The only way to bring outsiders in is to go and fetch them. It sounds simple enough, but it is a lesson that takes much learning; it seems easy enough, but it is not easily put into practice. In it lies the solution of the whole problem, and until this simple truth is realized and this simple method adopted, the outsider will never come in.
"When the risen Lord brings dead souls to life, all other questions settle themselves; where He is not, human ingenuity and energy are of no avail. Get your Lazarus and you will get the crowd."
It is significant that the largest audiences are gathered in places where there is no conspicuous preacher at the head. In some instances the leader never preaches, and in others the preacher gives a plain, straight talk to the people, urging them to immediate decision for God. Organization is more effective for bringing in the outsider than preaching. It fetches all and sundry, whereas preaching only draws those after its kind. I know many places that have been filled by the adoption of sensible and practical methods. If I suggest methods, it must be understood they are drawn from my own experience. They are not warranted to succeed everywhere, but I have found them successful.
In every way possible we go to the people. I preach regularly in the open air. I use the word "preach" advisedly. Invitations and testimonies interspersed with thunder and judgment have their place, but I believe in preaching. When I go to a new center I find the place most thronged by the people, and there I preach at a given hour on a given day in the week. It needs practice, good temper, and self-control, but it is glorious work and lays hold of the outsider. Opposition adds to its interest and effectiveness. If the preacher can take his choir, all the better; but if he cannot, it really does not matter. It needs no organization. All the preacher wants is a curbstone, a distinct utterance, a level head, and a warm heart, and he is fully equipped. Occasionally I take the whole congregation on Sunday night after the first service and preach again out of doors; that always does good to both the insider and the outsider. We preach regularly in factories, foundries, workshops, anywhere and everywhere, wherever there is an open door for the gospel of peace.
Halls are more easily filled than churches. To the outsider a church has all the vague possibilities of the unknown, but he is familiar with lecture-halls, concert-halls, and theaters, and attendance at a service in these places commits him to nothing. It is his habit to go whatever is on the boards, and he accepts a religious service as a novelty in the program, and is sure to feel the attraction of a " first night." Consequently a preacher can always reckon on the outsider if he will preach from a neutral platform. The stage is not the pulpit. Audiences in theaters and secular halls are intolerant of dullness, and will not hesitate to express their impatience. That is a good thing, but it needs to be remembered. If church congregations were not quite so impassive, things would be livelier. The grandest converts we have were captured in our excursions into secular halls and theaters. Let it not be forgotten, however, that in these places they are accustomed to having things done efficiently and in good style. There must be no bungling or fooling. Everything must be smart, prompt, alert, and of the best, or the church had better remain indoors, where, shame to say it, they are not always so particular.
A friendly press is an invaluable ally. The columns of a newspaper reach thousands who never think of religion. Such friendliness should be encouraged, but not courted. Preachers who write up their own doings can hardly be respected.
Personally I have found house-to-house visitation the best method for bringing in the outsider. The whole area of our district is mapped out, and a suitable person appointed to every fifty or sixty houses. Each visitor calls at every house at a regular hour every week with a leaflet I write myself, and invites the people to our services. They are not bill distributers. They get inside the homes and become the friends of the people. Cases of sickness, distress, and special difficulty are reported to the minister. These workers should be met regularly for conference and encouragement. In our mission we visit in this way over ten thousand families every week, and I regard this as our most valuable agency for bringing in the outsider. Another valuable medium is the children. We gather them from the streets into our children's mission, and call upon their fathers and mothers. These are some of the methods, not all.
The real difficulty with the outsider begins at the church door. When the four men of Capernaum got the man sick of the palsy to the house where Christ was, they found the way blocked with the crowd. Some church doors are blocked against the outsider, even where there is no crowd. The church that really wants the outsider gets him, and the church that has not got him does not want him. That is the plain English of the situation. The church that is not prepared to welcome the man it invites had better go on with its pious prosing and let the outsider alone. That outsiders flock to religious services outside churches proves clearly that their objection is not against Christianity, but against the church. That is the fact the churches have to face. Instead of bringing the world to Christ, they are keeping men from Him.
Every part of public worship should be regulated with one eye on the outsider. Why should worship be an unintelligible weariness to the stranger who is brought in? It is the church that is the real outsider. Its vocabulary is a jargon, its dullness a mystery, its ritual a problem.
Take a practical illustration. How does a church set to work when it seeks to reach the outsider by a special mission?
1. The way is cleared of every other work. Sales of work, bazaars, anniversaries, and all such things arc kept at a respectful distance from the dates of the mission. As the time approaches, even the ordinary work of the church is suspended. Special meetings for prayer are held. Everything is concentrated upon the work of saving the people.
2. A thorough canvass is made of the district. Every house is visited several times. People are informed of the services and urged to attend. Earnest workers offer to call for strangers and take them to the place. Workshops are visited, services are held at the dinner hour, and every effort is made to get people to the church during the days of the mission.
3. A mission-band is formed. Sometimes a band is engaged. Open-air services are held. Street-corner men are tackled. Public houses are visited. Extra special services are held, to induce certain classes of people to attend.
4. All seats are free to all comers. Seat holders give up their privileges for the season of special effort.
5. Welcomers are appointed, who shake hands with strangers and see to their comfort.
6. The service is lightened and brightened. Mission hymnbooks are used. Solos are sung. Conventionalities are put aside. There is a " swing " and "go" in the services. Instead of conforming to the taste of the few, they cater to that of the many. The sermon even is different. There is a note of urgency and expectation in the appeal. Saving truth holds the field. The cross is the one and only theme.
7. Preparations are made for results. Conversions are expected. Inquiry rooms are set apart. Judicious workers are appointed. Cards, books, and lists are all got ready as if success were expected.
S. Finally, one man is put in charge as absolutely as a pilot of the vessel he boards.
Nothing more is needed to bring in the outsider than that these methods should become the regular working order.
Every church must settle for itself what provision it needs for the keeping and building up of its converts. I will only say that in some districts it is necessary to provide home and shelter for those who are gathered, and that the social organization of the church is as difficult as it is necessary.
After all, the bringing in of the outsider is a question of men rather than methods. The man constrained by the love of Christ will need no other instructor how to seek and save the lost. Wherever a raised Lazarus and a risen Christ are found, the people are sure to come, if not to see Jesus, to see Lazarus, whom He has raised. A church that raises the dead never fails to reach the outsider. The miracle of conversion is the one effective method. When the risen Lord brings dead souls to life, all other questions settle themselves; where He is not, human ingenuity and energy are of no avail. Get your Lazarus and you will get the crowd.