Executive editor Bill Knott recently sat with Shawn Boonstra, speaker/director of the Voice of Prophecy media ministry. Their conversation took place just a few days after the COVID-19 virus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, and the president of the United States declared a national emergency. Those declarations happened less than two weeks after the Discovering Revelation evangelistic series was being rolled out to local churches throughout North America. The following is based on that conversation.—Editors
I’ve always said that when you do evangelism, expect trouble to break out. It’s actually a good sign: it means that somebody is afraid of what’s about to happen. This time around, as you can imagine, the trouble has been significant—because for about five years we’ve been going up the ramp to a very special evangelistic project. Of course, this pandemic isn’t just about us, but there’s no question that in addition to all the harm it’s caused people across the nation, this has has done significant damage to a nationally united evangelistic effort.
We’ve been working on building 35, 36 unique evangelistic tools designed for churches to use, and we’re essentially equipping and training churches to do what our team has been able to do, with all the best resources imaginable. In fact, we’re now giving churches evangelistic tools that I’ve never had.
We designed . . . a comprehensive system in which pastors have all the tools they need to win their communities, everything they need to guarantee an audience and lead them into a relationship with Christ.
We gave them a new, proven preaching series illustrated with the very latest images. We gave them everything they need for post-work. We gave them what they need to see why successful evangelism is successful, and why unsuccessful evangelism is a failure. Once everybody catches on, churches become unstoppable.
We have an 800 number that participants can call seven days a week and get personal coaching from an accomplished evangelist. We have an e-mail dedicated to our Discovery Centers, so around the clock we can support church pastors. Our team has put everything into supporting churches.
Our plan has been to have 1,000 public evangelistic meetings across the division this year, and nearly 200 of them launched just a few weeks ago. And, of course, most places in the country recently determined that public meetings are no longer permissible in the face of a coronavirus pandemic. What’s heartbreaking is that it was going so well—this is probably the largest evangelistic audience (outside of NET meetings) that the division has ever seen.
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So, what do we do about that? Some people simply want to put the information online, but there are significant challenges to doing that, not the least of which is the fact that evangelism is not the mere dissemination of information. Just sending information out about the Sabbath and the mark of the beast baptizes nobody. There are othersignificant challenges, of course, but this is the most important one.
We stress that preaching is really only 10 percent of the evangelistic process; intimate, meaningful relationships make up the other 90 percent. Of course,you cannot make an intelligent decision to join the Adventist Church unless you know what the Adventist Church teaches. So, the 10 percent is weighted quite heavily. You do have to convey information, and you have to do it thoroughly; but without the close relationships, it’s not going to be effective.
So right now, I continue to meet with all of our churches online, and we’re pretending that our meetings are still on. And while we’re waiting to reopen our churches, we’re making the most of the fact that our interests are also stuck at home. This is an ideal time to build meaningful relationships, one-on-one. We can build critical relationships with people daily–online.
Then when our meetings reopen, we will have established intimate relationships with most of our audience. I can’t stress enough how advantageous this is: I know 80 percent of the people I’m going to baptize by the end of the first week of my meetings, because they’re the ones I’ve bonded with most closely. Decisions happen in friendship. This is how Jesus worked, and honestly, this is why preaching meetings without preparation or strategic relationship-building typically fails.
It’s rare that I haven’t made friends with somebody who stands in the baptistry during my meetings. Ellen White made this statement: “Teaching the Scriptures in families,—this is the work of an evangelist, and this work is to be united with preaching. If it is omitted, the preaching will be, to a great extent, a failure.”[*]
We praise God that the Voice of Prophecy is well-equipped to take advantage of this moment; we happen to run the oldest Bible school, the most broadly used Bible school in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We quickly took all the lessons, scanned them, and we’re encouraging pastors to use them. In small churches they might have three or four interests. They’re all going to be home right now. So you can e-mail them lessons; or better yet, drop them off on their doorstep, ring the bell, back up 10 feet (you know, social distancing). Say, “Hey, I just brought tomorrow night’s lesson. I’ll see you on Skype.”
You can also become these peoples’ pastor during a crisis. In addition to an online Bible study, we call on them each twice a week: How’s it going at your house? Have you been forced to stay at home? Are you losing your job? Is everybody OK? Why don’t I pray for you and your family?
What we’re doing is telling audiences, “We can’t have public meetings. The big seminar, we can’t do it right now. But here’s what I can do. We can keep it going until we can open our doors again.” And that way you have something to be excited about, some reason to return to the church when the quarantine is over.
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So, we know we can’t have large gatherings anymore, but we’re keeping this going. We’re keeping the relationships alive, and we’re prepping for the day when we can open the doors again . . . and then the meetings will be a really big deal.
God hasn’t been defeated by this, and we won’t be either.
* Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1946), p. 440.