By Trevan OsbornMorning:
The morning consisted of a few hours of class time. Yes, in good academic fashion, learning by doing is not good enough but we still have to sit and get theoretical discussion (Excuse the sarcasm. Maybe my dad will respond and defend academia). Actually, I think the class time will actually be very beneficial because we will be able to immediately implement the theory. We’ll be having class for a few hours on Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday. We will have Monday completely off which I can already tell will be much appreciated. Our teachers are very knowledgeable and will provide us with not only what has already been done, but challenge us to explore what hasn’t been done but should be done in the future.
Everything has been set up and it's time for the meeting. Thursday was a long day of getting the gym ready for the meetings and trying to iron out the kinks. The group is excited and ready to finally experience the fruit of our labor. Setting up chairs doesn’t do much for the soul. We have all been working really hard and we have already developed a great chemistry and enjoy working side-by-side. The leaders know what they are doing and have been providing steady leadership to make sure everything will fall into place.
As people started trickling in early, we realized that maybe we set up too many chairs. Everyone was sitting in the last few rows which seems to be the law for attendance at church functions. So, we got rid of the last few rows which turned out to be a wise decision. I can’t tell you how good it is to have people around who have led through these kinds of events many times before to make quick and smart decisions.
We started late as we tried to work out some of the opening night kinks as well as let the late stragglers come in. I got a chance to talk to J while waiting. He was the only white guy there, besides me, and turned out to be Irish. He works in the area and saw the sign outside and decided to come in. He has a bit of a church background but isn’t very active. I could smell the cigarette smoke on his clothes and he told me he decided to come here instead of going out drinking. We had a great conversation about all kinds of stuff. I was happy because one of the leaders came up and asked if he was a pastor because he saw us talking like we were old buddies so he assumed I knew him or we had the instant connection of both being pastors. Neither was the case but made me feel good because I don’t think I’m very good at meeting new people and socializing but must have done okay with John.
I took up the challenge of running the PowerPoint presentations. We had words to the songs as well as the sermon to project. I have done this many times before so it is no problem. However, sometimes things happen that are completely out of your control that will make you look bad. When PowerPoint goes wrong, it REALLY goes wrong.
I don’t like getting caught up in the numbers game but it really is impossible not to when you are having a meeting like this. You want to see the seats filled. I was happy with the attendance which was about 100 people of which at least half were Adventists and there seemed to be probably 30-40 non-Adventists there. This doesn’t include the children who have their own special programming every night as well. I didn’t get a great feel since I was busy with the PowerPoint. Actually, they have a really cool registration system. They give you a little swipe card with a bar code on it (like the ones you get at a grocery store and put on your key chain). So every night, all you have to do is swipe the card and it records your attendance (Insert your own mark of the beast joke here).
The crowd is lively and into the meeting. It’s always good to have the church members pumped up and saying a lot of “Amen’s” to get everyone going. We sang a few songs and our theme song called, “I Want a Revival.” The police chief in charge of the area came and spoke. He’s a Christian and he started preaching himself as he quoted Hebrews 11:1-2 and talked about how we needed to have faith and hope in the community that it can get better. Then, we had special music by a men’s group of 7 guys. They were from a local church. Any guesses what denomination? CATHOLIC. WHAT?????????? Man, I was really shocked they would do that. I guess they wanted to get them in early before the 666 message. I was really glad they did it though.
The evangelist is perfect for the area. He used to be a drug dealer, pimp, and ended up in jail with a 40 year sentence. He miraculously got out after 4 years and has become an evangelist since getting out. You can tell that many visitors are struggling with many of the issues he dealt with in the past so he is the right man to reach the people.
For the series we are doing the classic Amazing Facts lineup of topics. At the end of each program we are handing out the AF Bible study guides for them to do at home and bring back their answers the next night. The first night is about the second coming and what happens to the “wicked” and “righteous.” There also is an extended time where he debunked the “Left Behind” theology. Throughout the sermon, the evangelist does a great job of using relevant illustrations and weaving his personal testimony through it all. I can tell immediately that his personal story is what connects the most with people and will be the major drawing card for the series. At the end he made a general appeal which almost everyone came forward for, even J.
One of the ways they try to get people to come, invite people, and turn in lessons is by providing incentives. The evangelist offered 100 dollars to anyone who brings 10 people. They also are giving away an iPod and two computers based on attendance and completion of lessons. Small gifts are given to anyone who brings a friend and a raffle drawing is held each night. The YMCA director also was able to get 30 tickets to the 49ers game in a few weeks of which we will be giving many away to people (I hope I get to go though).
Everything went well and we all feel good. No major glitches. PowerPoint went smoothly. Good attendance and a strong message. The only problem: I’m already feeling drained, we all are. This is going to be a marathon.
I figured that I would write what happened with little commentary above but then give some critiques, challenges, and new possibilities in this section. So, feel free to not read this part if you aren’t interested.
I have thought about how to politely write about the topics and order that is pre-determined by Amazing Facts and has been used for decades by virtually everyone in the church. Here’s my attempt: I cannot help but realize that I am going to have major issues with the content and order of the presentations. We are doing great work here with the paradigm we are using and I love all the leaders involved. However, I just have real issues with the paradigm and messages.
The opening night was on the Second Coming and what happens to the wicked and righteous at that time. The sermon basically jumps right into that which presupposes that the people here have a Christian background. What if they don’t? However, even if they do have the Christian background, shouldn’t we start with a sermon on who God is? Talk about God’s love and take it to the Cross and talk about what God did for them there. Tell them that it doesn’t matter what they’ve done in the past, God is offering a new start today. What I love about our evangelist is that through his story he is able to get there and does it powerfully. However, the sermon in its pure A.F. form doesn’t really do that.
I also fear that we try to do way to much stuff in the sermon. One of the comments everyone at the meetings is saying is how much they are learning. This is great, but I wonder how much they are going to retain. Would it be better to keep them simpler with less information so they can master a small amount of info instead of having a general knowledge of a lot of things?
The other weakness I found was that the definition of who is wicked and righteous ends up being very works-based. The wicked are defined as those who smoke, drink, commit adultery, and listen to rap music. The righteous are those who don’t do that. The evangelist was able to bring it around later when he started in with his testimony but while doing the A.F. sermon material it was very works-based and I found the definition of sin to be too limited while also including things that aren’t necessarily a sin like listening to rap music.
Final discussion point: What do you think about “bribing” people to come, invite people, and do lessons by offering them incentives? It is really shameless and I don’t think I’m against it but do feel a tinge of discomfort about it.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4482