Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees for their cold professionalism. He said, "Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte," and yet they neglected potential prospects in their very midst. The Ethiopian eunuch had become interested in the truth and "had come to Jerusalem for to worship." Evidently he was lost among the crowd of worshipers at the Temple. Could it be that no one recognized him as a stranger in their midst? There is no evidence that anyone volunteered his friendship or offered to answer his many questions. It was not until he was on his way home that Heaven intervened and dispatched a disciple to intercept the desert traveler.
A percentage of those who respond to invitations to evangelistic services turn out to be good prospects, but a much higher percentage of those who on their own initiative join us at our regular worship services are good prospects. We are careful to gather names and to follow up interest at evangelistic services, but what about those who come into our midst to worship?
In one city a husband and wife not of our faith became convicted on the matter of the Sabbath from the study of their Bible. They closed their business on Sabbath and began visiting Sabbath-keeping congregations in search of a new church home. After learning their story on our initial visit we looked in the church guest book. We found that they had registered as visitors on several occasions, but no representative of the church had ever visited them and evidently no one had gotten well enough acquainted with them to discover their interest.
Call on visitors
Elders can find time to make a brief call on all local visitors to the worship service during the week immediately following. In some churches there is a well-chosen committee who visit such names and then report to the pastor or the elder in charge of visitation the results of the visit. Where a church newsletter is used, the names of local visitors should be added to the mailing list. Visitors often come with out-of-town Adventist relatives who are houseguest. Such folks often have been receiving our missionary literature and turn out to be good prospects.
A young widow who had been reared an Adventist but who had married out of the faith started back to church after the death of her husband. She was lonely and confused. The church did not take the initiative of being friendly. After several visits without finding a satisfying fellowship, she ceased attending. The very fact that she resumed church attendance for a period of several weeks indicated that she felt a need and had a desire to return to the faith of her childhood. "When you find a wandering sheep, call him to the fold; and leave him not until you see him safely enfolded there" (Evangelism, p. 292).
Some of our churches are organized in such a way that the church reception committee has enlisted the support of sufficient women to offer a Sabbath dinner invitation to every visitor attending the worship service. Often these invitations are not accepted, but it means a lot to the visitor to be invited. The hosts and hostesses gain much valuable information to relay to the pastor regarding prospective members as a result of this simple plan of hospitality. This is organized hospitality, but organization becomes essential in large congregations, and if the plan is skillfully executed, the guests need never know of the organization behind the scenes. On Sabbaths when there are not enough visitors to send to all the homes prepared to offer hospitality, a real blessing can come as a result of encouraging those prepared to entertain to invite a family in the church with whom they have never really become well acquainted.
One fine family was garnered in as the result of the use of the above plan of organized hospitality. They had been attending various Adventist churches unnoticed in a large city for a period of seven years. It was taken for granted that they were members, but they had never been baptized. The husband operated a fleet of trucks. He was literally waiting for an invitation to be baptized. He made the necessary business adjustments so that he could keep the Sabbath. His family joined him in baptism and they all have given strong support to the program of the church.
In one rapidly growing church is an elderly couple that sends a neatly handwritten greeting card to each visitor who registers in the guest book, inviting a return visit.
An alert and dedicated minister's wife noticed a woman weeping during the closing hymn of a worship service. The minister's wife made her way to the side of the woman and slipped her arm around her understandingly. After the service it was learned that the visitor had a brother who had recently become a Seventh-day Adventist. The brother in turn had won the son of the visiting woman. The son was attending one of our boarding academies. We later learned that the week this experience took place was the Week of Prayer at the academy. This woman's son had made his mother the special object of his prayers during the week. Cod had touched her heart, and she had made her way to church for the first time. How fortunate that there was someone there that Sabbath morning that was watching for souls. This contact was followed up, and another soul was gained for God's kingdom.
Choose receptionists carefully
Those who greet the visitors in the church foyer on Sabbath morning should be carefully chosen. Their dress and deportment should be representative of our message. They should be alert and should cultivate the ability to remember names and faces. I have seen the same guests being greeted as strangers by the same receptionists week after week. This is embarrassing. Special attention should be given to notice those newly baptized. New members should not be classed as visitors. They need to be made to feel that they belong. The receptionist should demonstrate by a happy countenance and a cheerful disposition a sincere interest in people. Never should conduct in the church foyer be boisterous. The receptionists should not become absorbed in conversation with one another. Theirs is an important work. They are to watch for souls as they that must give an account.
Many elders show by their presence in the foyer Sabbath morning that they feel this is the most valuable place they can be as their people come into the sanctuary to worship. The elder will want to personally greet the visitors and extend an invitation to visit Sabbath school and church.
Neglected young people
Sometimes neglected groups in our midst are the teenage children of Adventist parents who for some reason have not been baptized along with the rest of their age group. There is usually a problem in such cases that will need personal attention. Each succeeding year that such young people remain unbaptized, the chances of their ever becoming members will be reduced. Often the father is not a member, and the young person is torn between loyalties to two parents who differ religiously. It is a challenge to win the confidence of such young people and to lead them to the Lord.
Successful elders budget ten minutes for the junior division and ten minutes for the youth every Sabbath morning during the opening exercises of Sabbath school. The department leaders know just at what time the elder will be there and work it into their program accordingly. During the lesson study time this same elder teaches an inquirers' class. Each Sabbath morning he meets with the three groups in the Sabbath school that has the greatest potential for baptisms. This plan enables the leadership of the congregation to keep in touch with another neglected group the young people in the church who do not attend church school. The elder's interest in this group will be a factor in encouraging them to attend church school.
A mother who has been reared as an Adventist will often bring or send her children to Sabbath school on Sabbath morning without attending herself. The department leaders and teachers checking to see where the children in their departments come from can often reclaim a wayward parent.
A prominent attorney who had taken one of our Bible correspondence courses told me that he had made at least ten visits to worship services in one of our churches in a neighboring city. There are many who, like Nicodemus, are not yet ready to come out publicly to manifest their interest in the truth in their home communities, but they are interested nonetheless. Such cases need to be handled with the greatest tact.
A minister of another faith who will be a baptized Seventh-day Adventist by the time this article appears in print told me of two occasions when he visited the Adventist church in different cities because he was becoming interested. On another occasion he visited one of our Book and Bible Houses. He was interested and felt drawn to our people, but he was not yet ready to declare his interest openly.
Personal contact necessary
In most such cases, a personal contact with a Seventh-day Adventist is a necessary step in maturing such an interest into a settled decision for the truth. We need to tactfully take the initiative in such situations. "Many are on the verge of the kingdom, waiting only to be gathered in" (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 109). This work of gathering demands initiative on our part as workers. When a stray cat or dog comes to your door it is usually a sign that it is hungry. If you feed it, it will stay around. The analogy is obvious. When visitors come to your church on their own initiative, it usually indicates a spiritual hunger. Give them warm fellowship and spiritual food. Dear elders, be aware of the highways and the hedges for prospects, may you never neglect the prospects in our midst.
George E. Knowles, an active retired pastor, writes from Chula Vista, CA.
" Prayer and effort, effort and prayer, will be the the bus/ness of your life. You must pray as though the efficiency and praise were all due to Cod, and labor as though duty were all your own. If you want power you may have it; it is waiting your draft upon it. Only believe in God, take Him at His word, act by faith, and blessings will come."
"In this matter, genius, logic, and eloquence will not avail. Those who have a humble, trusting, contrite heart, God accepts, and hears their prayer; and when God helps, all obstacles will be overcame."
Ellen G. White
Testimonies, vol. 4, pp. 538, 539.