It seems like the practice of having a gospel meeting has become almost a since of tradition for many churches. When asked why we have gospel meetings the reply is usually, because we have always had gospel meetings. This is not to say that we aren’t hopeful to have someone obey the gospel. (In my 14 years of preaching I have never seen anyone obey the gospel during the Gospel Meeting. (Although I have known some that have eventually come to obey the gospel meeting because of the lessons presented that week). This lack of “obedience” driven meetings has caused some to desire to stop having them altogether. This past week, I was doing some research on the history of gospel meetings and came across a rather interesting article by H.E. Phillips. While I won’t repeat the article in its entirety, I do encourage you to check it out for yourself at www.truthmagazine.com/a-history-of-gospel-meetings
Gospel Meetings (Protracted Meetings, Evangelistic Meetings or Tent Meetings as they have been called through the years) seem to have their rise sometime between the Civil War and the first World War. However it was after the second World War that gospel meetings really hit their “glory days.” Brother Phillips intimates that many of the world began to “seek God for a solution to their problems that grew out of divided families and the anxieties of war. The “militant” attitude that our country had certainly infiltrated the church at this time as we began to expand the gospel of Jesus Christ into countries impacted by the war (this of course gave rise to the Missionary societies). It was during this time that Gospel Meetings began to increase in number and preachers began to devote their full time preaching in meetings rather than the local work. As I have read through numerous biographies of men of the restoration movement it is amazing to me the number of men that would be away for months at a time preaching the gospel.
During the heyday of Gospel Meetings they would last for weeks, sometimes up to a month. Brother Phillips spoke of a typical gospel meeting. It would be scheduled to last 3 Sundays. (For instance October 9-23). While this was the typical advertised time, the attendance and the success of these meetings were so great that it was not uncommon to extend the meeting for another week or two. He spoke of how the modern gospel meeting was drastically different that the ones from yesteryear. As our gospel meetings carry on, we get tired and the attendance and excitement thereof dwindles (this has led many to start scheduling Sunday through Wednesday night meetings). However, meetings during the 30s, 40s and 50s gained in momentum. The more that the meeting would go on the more that were obedient the more that attended and so forth. Furthermore, they usually scheduled a service sometime during the day as well. This meant that in the course of a typical gospel meeting you could expect to hear 30+ sermons. (Let that sink in for must a moment).
Gospel Meetings really had one purpose. To teach the lost. Immorality during these days was always condemned. Doctrinal issues were dealt with. The truth was preached. It was not an “in-preach” but an “out-reach” meeting. What that means is that the Gospel Meetings sole purpose was to reach out into the community to proclaim the gospel. Churches did not hope that area churches would fill the pews. Church had hoped that neighbors, co-workers, and family filled the pews. I thought about this. This is our same desire. This is what we want. But why is it they were successful and in the end we just aren’t as successful? Here are three possible explanations. 1. Church of Choice. Due to the rise of the church of choice dogma, most people are okay with their religion. Many area churches, even here in Grinnell, promote and encourage other area churches here in town. The reasoning… it is better than they go somewhere rather than nowhere. As such, when given an invitation, most just aren’t interested in changing churches. We need to remember that we aren’t converting people to the church. We are converting them to Christ. 2. The World is Too Busy. The world has too much to do to go to a meeting for weeks at a time. Since the 30s television, internet and all things associated with them have become common place in the American home. Why go to church when America’s favorite game show (or sitcom, or reality tv show, etc) is on? 3. God’s people just aren’t interested. Could you imagine the conversation you would be having with your neighbors when we explain to them with excitement the 2nd week ofn the meeting that is coming up? When the world sees others get excited about stuff and continue to do it do you know what happens? They want to do it too. That is why 3D TV, NFL on twitter and smart watches have taken off in resent years. Everyone is doing it and want to see what all the fuss is about. When the whole church is getting excited and more members of the community start to show up it will spread like wild fire.
The point here though is not whether or not we should reschedule the meeting, but understand why meetings were held in days past. I am not saying that having an in-preach is a bad idea. What I am saying is that if we want to see the church grow, we need to act more like the churches in the 30s and 40s that used Gospel Meetings to reach out to the lost.
Grinnell church of Christ
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Why Have a Gospel Meeting
Volume 7 Issue 38