By Jerry Parks
One of the most important factors in spreading the gospel is to get people interested in studying God’s word. We are living in a day and time when this is easier said than done. There are distractions on every hand. People have more and can do more in this generation than at any other time in the history of man. There has been a great surge in recreational and sports activities. Often, in order that these activities might be pursued, husbands and wives must work one or two jobs, which makes the pace of life even more hectic. Young people are involved in a thousand and one school activities. All of this tends to make people overly concerned about the material things of life and to minimize the importance of being concerned about the soul.
What this means is that to get people to study their Bible is becoming progressively more difficult. This is a problem that is obviously being felt in the religious world in general and within the Lord’s church in particular. Many have resorted to all sorts of gimmicks and carnal prizes to try to interest people in spiritual matters. Certainly, we should not become so frustrated that we resort to unscriptural methods to try to win souls to Christ. We should, however, be aware of every legitimate method and use them to their fullest potential. I firmly believe that an effectively run Bible Correspondence Course has great potential. The church in Bancroft Canada started as a result of a number of people learning the truth through a Bible Correspondence Course that was offered by another congregation 225 miles away. In two years, over 50 people were baptized and phenomenal growth has continued in that area. Certainly the course was not the only thing that led to the conversion of these people. There were follow-up visits, home studies, etc., but the Correspondence Course method played an important part in leading these people to Christ. This illustrates the potential we are talking about.
Success or Failure?
There are a number of factors that Will help to determine whether a Correspondence Course will be successful or not.
1. It is imperative that you know how to organize and conduct every phase of the work at the time it is started. There is more involved than simply ordering some lessons from the supply house. When a Bible Correspondence Course Program is started without some forethought arid preparation, costly mistakes will be made, students will be lost, and usually the program will die within a few weeks.
2. If a Bible Correspondence Course is to be successful, there must be someone capable and willing to take the helm. When the responsibility for the course is left to everyone, usually, the responsibility is fulfilled by no one. The church in Kettering has a very successful Correspondence Course. At the present time, we have enrolled approximately 1800 students. This has been done in less than three years. There are at least 25 people, members of the Kettering church, who assist alternately with the grading and mailing of these lessons; but without the dedicated efforts of one man (Brother Aubrey Measel) who has taken the responsibility to run the program, it simply would not have been successful. Brother Measel has been very systematic. His responsibilities are manifold. He takes care of such things as:
a. Ordering lessons.
b. Preparing form letters that are mailed with various lessons.
c. Purchasing envelopes and stationary.
d. Advertising (evaluating various forms.
e. Arranging the grading and mailing system so that it is efficient.
f . Maintaining a list of helpers.
g. Motivating others to become involved in the program.
h. Training helpers.
i. Double checking all graded lessons.
j . Presenting monthly reports to the congregation.
k. Answering all questions that are received from B.C.C. students.
1. Putting students in contact with churches in various parts of the country.
m. Seeing that the mail is picked up every day.
n. Seeing that records are kept for all students.
I am sure there are many other things that are involved in the directors’ duties, but these are sufficient to show what an important job it is.
3. The cooperation of the congregation is also important to the success of the Correspondence Course. The program must fit the overall program of the church. If it is simply viewed as a passing novelty rather than a valuable teaching medium, it will not last. When members cooperate, talk it up etc., it will help to recruit new students. The course can and should be used in connection with the personal work program of the church. Following up the leads from the course is imperative. Those who have taken the course make excellent prospects since they have received first principle instruction through the course already. Many who would never come to the building to receive instruction are willing to study through this method.
How To Get Started
When we become convinced that a Bible Correspondence Course is an effective means of spreading the gospel, and determine that we want to be successful with such a program, the neit logical question is “Where do we begin?” “How do we get started?”
1. Secure material. There are a number of good courses available for your use, such as:
a. Visualized Bible Correspondence Course by Jule Miller (5 lessons).
b. Know Your Bible by Gene Tope (6 lessons). This is published by Cogdill Foundation.
c. Studies in the Bible by Monroe Hawley (30 lessons).
d. Foundations in Faith by Monroe Hawley (30 lessons).
These are just a few of the many courses that are available through various book stores. You might prefer to prepare your own material. We use the John Hurt, eight-lesson course and have had good results with it. This course is very popular and does a fine job of presenting first principle truths.
2. The Congregation Can Help. While such courses are thought of as being for those outside the church, the easiest way of getting started is by enrolling as many of the local members as possible and asking them in turn, to enroll at least three others who are not members of the church. This will automatically generate far more interest in the program than would otherwise be possible. Usually, members of the congregation are more than willing to cooperate in this matter when it is made clear that their help is really needed in order to make the program effective. By involving the members in the course, they will be more familiar with the material and the procedures involved. Being familiar with the course makes it a lot easier to tell others about it. By having personally taken the course, you will be able to confidently recommend it to others. You might circulate a paper in the adult and teen classes and let interested people sign their name if they are willing to take the course. With this nucleus the course will soon pyramid. Continue to emphasize the program through bulletins, etc. Keep people informed as to the results that are being achieved. Remember, enthusiasm is contagious!
3. Advance preparation. In addition to the ideas thus far presented, there are a number of other things to do before initiating your Correspondence Course. You need a room or corner where the supply of materials can be properly arranged. Perhaps a rack on the wall or a shelf to hold the various lessons and form letters. This way you can see at a glance if you are running low on any particular lesson or letter. Also, a desk or working area is needed so that those volunteering to help will have a place to do the work with all the supplies at hand. If the materials and supplies are shuffled around from house to house and no standard procedure for grading and mailing is followed, the whole thing will be a hopeless mess in a few short weeks.
Check with the Post Office regarding mailing procedures, weights and restrictions. A good knowledge of postal regulations will save a lot of headaches. Keep plenty of stamps on hand as well as envelopes and other standard supplies. Decide on a convenient mailing address and have a rubber stamp made so that envelopes, etc. may be quickly addressed. In most cases it is best to have the stamp say “Bible Correspondence Course” rather than “church of Christ” to avoid any possible prejudice to the first lesson.
Mailing the Lessons
The following procedure has proven very successful for the church in Kettering.
1. Mail Lesson One and Lesson Two together with a letter of introduction and a small return envelope so that the test sheet can be mailed back to you. Be sure to stamp your address in the center of the return envelope. We also put the postage on the return envelope to try to get a maximum return. It is usually very important to pay the postage both ways on all lessons since many people will otherwise lay the lessons aside, intending to mail them when they get some stamps.
2. We include in the form letter, instructions for the student to finish Lesson One and send it in with the enclosed envelope. While Lesson One is in route, they have Lesson Two in hand. This keeps their interest at a maximum and speeds up their completion.
3. When we receive Lesson One, we grade it and send it back to the student along with Lesson Three and so on. Before we send it back, however, we record the following information on their enrollment card:
a. Date last lesson was received.
c. Mailing date.
This information is important in order that delinquent students may be contacted before they become completely disinterested. One other helpful hint along this line; give each student a number. Put this number on the enrollment card and also on each lesson mailed out. This eliminates the problem created when students forget to put their names on the test sheets.
4. When we mail Lesson Four we also include another form letter and three enrollment cards requesting the names of other prospective students. This has proven very effective for enrolling new students.
5. When the student has finished the course, a completion certificate is filled out and either sent along with the last graded test or else delivered to the student in person. This personal contact is extremely important for the program to be really effective.
One somewhat discouraging note that needs to be mentioned is that often when we mail the name and address of a student to a local church or preacher in the same area as the student., we find that little effort is made to contact and study with these people. This is sad indeed! We ought to be thrilled to receive the names and addresses of these potential prospects. Some of the students have even indicated a desire to be baptized. I will take a thousand leads like that any day!
Without a doubt, the best advertising for a correspondence course is word of mouth. That is why it is so important for the members of the local congregation to get behind the effort and to tell their friends about the “free home Bible study course.”
1. Cards. Encourage members to carry advertising cards with them. You would be surprised how often you will have an opportunity to give someone a card or enroll them in the course. One great place to try to sign up people for the course is at “Garage Sales.” These sales have become as “American” as “Apple Pie and Ice Cream.” If you have a garage sale, why not keep a stack of cards handy? If you are spending an afternoon and all your extra money going to garage sales, why not take along some cards and give them to people that you converse with? This is just one example. There are many ways that you could inform people of such a course. Let us be “fishers of men” and use the many opportunities to evangelize the world.
2. Newspapers. Another form of advertising is through newspapers and magazines. This is a great deal more expensive, but it can be very effective. The church I mentioned earlier in Bancroft, Canada resulted from an ad placed in the local paper. We have received many names from placing an occasional ad in Grit Magazine.
3. Door-to-door. Another method of advertising such a course is door-to-door canvassing. In some areas, this method is probably more effective than in other areas, but usually several interested people can be found.
4. Others. There are a number of other promotional possibilities, such as radio and television, fair booths, Dia1A-Prayer, etc.
What About Cost?
Probably the nicest thing about a Bible Correspondence Course is that you can regulate the cost. As you increase your advertising, your number enrolled will also increase. At Kettering, we try to maintain a budget of $100.00 per month for our course. Having begun the course three years ago, we now have spent approximately $3500.00 total on the course. We have enrolled students in 45 states and also Canada.
While we have not had the phenomenal results such as in Bancroft, we have baptized five and restored one as a direct result of the course. There have been fourteen requests for home Bible studies. Scores of tracts have been sent, several books have been sent as well as dozens of Bibles. Hundreds of letters and notes of encouragement have been written. It is difficult to say how many hours have been spent in answering questions raised by the students, but there have indeed been many. We have a yearly goal of 600 new members.
Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.” A good, effectively run Bible Correspondence Course is truly a wonderful way to reach the lost with the gospel which Paul said is the power of God unto salvation.
Truth Magazine XXII: 23, pp. 374-376
June 8, 1978