By Wayne S. Walker
The congregation where I am a member and serve as local evangelist conducts two to three gospel meetings a year. I am privileged to work with other congregations in some four to six gospel meetings each year. In fact, I myself was baptized during a gospel meeting and I am sure that the same thing is true with many in the Lord’s church. Yet, over the years I have heard, and occasionally still hear, people who proclaim, “The day of the gospel meeting is over. Gospel meetings just do not do any good any more.” I reject this claim.
Of course, gospel meetings may not accomplish the same amount or kind of good that they once did. It used to be that all one needed to do was to have a gospel meeting in a community and with just a little announcement the result would be large crowds and often several, even many, conversions. That was in a day when people had little else to do but go to church services for social contact and were more religious-minded in general. Today, we have to compete with school activities, around-the-clock work shifts, recreation and entertainment opportunities, and television, as well as an overall religious apathy.
However, in spite of all this, I firmly believe that gospel meetings can still do good. If nothing else, they are a time for Christians to get together and share spiritual things. They can be a part of the local church’s program for the edification, strengthening, encouragement, and exhortation of the members. And, in addition to this, I am convinced that a gospel meeting can be useful in making contacts and teaching people in our work of evangelizing the lost – if we will put the proper effort into it.
1. Advertise! Advertise! Advertise the meeting! Put ads in all local newspapers. Get in touch with the religion editor and have a news story written about it. Make spot announcements on radio stations. Let people know that you are having a meeting! Print enough flyers for everyone to hand out. Put one up on every available (and permissible) bulletin board and in other spaces. Go door to door in some area and pass them out. This will cost money and take time, but those few who see, are interested, and come will make it worth the while and provide opportunities for further teaching.
2. Be specific in your advertisements. A card which simply says, “Gospel Meeting – bro. So-and-So, Speaker,” will likely whet the appetite of very few because they do not know the preacher from Adam. But a list of the sermon topics, provocatively titled, may spark someone’s curiosity and bring him or her out. Since visitors will likely not be able or inclined to attend every service, they can pick those subjects which will appeal to them and hopefully will elicit a positive response.
3. Invite! While mass advertising may bring in a few, most visitors come at the invitation of a member. Try this plan. A month before the meeting, ask each individual or family in the congregation to make a list of people they want to come to the meeting – say three names. Three weeks before, let each member extend a personal invitation to come to the folks they have chosen. Two weeks before, a local preacher can send a letter on church stationary inviting them to attend. A week before, all members should call their prospects on the phone to remind them about it. This may sound like a lot of work, but remember that we are trying to save souls which are precious beyond compare.
4. Follow up. Every visitor from the community to a gospel meeting should be visited as soon as possible. Each church needs to have visitor’s cards and/or a guest book to obtain the names and addresses of all visitors. A note may also be sent to thank the visitor for his presence, but only a personal visit truly lets the individual know that we are interested in him. During such visits arrangements can be made for filmstrips, home Bible studies, correspondence courses, or whatever other form of study is desired. But the follow-up visit is essential.
5. It should go without saying that all the members should support the meeting faithfully. The leadership of the church must insist that they do so. When a visitor comes and finds that the people who invited him are absent, he is discouraged. People who attend a meeting and see a lot of empty pews are hindered. Also, everyone should join heartily in the singing because dull singing can kill a meeting. The success is not totally dependent on the visiting preacher; every member has a responsibility as well.
6. Finally, do not look upon the gospel meeting as the sum total of your evangelistic efforts. People are not converted by a “gospel meeting” per se, but by sound teaching, and it is unlikely in our day of religious confusion and indifference that one would receive enough teaching in one gospel meeting to obey. However, the meeting might be an effective tool to provide sufficient motivation to respond for those whom we have already taught. It may also make contact with new people whom we may then teach and lead to the Lord. Personal work is definitely the key to success in the growth of the church.
Again, it is my conviction that the day of gospel meetings is not over, that a gospel meeting can accomplish much good when we give it the emphasis it deserves. Certainly not everyone is going to come and there are other ways we can go to them with the gospel. But let us not forsake the meeting. In fact, I actually think we ought to have more meetings, not less. This suggestion may not set well with some; yet, it stands to reason that the more we sow the seed through preaching and teaching the word, the more likely it will find its way into some good and honest heart and bring forth fruit. And, after all, that is our goal, is it not?
Guardian of Truth XXX: 16, p. 489
August 21, 1986