"In the Same Hour of the Night": The Single Lesson Approach to Personal Evangelism
Charles G. Goodall
Temple Terrace, Florida
Those who have been involved for any length of time in personal work generally agree that the traits required for one to be a successful personal evangelist are a love for souls, a means of teaching the gospel, and a zeal to implement that means. When a man is found with that love and zeal, coupled with a reasonable amount of knowledge and preparation, he will be converting people to the Lord. It matters not whether he uses the Jule Miller slides, the Tisdel, Hall, McKnight, or Wilson charts, or his own privately devised lessons. In short, conversions generally come to the dedicated, hardworking, and well-prepared worker regardless of the technique. To the contrary, the finest lessons prepared in conjunction with the most advanced and proven teaching aids are useless and ineffective in the hands of those who are less than totally committed to the Lord.
How Many Lessons Before the "Invitation"?
One of the most frequently asked questions in personal evangelism relates to the time one should spend in study before encouraging a prospect to obey the gospel. Just how many lessons in a home Bible study should be presented prior to extending him the "invitation" to obey the gospel?
Gospel teaching, like the teaching of any subject, requires time for absorption. Not all learn at the same rate. The complexity of the material and the breadth of the subject are certainly variables to be considered. A personal evangelist would be remiss to encourage the obedience of even an honest and willing subject who has been unable to comprehend the truth. The prospect's prior knowledge, prejudices, concentration, basic mental ability or any number of other factors could be responsible for his lack of comprehension. Surely is irresponsible the worker who would delay a knowledgeable and ready subject (Acts 22:16). The case of the Philippian jailer illustrates how one may soon hear and obey the gospel. His conversion was accomplished quickly under the most adverse circumstances. He had, only moments before, attempted to take his own life. His jail was in turmoil. He had to be told even on whom to believe. Yet, though the hour was midnight, he was baptized "the same hour of the night" (Acts 16:33). In fact, a careful analysis of the conversions in the New Testament indicates this immediacy to be the rule rather than the exception. Even in the case of Saul of Tarsus in which three days passed before contact was made with the preacher Ananias, there is not the slightest hint that it took three days to teach him what he needed to know to become a Christian.
The single lesson approach I use is designed to accomplish conversion "in the same hour of the night," as in the days of the early disciples. The lesson is divided into three parts: (1) prophecy and the establishment of the church, (2) apostasy and the reformation, and (3) conversion. The lesson is presented within the home of the prospect utilizing an open Bible. While the lesson is accompanied by several charts drawn during the presentation, the lesson itself is delivered totally in an extemporaneous manner with no Bible markings or notes. The presentation is given as a story in a casual way. The conclusion and close are likewise low key. The narrative and lesson plan both come to a vivid and pointed conclusion that places the prospect in the position of being face to face with his lost condition. If the force of truth does not move the prospect to obedience, it is my judgment that he is not ready. For that reason, if the lesson itself does not move him to obey immediately, no attempt is made at that time to persuade him.
What are the Disadvantages of the Multiple Lesson Approach?
There are no disadvantages to the multiple lesson approach for those who need more time if they are spared by the grace of God and continue their interest uniformly. However, many are interested immediately in learning what they need to know and do. The Eunuch's knowledge was incomplete when he said, "See here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized?" (Acts 8:36). The failure to satisfy that intense desire immediately by postponing the invitation to obey until later lessons (number four in the Jule Miller series) has led many to seek other religious teachers (Baptist, Methodists, etc.). These false teachers in turn have satisfied their desire for immediate action. Consequently, in my experience, several have announced gleefully upon my arrival for the third or fourth lesson that they have been baptized at a denominational church since the last study.
Another disadvantage of the "several weeks" approach has to do with the conservation of the personal worker's time. Many will agree to a series of lessons who are not the least bit interested. Their motives vary. Some view the lessons as an additional social outlet. Others look on the meetings as occasions to share religious experiences ("witnessing," they call it.) Still others simply are unable to say no. Whatever their reasons, the teacher is committed and thus must prod through five weeks of study with an inattentive and unresponsive listener.
What are the Advantages of the Single Lesson Approach?
The single lesson approach that I use places the whole picture of the uniqueness of the Lord's church in its Biblical setting. The church is then contrasted vividly with the apostate denominations and their historical development. Finally, the plan of salvation is explored with care taken to show the blood connectivity of baptism and the inability of denominational plans to match the form of Romans 6:3-5, 17. The prospect sees at once that he is lost without God and without hope unless he submits to this "form" and unites with the Lord's body, the church. The lesson has the advantage of setting the church apart from denominationalism within a framework that the listener can appreciate and understand without charging his teacher with being arrogant or a religious dogmatist. Most prospects know very little about church history and thus find that part of the presentation thoroughly enjoyable.
The single lesson approach culls out those who are not responsive. Thus time that would have been spent with someone not interested may be used to teach one who has never had a chance to hear at all and who may well obey the gospel.
Another advantage of the single lesson approach I use is its effectiveness in dealing with anticipated questions. The lesson was designed with that in mind. Questions like "What is the church of Christ?", "What do its members believe?", "How does it differ from the denomination I belong to?", etc. are all dealt with in the lesson. Even if the prospect does not agree with the answers to his questions, he understands why we take the positions that we do.
I have found in general that those who fail to respond with the single lesson approach are never again the same religiously. Several who initially appeared to reject the lesson have returned at a later date to obey the gospel.
How Many Remain Faithful?
A legitimate question asked in the series I present is, "How many remain faithful with your `one shot approach'?" It is the attitude with which this question is often raised that has caused me and others who have been somewhat successful in personal evangelism to hesitate to share approaches and techniques. In the first place, all those I know who use the single lesson approach to conversion follow up immediately with lessons of reinforcement. To do less than that would be irresponsible. It has been my experience, after reviewing a sizeable number of conversions over several years, that of those who have stayed in the follow-up program where I preach, some 75-80 % have remained faithful. Several in this number have either preached or become Bible class teachers. It is with reservation and unwillingness that I submit figures relating to personal evangelism and would not now were it not for those who have reflected unduly on this approach by calling it the "one-shot thing."
The sincere personal evangelist, believing the gospel will produce and hoping his prospect will respond, presents each lesson in great expectation. Obviously experience has taught him to the contrary. However, each successive prospect is a totally independent individual. He deserves every opportunity to hear the gospel as a beautiful positive story of salvation unfolded in his presence. We must assume that he has never heard it in his life and that upon hearing it he will be eternally grateful for its presentation. It is for this reason that in order to mentally prepare myself, I turn on the baptistry heater prior to going to teach the lesson. I am happy to report that more often than not the baptistry is used "in the same hour of the night."
Truth Magazine XXII: 18, pp. 294-295