You guys remember Elmer Towns? Elmer is still going strong down in Lynchburg from what I hear.
Read this little paragraph from Dr. Towns:
In 1971, I was Sunday School Superintendent at Thomas Road Baptist Church, Lynchburg, Virginia when Sunday School attendance averaged approximately 4,000 a week. Pastor Jerry Falwell set an attendance goal of 10,000, an unheard of record attendance. The goal was to saturate the city and surrounding counties. First, all 103 pages of the telephone book were distributed to 103 volunteers with the instruction to phone everyone and invite them to Sunday School. Twelve billboards surrounding the city invited visitors to the service. Sixty radio announcements were played on every station and 10 announcements on the I television station invited people to Sunday School. A flyer was placed under the windshield wiper of every automobile in town and 5,000 posters were tacked on trees, light poles, etc. Three mailings (a letter, flyer, and post card) were sent to every home in a 5 county area. Finally, 200 workers went door to door on the Saturday before the big day to invite visitors to Sunday School. As a result of saturating our “Jerusalem,” 10,154 attended Harvest Day, 1972. But by 1987, Dr. Falwell was qualifying his opinion on every phase of Saturation Evangelism. He said it didn’t work as it used to work because of the high price of media. Falwell was exhorting “Back to Basics,” which included visiting, contacting friends, working through Sunday School teachers, etc.
via Dr. Elmer Towns: Goals and how to reach them
I grew up in the hey day of Sunday Schools. We did all the contests to get people to come. We swallowed gold-fish; we gave away airplane rides. I remember one Sunday we spread honey all over the pastor and threw feathers at him… all in the good name of getting more people to Sunday School.
And you know what… it worked. Not sure the motivation was right… but we got enough people there to honey and feather the guy.
When I read what Dr. Towns states above, I think of a couple things:
1. I’m not sure that this would work today. I’m definitely sure that Sunday School is not the entry point.
2. I’m struck by the amount of effort that they did in 1971 to get people to come to church. Frankly, I’m not sure that anybody goes that those type of extreme measures these days. Now we’ll pop a direct mail piece off to a mail-order house and make sure our music is really good. Then we’ll sit back and wait for people to show up.
3. I’m not convinced door to door is the way to go… but what if your church sent out 200 workers and simply invited people to church. I bet the return would be better than two 10,000 people mailings.
I’m just wondering… have we lost our zeal?
In most churches, we wrestle just to figure out what the first step is for outsiders. Is it a Sunday Service? A home group? A community outreach?
All I know… if we’re not sure what we’re targeting at, we’ll never hit it.
Say what you want to about 1971 Saturation Evangelism at Thomas Road, but they were doing something… and evidently it saw some pretty good results. They aimed at the target and hit it every once in a while.
As Seth Godin would say… they ‘shipped’.
I hope that your church ‘ships’ in 2012. I hope my church ‘ships’ in 2012.
It’s time most of us quit spinning our wheels.