OUTREACH PRINCIPLES THAT BRING RESULTS
DRAWING THE NET
Jesus said to Simon and Andrew, “I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19). Naturally they would think of fishing in terms of the method with which they were most familiar: using nets. The process would be to spread the net in the water in such a way that the fish would swim into it, then at the proper time drawing it in. Spreading the net is what we have been talking about. Through a complex network of small events people have become encircled by this church’s influence. They rightfully belong to its sphere of outreach. They are part of its “constituency.” By this time they are more or less friendly. They are more or less aware of their spiritual need. They may be attending occasionally or even regularly. No doubt their names are on a list somewhere: pastor’s prospect list, Sunday school roll, home department, youth department, cradle roll. Perhaps they play on a church team.
THE PURPOSEFUL CONTACT
All this is good, but not good enough. The church is after them for Christ. The church seeks their salvation.
Nothing less. It is proper therefore to attend now to the question of drawing the net. Peter and Andrew knew that a fisherman who put his net out and never drew it in was either a fool or playing games. It is not putting out nets that lands fish, but pulling in nets.
Therefore, the pastor and church that would reach people must know when and how to draw the net. The objective is the crisis of sound conversion, when people actually experience the new birth.
The pastor and his people operate in the confidence that, unless fatally resisted, the web of influences which Providence has thrown around these prospects over the months or years will bring them to a readiness for decision. Happy are these people when the circle of significant persons around them have the skill and wisdom to know how to capitalize on this readiness, and bring them to Jesus.
There is no ironclad rule governing this process, excepting one: sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. Since we cannot regiment the Holy
Spirit, we must learn to let Him prompt us. Times, settings, and methods are almost as diverse as the persons to be won. People may be led to Jesus in a hospital, an office (less likely) , their homes, the pastor’s study, or at a public altar.
There is still a place for the traditional revival campaign (see chapter ten). Many who are today solidly in the church can testify that at a certain stage in their spiritual awakening someone persuaded them to attend such a revival meeting, where under clear gospel preaching their hunger crystallized and they found the Lord. The church that abandons this kind of effort loses a powerful weapon in its armory; or to return to the figure of the net, a kind of net which by no means is outmoded. The revival gathers the energies of the entire church into this concentrated endeavor, and provides incentives for lay action in the form of invitations and hospitality, which are not present in the same degree in the usual run of events. Furthermore, the high tide of prayerfulness, public interest, and emotional excitement that mark a well-conducted revival contribute to bringing to white heat the conviction of the unconverted.
As tempting as it is however to discuss revival methods, at this point we need to focus on the pastor in his own net management. We have previously mentioned the pastor’s “purposeful contacts. ” No matter what the occasion or how brief this purposeful contact may be, there should be some effort to move the person Godward and churchward. This much is always in order for a minister of the gospel. Some religious word will normally be expected. People know what a minister is supposed to be about! The setting, the need, and the degree of receptivity will aid the wise pastor in knowing whether this first contact should extend to a word of prayer, perhaps also a word of Scripture. When the receptivity is present people are more apt to be pleased than offended if the pastor closes the visit by saying, “Do you mind if I offer a word of prayer?” They are apt to be disappointed if he does not.
Occasionally the pastor may discover that the receptivity is not so ripe as he thought. Some degree of hostility or rejection may
surface. In such cases let the pastor back off and seek to cover the situation with that degree of graciousness and understanding which may lead to greater receptivity later on. He should be careful not to spoil his future chances by insistence or pushiness.
Let the pastor remember that the Holy Spirit is always working. He is preparing people for the pastor’s ministrations. But they may not be ready yet. Give the Holy Spirit time, keep praying, and the person or persons may be ready the next time a contact is made. Of course an initial rebuff should not discourage the preacher from a second or third or fourth try.
An initial contact which is positive-even if not immediately ruitful-will lead to subsequent contacts, by the pastor and (one
hopes) by others. The result will be developing ease, personal affinity, growing interest, and soon the beginning of involvement.
This involvement may at first be primarily on a social level. One church developed a Thursday night informal social time in private homes to which friends at work or neighbors could be invited. It was a relatively homogeneous grid, consisting of young couples who worked at the same mill. About a dozen or so couples began to show up, children and all. Most of them were gun-shy but curious, and beneath the surface, hungry. Fortunately the events were sparked by a young female dynamo who could joke, banter, play games, and feed, or lead choruses, testify, and pray, all equally well; and she always managed to get all seven in before the evening was out. She created an atmosphere in which the unchurched folk did not feel threatened, and they were fascinated by the naturalness and sincerity with which she eased into the devotional end of the evening.
Needless to say before long these young families were attending Sunday school. For a while they would slip out after Sunday school and go home, but gradually they got over their fear of church. In due course the pastor was able to lead most of these couples to the Lord and into church membership. Many of them became the backbone of that church.
What was happening? On the hidden level, the Holy Spirit was prodding, convicting, creating hunger. But on the human level confidence was building. That is an indispensable process. It is an unfolding flower. Most people’s first tentative response is on the social and friendship level. Happy is the pastor who isn’t carrying the whole weight of reaching people on his own shoulders, but who has lively committed lay people who are willing to be social nets for Jesus.
But at first people are skittish because they are often full of misconceptions and fears. Whether watching at a safe distance or attending regularly they are observing keenly. They want to be sure that what they are seeing the friendliness, helpfulness, personal caring is for real.
It is only when confidence has been thoroughly established and people feel comfortable around the pastor and church activities that they really let their guard down and become receptive to personal evangelism. By this time their hunger has reached a peak of intensity.
They are ready to acknowledge their sins in honesty and humility because they find themselves surrounded by believable love. Concerned Christians have taken them into their circle, and in this new atmosphere it becomes easier to weep, to confess, to confide, to pray like a child. These things done with strangers are apt to be theatrics.
Some pastors are adept in leading people to a decision in the first real private contact. It cannot be denied that occasionally we
discover a person who is truly ready, like fruit just waiting to be plucked. The necessary confidence seems to rise intuitively.
But about such conversions two things need to be said, First, in the cases most apt to be genuine and lasting, there is a background, sometimes a lengthy one, which has already conditioned the person to be receptive to a gospel presentation. They probably have been around church all their lives, or at least have powerful memories of the years when they were. Such persons are not hostile to preachers. Very likely at some time in the past they have already had a religious experience. They know what this is all about and what they ought to do. They are relieved to have someone finally bring them face to face with the issue of their spiritual need.
The second thing is less reassuring. Too many of these out-of-the-blue conversions prove superficial. These persons are the wayside soil in our Lord’s parable. In many cases the psychology at work is very simple: it is the impact of a stronger personality over a weaker. Many People are awed, almost hypnotized, in the presence of a minister, just as they are in the presence of the doctor. The skillful clergyman can lead a half-scared, intimidated person through the Four Spiritual Laws (or some other approach), with very little depth of involvement, either of resistance or comprehension. But people easily won may be easily lost (cf. Matt. 13:2-21). And if afterward they come to feel that they have “been had,” the reaction can postpone real regeneration many years; or create such a hostile hang-up that repentance may be forever fore-stalled.
What applies to one-on-one contacts applies equally to mass evangelism. Too much pressure, which is more personality than Holy Spirit, can wreak untold damage. In one revival meeting parents of an unsaved young man prayed and worked to get him into a service and finally succeeded one night. The preacher had a high-pressure message and issued a high-pressure altar call. And ex-tended. And extended. The glamorous lady evangelist left the pulpit, put her pretty face close to his, and inveigled
him into going to the altar and making a profession. But the next morning when he awoke, as from a binge, he felt he had been made a fool of and refused thereafter to step foot in that or any other church. He had been swept off his feet by a powerful personality, and the evangelist completely short-circuited whatever work the Holy Spirit was trying to do.
In bringing spiritual babes to birth it is important that those who help them understand at least the rudiments of the theology of
salvation. While there may be a lot of trouble that prompts people to come to Jesus as “The Answer” to their problems, this will lead merely to a psychological religious experience and false hopes, if deeper down there is not a sense of sin and a longing for salvation from it. Really, Jesus has never promised health, wealth, and prosperity, or that He would be a universal panoply against trouble. He came as a Savior from sin. Unless this is what seekers really want, they will profess a relationship with Him, which is inherently defective because self-deceptive. And they will see Jesus as a means to a “new high” or to a social advantage or as a talisman against bad luck.
Furthermore, it is dangerously delusive to try to elicit a profession of faith by verbal instruction alone. It is easy to get a
person to acquiesce about his sinfulness in the abstract, to agree verbally about God’s love and the purpose of the Cross, then verbally to “accept” Christ. At some point. this sinner-needing-to-be-saved must pray. Really pray. It must be an I-Thou meeting. The Holy Spirit needs an opportunity to seal this personal meeting with Christ by His divine sense of acceptance. The joy and peace must not be the product of a syllogism but a divine implanting. Only God knows when the heart is truly penitent, and only God can forgive and create within the wonderful sense of forgiveness. At this point the Rubicon to reach people is crossed. They are now in the kingdom and, in the spiritual sense, already in the church. The battle for full holiness, maturity, and usefulness is yet to come.
These chapters on reaching people may be summarized this way: If a pastor and his church want to reach people they must go after them. There are no shortcuts. Mass evangelism must never be despised or abandoned. But neither public evangelism nor special attractions will substitute for the person-to-person ministry. If a strong church is to be built, the pastor and his associates-both lay and staff-need to handle every stone.
SYSTEMS OF ACCELERATION
There are times when some heroic system for accelerating the pace of reaching people can be profitably used.
THE COMMUNITY SURVEY
The more traditional method has been the house-to-house survey, by which an entire community is inventoried in a short time. This involves a large number of trained volunteers who are able to ask the right questions and record the right information. Many different approaches have been used. For a few years the most common was the lead question, “Do you know of any children in this neighborhood who are not in Sunday school?” Other pastors preferred to take the bull by the horns and say up front, “We are from the __________Church and we are looking for people who do not attend Sunday school and who might be interested in ours.” Or: “We are from the _________Church on the corner of Second and Main Streets, and we are making a survey. Would you mind telling us if you have a church connection? . Which church is it? . . .Are you attending? . . .Do you know anything about our church? Have you ever attended?”
Questions vary in nature and must be instantly flexible, for the aim is for the questioning to develop into a friendly chat. Always some item of advertising should be left, if the person will take it.
The ultimate value of the survey method depends on the pastoral follow-up. If people show some interest, even mild, and confess to being inactive, this data will be of little value if these persons never hear from the church or its pastor again. It is better for a
survey not to be made than made and not pursued.
Often such surveys are conducted inter-denominationally. At times, if such projects are launched by the local ministerial association, the holiness churches should cooperate. However, they will provide, in all likelihood, the lion’s share of workers and get the mouse’s share of benefits. The reason for this is that the survey card will list the person’s church preference, and all the cards of a particular denomination or church must be given to that pastor, with a “gentlemen’s agreement” that these persons are now off-limits to the other pastors. Since the vast majority of persons surveyed will name a mainline denomination (which they may not have attended for twenty years), it is obvious that the survey can result in a straightjacket for evangelical, and especially Wesleyan, pastors. For this reason some holiness pastors prefer to collect their own data.
Many people have been reached for Christ and the church by means of such surveys. In the majority of typical communities they are still promising; in many urban areas, such as high rise apartment complexes, they are virtually impossible. The high percentage of working women, also, militates against this method-though that can be more of an alibi than a solid negative argument.
By putting into place a bus ministry, many churches have enjoyed a period of rapid growth, at least in Sunday school attendance, resulting ultimately in increased church membership. Others have attempted it but experienced more problems than blessing. In general there is not so much enthusiasm about bus ministries as there was a few years ago. Churches have learned the hard way that a successful bus ministry is costly in money and energy, and that it has in it potential headaches.
The chief requisites are (1) a fleet of buses and (2) a large group of unselfish, dependable, highly organized and highly motivated
workers-whose motivation lasts beyond the newness. The buses are costly not only to buy but to maintain. The possibilities are great if the church is fortunate enough to have a large number of mechanically inclined working men who can service the buses, keep them presentable in appearance, washed and cleaned regularly; and an additional number of licensed, willing, cheerful, year-round drivers plus a corps of bus mothers or dads plus (again) bus pastors who can scout out children, and mothers and grandfolk who will ride the bus and then follow up on the riders week after week if necessary. Oh-and one or two items more:
facilities to handle a sudden influx of rowdy children, together with an enlarged, trained, and ultra-patient teaching staff. (For many of these children will be undisciplined and untamed little hooligans, who will have no idea of proper decorum in church. )
But if all this can be put in place, the rewards in the long run will be rich, not just in statistical gains but in boys and girls who will be saved and grow up in the church to become some day the bus drivers and the teachers. Some of them will go off to holiness colleges and become preachers and/or missionaries. Many others will marry in the church and found strong Christian homes.
However, this is such a multifaceted ministry and so demanding that no pastor should attempt it unless he has committed lay people to help carry the load.
The new method which has in some areas taken the church by storm is telemarketing. This is highly offensive to some people, but perhaps no more so than having to respond to a knock at the door. In either case there is a certain invasion of privacy which today’s citizen has become increasingly touchy about. It has yet to be seen whether telemarketing, in particular, will in the long run create more negative hostility toward the church using it than the benefits will justify.’
Yet a certain percentage of people are lonely or in need, and will eagerly respond to a loving voice. Radio and TV ministries, which for years have operated banks of telephone counselors and received probably millions ofcalls, have sufficiently demonstrated that the telephone is the communication medium of choice for many people.
Of course the difference here is that they take the initiative and make the call, whereas in telemarketing the church initiates the call. The very people who, being in the right mood, may phone an anonymous counselor a thousand miles away may be irritated when a local religious group calls and wakens them out of a sound nap. Obviously, therefore, variables exist which those who would under-take this method need to think about carefully. Perhaps telemarketing is most promising (1) in the case of a small
church struggling for identity in a new and growing community, and (2) as a church-planting technique.
A superintendent reported to me that one of his smaller churches had ten families who were faithful but could not seem to break out of the 50-60 attendance bracket. Prayerfully, and after much study of methods and training of volunteers, they launched an intensive telemarketing effort. They made 20,000 calls, netting 1650 people who showed enough interest to allow their names to be put on a mailing list. Items of mail were sent each week for four weeks, culminating in a highly publicized Visitor Sunday, when 252 people attended. In subsequent weeks the attendance leveled off to 160-180-still a 300%. increase. The pastor brought as many as would respond into an intensive two months of discipling, then received 57 of them into church membership on profession of faith. One requirement imposed was that they be willing to function in a small group under a leader to whom they promised to be amenable.
This report illustrates what must be done if a telemarketing effort is not going to inundate a church with a hundred different
doctrines, notions, motives, goals, temperaments, backgrounds, and emotional biases that refuse to be melded into a body conformable to the denomination. Out of a crowd of respondents such as this some would want instant access to power and seek to try to create a church in their own image. Others would propagandize former doctrinal positions, and subvert the doctrinal position of the church. The moral is that only a wise, courageous pastor, who knows how to handle People and who keeps a firm hand on the wheel, had better attempt telemarketing.
Three classes of people are most likely to respond to telemarketing. The first-which is the group most highly desired-are people who are just plain hungry-hearted.
They have been secretly longing for some opportunity to connect with a church because they have come to see their need of God and all the church stands for.
The second class consists of people who are disgruntled with where they are now worshiping or with past church experiences, and are eager to try something new. Some of these persons have valid complaints and in a proper setting will make great church members. But others are simply church tramps, and will soon drift off; or, if they stay, may prove to be troublemakers. I heard J. B. Chapman say at a pastor’s retreat, “There are two steps in establishing a new church. One is to gather a few charter members. The next step is to get rid of the charter members. ” Of course he was talking tongue-in-cheek, for he would have been the last to slur the many honorable and saintly charter members who have held the work together through rough days. But perhaps there was just enough truth in his quip to justify it.
The third class consists of people whose background matches the denomination of the calling church, but who have lost touch for various reasons and are excited about the prospect of their own kind of church becoming available in this neighborhood or town.
The great temptation of the pastor or church planter who would utilize telemarketing is to hide the real purpose and the real identity of the church. This is always the mark of a false cult. Furthermore, it savors of the deceptive sales tactic of “bait and switch, ” which in the business world is illegal. Not that the caller needs to plunge into a theological lecture the first contact, but neither should any basic mark of the church be camouflaged. Naturally the first appeal will be at the point of the widest common denominator-the Bible, Christ, salvation. It is essential and only fair that some way be designed to let an interested person understand that the church is Protestant and traditionally orthodox. They need to know that they are not being approached by one of the many modern cults.
If there is too much fuzziness and the appeal is simply to meet for a religious good time, the temptation will be strong to keep the
platform nebulous in order to keep people coming. But a blurred platform will result either in losing them when they discover what this church really stands for, or else the blur will become permanent, and the church remain a nondescript community fellowship with a broad, indiscriminate appeal. Down the road when some unwary pastor tries to move the group toward a more focused doctrinal and denominational commitment he will be fought tooth and nail, and probably lose his scalp.
While it is premature to rule out the possibility of new churches starting full grown with 200 or more members through telemarketing and becoming viable holiness churches, the difficulties of molding such a group in such a direction are formidable. The task will require a much higher level of pulpit competence and a much more powerful spirit of continuous revival than is characteristic of the typical established church.
Without denial, any effort which results in one person being saved and reaching heaven is worthy of our respect. But whether or not telemarketing is the best evangelizing and church-growing method available in most communities remains an open question. The jury is still out. When the dust has settled the probabilities are that the quiet, gradual infiltration of a community described in chapters seven and eight will prove the method of church growing most durable in the long run.