leaving the results to God.”
Yes, if you’ve shared Jesus, you have been a successful witness, whether or not the person visited has been saved. Go your way rejoicing and simply leave the rest to God.
People left on their own to visit at their convenience will seldom visit at all. For a church’s visitation program to be successful, it must he organized and scheduled.
This is not to say “lifestyle evangelism” (witnessing anywhere, anytime, to anybody) is not a valid concept. Certainly it is. Surely, Spirit-filled Christians will want to make an impact for Christ always and everywhere.
However, in order for ripe prospects to be contacted, visitors followed up on, newcomers invited to the services, unsaved Sunday School members reached for Christ, and church growth experienced, there must be an organized, systematic visitation program. Haphazard, catch-what-may approaches will not get the job done.
Here are some approaches used successfully by many churches. No church will want to use all of them, but every church should use some of them.
1. Ladies’ visitation. Why not have a morning or afternoon each week when the ladies are urged to visit? Be sure to provide child care for the babies and children. Hire a sitter. It may be the best money you’ve ever spent. Possibly, you will want to plan refreshments or even a weekly luncheon for this group of faithful visitors.
2. Recreation visitation. Why not have an evening each week for youth visitation? Or perhaps Saturday morning might work better. Make the assignments, let the young people visit for an hour or so, then return to the church, with those visited, for directed recreation.
3. General visitation. Men and women should attend a general visitation session one night each week. Be sure to have up-to-date, ripe-prospect cards ready for assignment.
Again, it is important to provide child care for babies and children. Be sure to have visitors return to the church for a report time and refreshments.
4. Bus workers’ visitation. Most churches experiencing real success in the bus ministry require all bus workers to visit at least four hours every week (William A. Powell, Church Bus Evangelism, Woodlawn Baptist Church, Decatur, Ga., pp. 191-193). They visit everybody enrolled every week, plus spend some time enlisting new riders. Is it any wonder bus ministries have doubled and even tripled attendance in many churches?
Bus ministry visitation is usually conducted Saturdays from 10:00 A.M. until 2:00 P.M. All bus workers, especially captains and co-captains, should be required to visit.
5. Sunday school visitation. Every outreach leader in youth and adult classes should be given three to five minutes every Sunday morning to make visitation assignments and receive reports from the previous Sunday. Make your Sunday school a “reaching” as well as a “teaching” organization.
6. Sunday afternoon “blitz”. Periodically, perhaps the Sunday before every revival campaign, have a “visitation blitz.” Provide a light lunch for the people in the church fellowship hall. While they are eating, give some simple instructions and make assignments. They can turn in reports Sunday evening. Be sure to provide child care. This approach also works well for a survey effort or “Action.”
7. Zoned visitation. In large metropolitan areas, some churches have successfully used the “zoned visitation” idea. Here the city is divided into several zones with a host home in each zone.
On visitation night members who live in that area go to the host home for assignments and return there for reports. A staff member, or other designated person, meets with the group, makes assignments, and presides over the report time.
8. Reproductive evangelism. Probably one of the best approaches for witness training and involvement is the reproductive evangelism plan. This program is outlined in detail by D. James Kennedy in his book, Evangelism Explosion (Tyndale House, pp.1-21). Many others have modified and adapted the plan to their particular situations. Literally thousands o effective soul-winners have been enlisted and trained by this approach.
The plan consists of 13 weeks of training coupled with actual, directed field experience. At the completion of the training period, the trainee becomes a trainer in the reproductive evangelism program.
For the next term, and thereafter, each trainer seeks to enlist at least one trainee. He sits with him during the 45-minute class session, then takes him out visiting for one-and-a-half hours. The trainee observes the trainer as he witnesses personally to the unsaved prospect, assisting as silent partner and prayer warrior.
Reproductive evangelism sessions can be held in the mornings or afternoons for ladies, in the evenings for men, or on Saturdays or even Sundays. Hundreds of churches have come alive and found unparalleled church growth as a result of reproductive evangelism programs.
Of course, there are many approaches to visitation equally as effective: Deacon visitation, Training Union visitation, Fishermen’s Clubs for men, and many others. How sad, then, that so few churches have any organized visitation.
A pastor was visiting a fellow pastor at his church on a Thursday evening. As usual only a faithful few were present for the Thursday evening visitation session.
“Isn’t this terrible?” the visiting pastor said. “A big church like yours, and so few present for visitation. That’s why we don’t have visitation at all in my church. Hardly anybody will come.”
“Well,” said his pastor friend, “poor as it is, I like the way we do it better than the way you don’t do it!”
The truth is, only a few out for visitation will do more good than many out for nearly anything else going on. Someone has said: “The mob is a glob of slob!” Don’t wait for the mob to go visiting. It’s the Master’s Minority that gets the job done!
Article “How to Organize an Effective Visitation Program” 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.”