It was the opening service of the gospel meeting. Members of the congregation arrived early to greet the visitors. Some had brought neighbors and friends. As the service began one could see the interest and enthusiasm as all blended their voices in singing praises to God and edifying one another. Prayers ascended to God from sincere and fervent hearts. The preacher preached the word with simplicity and power, yet with obvious love and concern for the lost. There were those who obeyed the Gospel and Christians were strengthened and challenged, and all left buoyed in spirit and with happy anticipation of the remaining services of the meeting.
This is the ideal for which every congregation should strive. Fantasizing will not accomplish it. Meetings described above do not just happen! Preparation is essential. A successful meeting is the result of careful planning and diligent work, with the cooperation and support of local members.
Following are some things I have learned over the years which tend to promote successful meetings:
Plan the Meeting
If a congregation has a meeting just because it is customary to have one every year and announce it about a week before it takes place, that meeting is not going to create much excitement and will fail to obtain the maxi-mum good.
A few years ago there was a popular TV show called, "The A Team," wherein George Peppard, who played the leading character, would frequently say, "I love it when a plan comes together." There is no "coming together" without a plan. Elders need to ask themselves, "What are we trying to accomplish by having a meeting?" Are the lessons to be directed to the alien or the Christian or both? Have a purpose; know what you want to accomplish. Once the objective is defined, find ways and means to accomplish it. Plan the meeting, then work the plan. What a joy and sense of satisfaction when the "plan comes together."
Select the Preacher
Select the one who will preach the word of God. Paul said, "For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake" (2 Cor. 4:5). An awesome responsibility is laid upon preachers because of the nature, purpose and power of the gospel. The gospel is absolute truth, designed for the saving of the soul, and possesses the power to accomplish its purpose (Rom. 1:16). With that word the preacher is to enlighten the mind, disturb the conscience, energize the will, and stir the hearts of his hearers. Preach the word! (2 Tim. 4:2)
Select a preacher whom you think will be the best choice in obtaining your objective. This may involve some long-range planning. If a preacher has already been selected, think how you may best use his knowledge and expertise to benefit the church and/or the unsaved.
Advertise the Meeting
While big-city newspapers are financially prohibitive to many churches, there are small community papers that offer relatively cheap advertising. This affords opportunity to advertise at a nominal rate.
The add should be phrased so as to awaken the attention of those who see it and to cause them to think. In our advertising we are not to resort to the undignified or the grossly sensational, and yet we want to set forth information in a striking way.
There are public bulletin boards (washaterias, food stores, etc.) on which announcements can be placed.
Announcements of the meeting can be sent to church visitors. At Fry Road we keep a record of our visitors throughout the year. As we approach our gospel meetings we send them an announcement of the meeting, following up with a personal letter, and then a phone call. Members are encouraged to write them a personal letter or call, inviting them to the meeting. While various methods are good, we all recognize that there is nothing better than "word of mouth" invitations.
The night before the meeting have a "get-together" for all to get acquainted with the visiting preacher. Talk up the meeting. I have found this kindles interest, enthusiasm, and participation in the meeting.
Sometime during the meeting, provide opportunity for the young people to visit with the guest preacher. You may be pleasantly surprised by the nature of the questions young people ask. They not only want to know about the preacher's work, but about him as a person. The preacher wants to know more about the thinking of youth. They both recognize the value of the other. A bond is formed which contributes considerably to the success of the meeting.
The more that elders can involve the entire membership in the meetings, the more successful the meeting will be. Remember it is "our" meeting, not "theirs" or "yours."
Good singing is essential to a successful meeting. Singing in spirit and truth prepares the heart to receive the message. It sets the tone for the meeting.
Our singing should be the expression of our heart, as we praise God and teach and admonish one another in song. Without the heart, singing is just a sound.
In my home congregation, prior to a meeting, we usually have a few services where we spend extra time singing. We learn new songs and try to improve on those we already know that we might render to God the very best of which we are capable.
What about the song leader? In my judgment a congregation should use the best it has. Using a different leader each night of a meeting does not usually work very well.
"The righteous sings and rejoices" (Prov. 29:6).
Pray for the Meeting
Prayer is a powerful tool God has given us. It changes things! "The supplication of a righteous man avalleth much in its working" (James 5:16).
Prayer comes from a realization of a need and God's ability to supply. "And my God shall supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:19).
We need to pray for God's blessings to rest on the meeting. Pray for the members that all might be cognizant of their true priorities and commitment in Christ. Pray for the lost (specifically for those you invite). Pray for the preacher. Paul exhorted the brethren to "pray for him that he might be bold to make known the mystery of Christ" (Eph. 6:19).
"A prayerless preparation will mean a powerless effort in a gospel meeting" (Don McWhorter, Bulletin Digest).
When all preparation has been made, you can be pleased in that you did what you could. You can now say, "We are all here present to hear all things that have commanded thee of the Lord" (Acts 10:33).
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 16, p. 21-22