By Wayne S. Walker
In a recent sermon, I asked the congregation where I am a member if anyone could recall how many people had been baptized at Haynes St. so far that year? I told them not to answer out loud but to think about the question and try to answer in their minds throughout the sermon, through-out the day, and throughout the following week. I assume that it is the goal of every faithful congregation of God’s people, as well as every individual child of God, to see the Lord’s church grow both in spirit and in number. Of course, in order for numerical growth to occur, there must be conversions, people added to the Lord and his body through faith, repentance, and baptism.
But even before this will take place, Christians must grow spiritually to the point of seeing the need of working to save the lost and doing something about it. I would like for us to notice something that David wrote in Psalm 51:13. This is a psalm of repentance. But after he had made sure that his own life was in harmony with the Lord, he said, “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners shall be converted to you.” The purpose of this article is to encourage us so that we will teach transgressors and sinners will be converted to Christ.
In one survey, large numbers were asked how they originally became interested in the church where they attended. The results were as follows:
21.1% were invited by friends & relatives
16.6% were visited by members of the church
7.6% were visited by leaders of the church
5.3% were children invited by friends
3.5% became interested through gospel meetings
29.6% were contacted by various other advertisements
Note that 50.6% came by personal contact and of that 43% was made by someone other than so-called “church leaders” just “ordinary members.” This survey shows that personal work is our best means of converting people. Yet, it is perhaps the least relied on of any other means.
Also, the Los Angeles Executive Club published some extremely interesting facts about salesmen’s calls. Eight percent of all sales are made after the fifth call back. Yet48% of all salesmen make one call and quit, and 25% make three calls and quit. In other words, the great difference between selling and failing to sell lies in the number of calls! It is so hard to get some Christians to visit. It is even harder to get them to revisit. And yet, this revisiting insures success in both selling campaigns and church visitation.
There is no substitute for personal contact. It benefits both the caller and the person called on. We like people better and they like us better as we really get to know each other. By repeated visiting our understanding is increased. Being persistent is the road to success since very few will respond on the first call. So the answer is visit, visit, visit, and then visit again. Apparently, both selling and visiting are discouraging to many people. All salesmen would like to sell every product on the very first call. But remember that experience indicates that this will not be done. Again, 80% of those eventually sold will be sold after and not before the fifth visit. Are we willing to work this hard to save some lost soul?
But the question now becomes, what can we do to try to reach others? Not everyone has the same abilities and opportunities. Some can teach a home Bible study and others cannot. Some live in a neighborhood where people are willing to study and others live in areas where people will not even talk to them. However, somewhere, there is something that each person can do. So, in this article, we want to discuss some ways that we can win others for Jesus.
First, there are some things that we can do alone (Mark 16:15; James 5:20). Each Christian has a personal, individual responsibility to preach the gospel and seek to convert the sinner, regardless of what anyone else is doing. For example, we can use tracts. We might keep some in our car, purse, etc. to give whenever an occasion arises. Or we might keep some handy at the door to give to everyone who calls, especially religious workers like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Aldo, we might mail a carefully selected tract every so often to a particular group of friends. And we might leave them in barber or beauty shops, restaurants, laundromats, waiting rooms, terminals, or other places where reading material is provided for people. (Be sure that some name and address, either personal or congregational, is on the tract if a person reading it would want to make contact.)
Of course, as suggested earlier, we can and should visit but whom to visit? We can visit new people in the neighborhood; acquaintances who are sick or in the hospital; someone we know bereaved by the loss of a loved one; a family with a new baby; a newly married couple; people who have lost possessions in a fire, storm, flood, or other tragedy; an elderly person who is lonely or shut-in; members who are weak or fallen away; and all visitors to the services of the church. Here would be a good place to add that every visitor who attends services should be given a visitor’s card to fill out so that his or her name and address will be available for follow-up. This is something else that each individual can do as a personal responsibility.
Another thing we can do is to use the telephone. We can make appointments to talk to people about the gospel or set up classes for others. I knew a lady who, after she was no longer able to attend services due to health, began calling her friends and asking to set up home Bible studies for the preacher and elders. A few were converted as a result of her efforts. We can invite people we know to regular services or gospel meetings. And we can call members who miss services and see if we can help in any way.
Then there are some other things that we can do as individuals. We can invite a friend or neighbor into our house to share a meal with us and then try to get a Bible discussion started. We can encourage new members by having them into our homes for a meal too (Mark 9:41). We can send a card with an appropriate message to those who are sick, are in hospitals, are newly married, have a new baby, have a birthday, have an anniversary, are shut in, or have some other special need or occasion. We can use tapes of sermons to share with others. And we can send a good gospel paper to friends or loved ones outside of Christ e.g., With All Boldness, The Preceptor, Guardian of Truth, or Gospel Truths.
Secondly, there are things we can do with others (Luke 10:1-3). While there are some things that we can do all by ourselves. God never intended for us to do all our work by ourselves. We can take another Christian and go to a nursing home, hospital, retirement center, or jail to talk with people there. We can take another Christian and pass out gospel literature from door to door or to people on the street. We can take another Christian with us and visit prospects, visitors to the services, new Christians, weak and wayward members, and so forth. Or with another family in the church, we could invite a few couples who are not Christians to a get-together and try to start a Bible discussion.
Thirdly, there are things that we can do to promote the work of the church (1 Cor. 12:12-14; Eph. 4:15-16; 1 Tim. 3:15). We can call our friends’ attention to the activities of the church radio or television programs, bulletins, Diala-Bible Message, home studies, filmstrips, gospel meetings, regular services, newspaper ads or articles, and correspondence courses. Some people just get several of the latter and start handing them out to people good examples are the John Hurt, Sewell Hall, and Jule Miller course.
We can participate in a canvass of the community to take a religious survey that might produce new contacts by offering such services as correspondence courses, home studies, and filmstrips; or to pass out literature and announcements. If a person does not feel capable of teaching a home Bible study himself, he can start home Bible studies for the local preacher and other members who can teach them. We can ask our friends if they would like to see some filmstrips e.g., the Jule Miller Cottage Meeting filmstrips, Winston Atkinson’s Fundamentals of the Faith film strips, and Neil Lightfoot’s How We Got the Bible film-strips. Some of these are now available on video cassette too. Or we just set up a regular class to study the Bible in a neighbor’s home. J.T. Bristow’s Knock on the Door, Ivan Stewart’s From House to House, and Homer Hailey’s Let’s Go Fishing for Men, all have excellent suggestions on how to do this. And we can have a Bible class in our own home, with a few members and selected non-member friends and neighbors attending.
Or we can give names of all new families in the neighborhood that we know of to be sent a packet containing information about the church. And we can issue invitations. We can invite people personally to attend regular services. It is good to put forth a special effort to do this at least once a week with one particular person in mind. We can especially invite everyone we know to come to our gospel meetings. And if necessary, we can use our cars to bring these people with us. Then once people are present, we can make a special effort to welcome warmly all visitors to our services. This is one area where most congregations probably need to be doing more. I know that it is difficult for mothers with small children, elderly, and others with special problems to get back and greet visitors, but each one of us needs to let our visitors know personally how much we appreciate their being with us. Through the years I have heard some people complain that there were not enough people at the door to greet visitors. Yet, while this is not always the case, usually the ones who complain the loudest are nowhere to be seen when visitors come thru the door.
And we can support heartily every soul-winning effort of the local congregation. We can teach in a vacation Bible school or other classes where we might instruct children in the truth and maybe open doors to lost parents. We can attend and encourage services in hospitals, nursing homes, jails, and so forth, conducted by the local church if it has any. We can participate in a personal work class or visitation program if the congregation has one. (Why is it that everyone agrees that we need to be doing more personal work, but when you announce a personal work class to help us get started and do it better, only a small few show up?) And whenever we see something that needs to be done, we can do it with all our might (Eccl. 9:10).
Finally, we must be genuinely converted, whole-heartedly dedicated, and enthusiastically zealous Christians. In Titus 2:11-14, Paul wrote of Christ, “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for himself his own special people, zealous for good works.” If this is true of each of us, then we should not have any trouble finding things to do. The fact is that we have been saved to save others.
In January, 1975, Sewell Hall wrote an article entitled “Seeking the Lost,” in which he made the following observations: “When conversions are few it is easy to blame our failures on the times, the hardness of heart among people of our community, or the opposition of adversaries. In some instances these are legitimate reasons for failure. Jesus and the apostles sometimes failed be-cause of indifference or hostility. The `Parable of the Sower’ describes a type of soil that is hard and cannot be penetrated with the seed of the kingdom. Paul also warns of a time when `men will not endure sound doctrine.’ These times appear to be now.
“But we cannot legitimately claim these as the reasons for our failures until we are sure we have given the people of our community every opportunity to hear and reject God’s truth. This is not accomplished by merely building a building and advertising. `Here it is; come get it!’ There are a hundred counterfeit offers of this kind for every sound one. How is the public to know the difference? Jesus said go! The responsibility is ours to see that they have the message brought to them personally.
“It was recently reported to me concerning an active and successful congregation, `The elders plan to succeed and if an effort fails, they examine it and make several changes before they will abandon it.’ No wonder this congregation is successful; they plan it that way. Other congregations expect to fail and they reach their expectations. Efforts are only half-hearted and when they bog down there is no particular disappointment . . . We can excuse ourselves by saying, `We have tried everything and nothing works.’
“If the same kind of thought, planning energy, and dedication were put into our efforts to save the lost that we put into promoting our business we would be successful … True, many congregations will never be aroused to their responsibility and potential. But . . . how many . . . things … can be done by individuals regardless of what the church does or does not do? There is no excuse! And if we love the Lord and the lost, why should we seek and excuse? Better to seek the lost” (Vanguard; Vol. 1, #2). What brother Hall wrote nearly twenty years ago is just as true today as it was then.
We have a choice to make, both as individual Christians and as congregations. We can sit around and do nothing, the result of which is that local churches will dwindle and eventually die, and we will be lost. Or we can all get to work doing the best that we can to seek and save the lost. And even though the church might end up not growing in spite of our efforts, we shall still please the Lord and can be saved. And ultimately, that is all we can do and that is all that he expects of us.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 15, p. 8-10
August 4, 1994