Sherwood Park, AB
I TOOK THE BLUNT APPROACH
When I accepted the pastorate of a mid-western church I checked the past year's attendance. Sunday school had averaged 181; Sunday morning service, 153; Sunday evening, 79; Wednesday fellowship hour, 23.
This last figure shocked me. How could a church prosper with this sort of indifference existing?
My Sunday pulpit exhortations about the importance of midweek prayer meeting had a little effect, but it wasn't enough. Finally the Lord led me to ask each of the people face to face, "Why don't you attend the Wednesday fellowship hour?"
Within two weeks I visited every home. I soon found that the excuses fell into various categories.
Many times in my former church I had accepted and condoned indifference. Now, with heartfelt Christian love I challenged the people.
What happened? Did people get angry? Did people respond?
I'd like to tell you about how I answered these excuses.
"Why don't you come to Wednesday fellowship hour?" I asked a woman.
"I couldn't keep my children out that late."
"Our prayer meeting ends at eight-thirty. Aren't there many occasions when your children stay up past eight-thirty to watch a TV program?"
"Yes," she admitted, and later she confessed it was almost every night.
"Certainly what they see on television can't be compared in value to an
hour of Bible study and prayer, can it?" I said.
Another mother threw up her hands. "I have five children. Think of the time it would take to get them ready."
I dared challenge this woman with something I had heard from someone else. "Suppose all your children were taken by death, would you be more interested? Surely you don't want to use your children as an excuse for not serving the Lord as fully as possible. "You do get your children ready for school five days a week, don't you? " I went on. "Aren't you willing to make the effort to ready them for Bible study?"
One man, exposing obvious hostility, told me, "Pastor, I'm a busy man. When I come home from work I'm tired." I pointed to a bowling ball near a bookcase. "What night do you bowl?"
His face brightened. "Mondays."
"And you're not tired on Mondays?" I asked. "Surely you don't believe bowling is more important than Bible study and prayer!"
Another man responded, "I'm very faithful on Sunday morning, and I've always felt that was sufficient."
"Then you think we should close our Sunday evening and our Wednesday evening services?"
"I wouldn't say that."
But, don't you see," I countered, "when you aren't there you vote to close them."
A high school student said, "Aw Pastor, you don't understand. They load you with homework. I couldn't take time off."
"How are your marks?"
"Not too good," he admitted.
"It seems to me you could stand a little prayer," I kidded. "I've never heard of a person failing because he gave God an hour in the middle of the week. You come for three months. If your grades drop, stop coming and I'll buy you the biggest steak dinner in town." He came. I never had to buy the steak dinner. And he's still coming.
A great number of people whom I questioned said prayer meetings were boring. "But you do a lot of boring things," I reminded. "Housework is often boring. Schoolwork is often boring. Secular work is often boring." And I emphasized, "Wednesday fellowship hour at our church is not boring. You haven't given it a trial."
What were the results?
Some never did respond, but most of them did. Here is the actual record. Within two weeks we hit the 75 mark. A week later we had 101. The following week we hit 126, the week after that 146.
A number of years have passed. I still approach people the same way. And midweek prayer service attendance now runs in the 200s and 300s regularly at our church. And more important than attendance records is the fact that the people have found Wednesday fellowship hour an inspiration, a source of spiritual strength for the rigors of daily life in a sin-riddled world, and a means of bolstering the ministry of the whole church and Sunday school through united praying that has obtained results in soul winning and in transformed lives.
One busy father recently told me, "I never miss a mid-week service — for several reasons. One, the pastor knows that only interested Christians attend, so he teaches deeper Bible truths on Wednesday nights and I love it. Then too, we have six children and my wife is up to her ears in work every waking minute of the day. She loves to get out of the house on Wednesday nights to have fellowship with other Christians. And our children love to come, for there is a department especially for them, and what they get on Wednesday nights helps off set the hideous stuff the world feeds them."
A housewife admitted, "I never came to prayer meeting until I was challenged, but since my husband and I have attended we've seen our son and our daughter take up Bible study in earnest. Both are dedicated to full-time Christian service. My husband and I are closer to the Lord than we've ever been before. Need I say more?"
A teenager said, "As a senior in high school I have to work for my marks. I get so tired of plugging, plugging, and plugging all the time, and for what? To beat out a competitive world to make a living. What a relief to chuck my books on Wednesday nights to join a flock of other kids for Bible study and to share prayer requests. And there's something else. Since I've been going to prayer meeting my marks have gone up. It pays."
Do you attend your church's midweek meeting? Your pastor has a right to challenge your excuses for absence from midweek prayer services. Please don't force him to do it. Instead take the challenge directly from your own Bible. "Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." (Heb. 10:24-25)