“My church's last evangelistic effort in 2006 baptized 79 people,” wrote Al on April 26 in response to Alex Carpenter’s blog on this Web site titled “Southern California Conference to Spend 1 Million to Televangelize LA.” “My pastor and bible worker received conference prizes as top soul winners that year. (They got cruise trips). BUT as things worked out, of the 79, less than 5 remain!! There's got to be a better, more effective way.” (Emphasis in original)
In this column, I plan to gather some comments I made in that thread, as well as others I wish I had made, in hopes of highlighting certain issues. It is my request that any who might wish to comment post their remarks at the original thread. This way, the conversation can continue at one place.
- Let us make no mistake: in full-time Christian ministry, public evangelism is second only to literature evangelism in its grueling physical and spiritual demands. The big difference is that the literature evangelist often works alone whereas the public evangelist usually has a supportive team. This is why we might want to mix our valid criticisms with gestures of genuine gratitude.
- One million dollars is very little money as such endeavors go. I do not know how much radio and television advertisements or sponsored programs cost in media markets as large and expensive as the Los Angeles area; however, I am certain that this amount of cash will not buy much air time. We need to think of this amount as what it is: an exceedingly modest investment in possible new members. Maybe this will give us some sense of proportion.
We do well to recall that the short evangelistic campaign was not designed to move people from no knowledge of Adventism to church membership in three or so weeks. Its purpose was to assist pastors who requested help “harvesting” the “crops” of potentially new members they had long been cultivating. It was not the idea that the evangelists would come to town and conscript the pastors. This is to get things exactly backward!
Because the short evangelistic campaigns began where they did, it is not surprising that the parallels between those who conducted them and the harvest teams that moved from one ranch to another gathering in the crops are almost exact. Some ranchers had the equipment and personnel to do their own harvesting. Well and good; however, for the many that didn’t there were others they could call for help. The harvesters never made the mistake of thinking of the crops as their own. They showed up with all their men and machines only as they were needed and invited. This is the model.
- It might also be helpful to revisit and update our former practice of establishing permanent evangelistic centers, or whatever they should now be called, in strategic metropolitan locations. These could help us meet the needs of at least three constituencies. One would be local Seventh-day Adventists, with perhaps more than one congregation using the facilities. A second would be permanent or semi-permanent residents of the area. A third would be those who become acquainted with and supportive of what is happening at the evangelistic center and elsewhere in the Adventist world, either by visiting in person or via the media.
These evangelistic centers could make full use of postmodern media. We are no longer limited to radio and television. New ways of communicating are to us what printing was to Martin Luther; they constantly explode with faster, better, and cheaper ways of reaching and helping the people who need us most.
There is an important difference. Whereas printing, radio, and television provided broadcasts, these newer alternatives make narrowcasts possible. Our earlier evangelistic centers began their decline when television became pervasive and people began staying at home in greater numbers, as I recall. It is now much more efficient and economical to reach them where they are and then invite them to participate in person-to-person encounters.
We need an “overlapping ethos” between what happens at these evangelistic centers and what takes place in the surrounding congregations and medical and educational institutions. The centers cannot succeed if they constantly embarrass educated and financially fortunate Seventh-day Adventists. Neither can they succeed if those who operate them are loudly or quietly critical of such individuals and institutions.
Comfortably situated Adventists do not demand that every evangelistic endeavor have the ambiance of a new BMW or Mercedes. Far from it! After all, in their own professions they often attend to many unpleasant human needs. But they rightly expect that what we do does not insult the intelligence of ordinary people. They rightly require that we practice the “Golden Rules of Evangelism.” This is that we speak of others as we wish them to speak of us and that we be as ready to listen as we are to talk.
- We are financially starving many of our local congregations on behalf of our global efforts. It is dispiriting for congregations to have exciting and effective plans for ministry but not enough money to implement them. One reason why mega churches emerge next door to struggling Seventh-day Adventist ones is that our congregations often have so much less money to work with. This is a big problem. If the world church allowed more local congregations the resources they need to flourish, it would not be long until it had more too.
What we do must be in harmony with the professional standards of Christian ministry. Nothing disturbed me more in the thread of responses to Alex Carpenter’s blog than Al’s report that the Seventh-day Adventist leaders in one region gave a minister and Bible worker who had recruited the most new members in a year a financial bonus in the form of “a cruise.”
Such practices are unacceptable because they create situations that are profuse with perverse conflicts of interests. When serving people the minister should have their needs in mind, not the possibility of a cruise! We ministers have professional standards too!
David Larson teaches in the School of Religion at Loma Linda University.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/583