Campaigning for Christ
Let's quit fiddling with religion and do something to bring the world to Christ.—Billy Sunday.
HIS American birthright of plain common sense stands Sunday in stead of theological training. He is "a practical man," as mechanics say. Kipling's poem on "The American" hits off Sunday exactly:
"He turns a keen, untroubled face
Home to the instant need of things."
So a Sunday evangelistic campaign is a marvel of organization. It spells efficiency at every turn and is a lesson to the communities which do Christian work in haphazard, hit-or-miss fashion. Work and faith are written large over every series of Sunday meetings.
Sunday never took a course in psychology, but he understands the crowd mind. He knows how to deal with multitudes. He sees clearly where the masses must come from, and so he sets to work to bring them out of the homes of the working people. He goes beyond the church circles for his congregations, and makes his appeal to the popular taste. He frankly aims to strike the average of the common people. For he is after that host which too often the preacher knows nothing about.
People must be set to talking about religion and about the Sunday campaign if the latter is to succeed. Indifference is the foe of all foes to be feared by an evangelist. Even hostile criticism really serves a religious purpose, for it directs attention to the messenger and the message. Knowledge of this is the reason why Sunday always devotes his earliest sermons in a campaign to the subjects likeliest to create comment. These are the discourses that contain the largest proportion of startling views and language.
Part of the task of a man who would move a city for Christ is to consolidate Christian sentiment and to create a Church consciousness. Sunday is at great pains to get his own "crowd" behind him. He evokes that loyalty which alone makes organized work and war effective.
So he insists that churches must unite before he will visit a city. Also he asks that they surrender their Sunday services, all uniting in common worship in the Tabernacle. For these campaigns are not Billy Sunday meetings: they are an effort toward a revival of religion on the part of the united Christian forces of a community. If anybody thinks the evangelist disparages the Church, he need but recall the particular effort Sunday makes to solidify the Church folk: that reveals his real estimate of the Church. He would no more attempt a revival without church co-operation than a general would besiege a city without an army. This Christian unity which he requires first of all is a sermon in itself.
Before one has looked very deeply into the work of Evangelist Sunday he perceives that it is no new message the man speaks, but that it is his modernization of language and of methods that makes possible the achieving of great results by the old Gospel.
The preacher of a generation ago would have counted it indecorous to make use of the public press. Sunday depends largely upon the newspapers for spreading his message and promoting interest in the meetings. He does not employ a press agent; he simply extends to the local press all the faculties and co-operation in his power. He is always accessible to the reporters and ever ready to assist in their work in any proper fashion. He makes public announcements frequently in his meetings of the cordial assistance he has received from the newspapers.
Without any expense to anybody and without any scientific experience in this particular field, Sunday haa demonstrated the power of Christian publicity. The newspapers carry his messages all over the world. The Pittsburgh dailies published special "Sunday Editions." They had thousands of subscribers for the issues containing the evangelist's sermons and many persons have been converted by reading the newspaper accounts of the Sunday meetings. One cherished story tells of a young man in China who had been converted thirteen thousand miles away from the spot where the evangelist was speaking. Sunday makes religion "live news." Editors are glad to have copy about him and his work, and about anything that pertains to the campaigns. The uniform experience of the communities he has visited is that the Church has had more publicity through i his visit than on any other occasion.
After Sunday has accepted a city's invitation and a date has been fixed for the meetings, and the time has drawn near, he gets the Church people to organize. Before ever a hammer has struck a blow in the building of the Sunday Tabernacle,1 the people have been meeting daily in the homes of the city for concerted prayer for the Divine favor upon the campaign.
By the Sunday system of work, every few blocks in the city is made a center for cottage prayer-meetings. No politician ever divided a community more carefully than do the Sunday workers in arranging for these prayer-meetings." Every section of the city is covered and every block and street. By preference, the meetings are held in the homes of the unconverted, and it is a normal experience for conversions to be reported before ever the evangelist arrives. In Scranton the city was divided into nine districts besides the suburbs and these districts were again sub-divided so that one had as many as eighty-four prayer groups. The total proportions of this kind of work are illustrated by the Pittsburgh figures: Between December 2 and December 26, 4,137 prayer meetings in private houses were held, having a combined attendance of 68,360 persons. But these figures were wholly eclipsed by those from Philadelphia.
A stranger roaming about the streets of Philadelphia during December, 1914, would have been struck by the number of signs in the windows of private homes, announcing prayer meetings within. During the entire month these home prayer meetings were held twice a week, averaging more than five thousand meetings on each assigned night, with more than one hundred thousand persons present nightly. This meant an aggregate attendance of nearly a million Christians upon preparatory prayer services!
When tens of thousands of earnest Christians are meeting constantly for united prayer a spirit of expectancy and unity is created which makes sure the success of the revival. Incidentally, there is a welding together of Christian forces that will abide long after the evangelist has gone. These preliminary prayer-meetings are a revelation of the tremendous possibilities inherent in the churches of any community. With such a sea of prayer buoying him up any preacher could have a revival.
Sagaciously, Sunday throws all responsibility back on the churches. While he takes command of the ship when he arrives, yet he does all in his power to prevent the campaign from being a one-man affair. The local committee must underwrite the expenses; for these campaigns are not to be financed by the gifts of the wealthy, but by the rank and file of the church membership accepting responsibility of the work. The guarantees are underwritten in the form of shares and each guarantor receives a receipt for his shares to be preserved as a memento of the campaign. True, no guarantor ever had to pay a dollar on his Billy Sunday campaign subscription, for the evangelist himself raises all of the expense money in the early meetings of the series.
John the Baptist was only a voice: but Billy Sunday is a voice, plus a bewildering array of committees and assistants and organized machinery. He has committees galore to co-operate in his work: a drilled army of the Lord. In the list of Scranton workers that is before me I see tabulated an executive committee, the directors, a prayer-meeting committee, an entertainment committee, an usher committee, a dinner committee, a business women's committee, a building committee, a nursery committee, a personal workers' committee, a decorating committee, a shop-meetings committee—and then a whole list of churches and religious organizations in the city as ex-officio workers!
Wherever he goes Sunday erects a special tabernacle for his meetings. There are many reasons for this. The very building of a tabernacle dedicated to this one special use helps create an interest in the campaign as something new come to town. But, primarily, the evangelist's purposes are practical. In the first place, everything has to be on the ground floor. Converts cannot come forward from a gallery. In addition, existing big buildings rarely have proper acoustics. Most of all Sunday, who has a dread of panics or accidents happening in connection with his meetings, stresses the point that in his tabernacle people have their feet on the ground. There is nothing to give way with them. The sawdust and tan bark is warm, dustless, sanitary, fireproof and noiseless. "When a crowd gets to walking on a wooden floor," said Sunday—and then he made a motion of sheer disgust that shows how sensitive he is to any sort of disturbance—"it's the limit."
One of his idiosyncrasies is that he must have a perfectly still audience. He will stop in the midst of a sermon to let a single person walk down the aisle. When auditors start coughing he stops preaching. He never lets his crowd get for an instant out of hand. The result is that there probably never were so many persons gathered together in one building at one time in such uniform quietness.
The possibilities of panic in a massed multitude of thousands are best understood by those who have had most to do with crowds. Sunday's watchfulness against this marks the shrewd American caution of the man. His tabernacles, no matter whether they seat five, eight, ten, fifteen, or twenty thousand persons, are all built under the direction of his own helper, who has traveled with him for ■
years. He knows that nothing will break down, or go askew. His tabernacles are fairly panic-proof. Thus every aisle, lengthwise and crosswise, ends in a door.
So careful is he of the emergency that might arise for a quick exit that no board in the whole tabernacle is fastened with more than two nails; so that one could put his foot through the side of the wall if there was need to get out hurriedly. Describing the building of the choir platform Sunday says, with a grim shutting of his jaws: "You could run a locomotive over it and never faze it." His own platform, on which he does amazing gymnastic stunts at every meeting, is made to withstand all shocks. About the walls of the tabernacle are fire extinguishers, and a squad of firemen and policemen are on duty with every audience.
There is nothing about a Sunday tabernacle to suggest a cathedral. It is a big turtle-back barn of raw, unfinished timber, but it has been constructed for its special purpose, and every mechanical device is used to assist the speaker's voice. Sunday can make twenty-five thousand persons hear perfectly in one of his big tabernacles. A huge sounding board, more useful than beautiful, hangs like an inverted sugar scoop over the evangelist's platform.
Behind the platform is the post office, to which the names of converts are sent for the city pastors every day; and here also are the telephones for the use of the press. Adjoining the tabernacle is a nursery for babies, and an emergency hospital with a nurse in attendance. It seems as if no detail of efficient service has been overlooked by this practical westerner. So well organized is everything that the collection can be taken in an audience of eight thousand persons within three minutes.
While touching upon collections, this is as good a place as any to raise the point of Mr. Sunday's own compensation. He receives a free-will offering made on the last day. The offerings taken in the early weeks are to meet the expenses of the local committee. Mr. Sunday has nothing to do with this. This committee also pays approximately half of the expenses of his staff of workers, and it also provides a home for the Sunday party dining their sojourn. Mr. Sunday himself pays the balance of the expenses of his workers out of the free-will offering which he receives on the last day. These gifts have reached large figures—forty-four thousand dollars in the Pittsburgh campaign.
There is a quality in human nature which will not associate money with religion, and while we hear nobody grumble at a city's paying thousands of dollars a night for a grand opera performance; yet an evangelist who has sweetened up an entire city, lessened the police expense, promoted the general happiness and redeemed hundreds of thousands of lives from open sin to godliness, is accused of mercenariness, because those whom he has served give him a lavish offering as he departs.
Although much criticized on the subject of money, Mr. Sunday steadfastly refuses to make answer to these strictures or'to render an accounting, insisting that this is entirely a personal matter with him. Nobody who knows him doubts his personal generosity or his sense of stewardship. Intimate friends say that he tithes his income.
Three important departments of the Sunday organization are the choir, the ushers, and the personal-work secretaries. Concerning the first more will be said in a later chapter. The ushers are by no means ornamental functionaries. They are a drilled regiment, each with his station of duty and all disciplined to meet any emergency that may arise. In addition to seating the people and taking the collection, they have the difficult task of assisting the officers to keep out the overflow crowds who try to press into the building that has been filled to its legal capacity. For it is quite a normal condition in the Sunday campaigns for thousands of persons to try to crowd their way into the tabernacle after the latter is full. Sometimes it takes foot-ball tactics to keep them out.
Without the assistance of the personal-work secretaries the rush forward when the invitation is extended would mean a frantic mob. The recruits have to be formed into line and directed to the pulpit where they take Mr. Sunday's hand. Then they must be guided into the front benches and the name and address and church preference of each secured. While the invitation is being given personal workers all over the building are busy gathering converts. The magnitude of the Sunday evangelistic meetings in their results is revealed by the necessity for systematically handling the converts as vividly as by any other one factor.
The tabernacle by no means houses all of the Sunday campaign. There are noon shop meetings, there are noon meetings for business women and luncheon meetings, there are services in the schools, in the jails, in the hospitals, and there are special afternoon parlor meetings where social leaders hear the same message that is given to the men of the street. In a phrase, the entire community is combed by personal activity in order to reach everybody with the Sunday evangelistic invitation.
The personnel of the Sunday party has varied during the years. The first assistant was Fred G. Fischer, a soloist and choir leader who continued with the evangelist for eight years. At present the staff numbers about a dozen workers. Among past and present helpers have been Homer A. Rodeheaver, the chorister; Charles Butler, the soloist; Elijah J. Brown ("Ram's Horn" Brown); Fred. R. Seibert, an ex-oowboy and a graduate of the Moody School, who is the handy man of the tabernacle; Miss Frances Miller, Miss Grace Saxe, Miss Anna MacLaren, Mrs. Rae Muirhead, Rev. L. K. Peacock, B. D. Ackley, Albert G. Gill, Joseph Speice, the builder, Mrs. and Mr. Asher and Rev. I. E. Honeywell. As the magnitude of the work increases this force is steadily augmented, so that the evangelist must not only be a prophet but a captain of industry.
The Sunday Campaign clearly reveals that as Kipling's old engineer, McAndrew, says,
"Ye'Il understand, a man must think o' things."