This is a special guest post by my friend Mark Ray. Mark preaches at the Benton Church of Christ in Benton Kentucky. He is the author of a book on marriage I am teaching now and recommend for your use. He also has a web presence at www.markdray.wordpress.com. He has lots of excellent resources on this site. I asked him to write this article sharing the Benton church’s recent experience with a successful gospel meeting.
Decades ago, the Gospel Meeting was a central part of the evangelism plan for many churches. Many local congregations were founded by a gospel meeting and gospel meetings were responsible for dozens of baptisms each year. However, few meetings have this effect in our current culture. Due to the overall business of those in our membership and our community, the typical meeting has been whittled down to less than a week and rarely has visible results in terms of conversions. A few years back we had a gospel meeting that featured a very well known preacher with a good amount of advertisement through radio, newspaper and door knocking. But because it was in the middle of little league and other local events, the meeting was poorly attended. At the time our average Sunday morning attendance was 265. We had 280 on Sunday morning with an average attendance of 140 each night through Wednesday night. The results of the meeting discouraged our speaker and the congregation to the point where we considered not hosting any more gospel meetings. This year, we hosted another Gospel meeting with a changed focus. With an average attendance of 295 on Sunday morning we had 340 on Sunday morning with an average attendance each night of 355. The meeting resulted in several baptisms and with shot of enthusiasm to the local congregation. Here are the four things we did differently.
The first thing we did when planning a gospel meeting was to ask the question, “Why?” Do you have gospel meetings every year regardless of results because you’ve always done them? Are you seeking to have a meeting for the purpose of education (i.e.; first principles, apologetics, finances, marriage enhancement)? We have a summer series of Wednesday night speakers for the purposes of education. We determined that we wanted to have our Gospel meeting focus on evangelism. Therefore we aimed our choice of speaker, our advertising. and methods for that purpose.
The second thing to focus on after you determine your purpose is to choose your speaker. Of course the most important thing about the speaker is that he is biblical and knowledgeable about the topic that he will be discussing. But for a special meeting, there is value in determining the skill and personality of the speaker. As we looked back at the meeting from several years ago that didn’t do so well, we determined that he is among the most skilled scholars and orators among our preachers, but local congregations had used him quite a bit. This made it where many people were not as excited to hear him and attend our meeting. The speaker at our most recent meeting was from many states away and had only been used as an area wide meeting we had hosted the year before in a town located twenty-five minutes away. Also, being a preacher in an African-American congregation, he was much different in personality and presentation than what most of our church was used to hearing. In short, we determined that we would have more success in our meeting if we had a speaker that was unique and interesting in his presentation. Notice, he still was very biblical in his approach, but his style and mannerisms were very different that what we saw here locally. While this man may not be ideal to work as a located preacher here, he was ideal to bring in for a meeting in which we were looking to attract interest. He was a speaker who would generate interest who was very skilled in preaching basic gospel sermons for the purpose of evangelism.
The third, and perhaps most important part, of having a successful gospel meeting is the investment of the local congregation to it’s success. We had over the years developed a go to system of advertising. We would buy time on the local radio station, buy advertising in the newspaper. and then on the Saturday or two before door knock in the neighborhoods around the church building. As far as I know, none of these methods had encouraged many people to attend who would otherwise have not attended. With our newly focused goal being evangelism we recognized the importance of having non-Christians attend the meeting with our own membership encouraging the effort with their attendance as well. Rather than focus on traditional means of advertising, we utilized social media such as Facebook, Twitter and even had a chart placed in the front of the auditorium listing how many people had been personally invited. With Sunday attendance being around 300 each week, we chose a goal of 1500 invitations (three invitations for each of us) and had people anonymously write on a card each week and place into a basket the numbers they had invited. While we missed our goal of 1500 we did invite over 1350. By our members inviting their friends, those who were invited were much more likely to visit and were easier to follow up on after the meeting. We still advertised on the radio and newspaper but the grassroots form of inviting friends was our difference. It encouraged our membership to take ownership of the meeting and make sure that someone would come who was a non-Christian. As the meeting progressed, we recorded the sermons and encouraged our members on Facebook to share the video lessons (we use livestream.com and youtube.com for a nominal price). As the meeting progressed, the discussion of the lessons on social media encouraged our attendance even more. It’s been said many times that Gospel meetings will work if you will work your Gospel meeting.
The fourth part of having a successful meeting is preparation of specific candidates for evangelism and following up with them afterwards. Our community does not, as a rule, respond to the invitation at the end of a sermon. Therefore, we did not have many baptisms during the meeting itself. However, as we visited and discussed with potential candidates for conversion in the days following the meeting, our studies resulted in multiple baptisms with other studies continuing even today several weeks after the meeting. In other words, our gospel meeting was not the only tool used at this time for evangelism, but it was one of many tools used together to accomplish our purpose.
Gospel meetings have many different designs and purposes. One of the reasons why ours worked better this year is we focused in on our purpose, we found a speaker who generated interest and we encouraged every member to take part in bringing the gospel to the community. These methods are necessary in almost every form of evangelism. It is our role to use our imaginations to find good, fresh ways to reach out to this lost and dying world and to teach them the gospel.