In the little Nazarene church of my youth, Sunday School and evangelism were a big deal.
- We had “Opening Exercises” that had nothing to do with calisthenics. Instead it was the time before Sunday School when everybody (old, young, everybody) would gather in the sanctuary to sing songs (Hallelu, Hallelu…, Climb, Climb up Sunshine Mountain and Deep and Wide were my favorites), recognize visitors (the visitors would stand up and we formally welcomed them) and sing happy birthday to those who celebrated getting a year older that week.
- If it was your birthday week, you went forward with money (a penny for each year) that you put into a birthday cake shaped bank. The money went to missions. My mom always gave 29 cents (I guess she wasn’t worried about lying in the “Opening Exercises.”)
- We would sing the following birthday song:
A happy birthday to you
A happy birthday to you.
May each day of the year
May you feel Jesus near.
A happy Birthday to you
A happy Birthday to you.
The best you have ever had.
- We had Sunday School drives and gave out prizes to whoever brought the most friends.
- We had competitions with other churches on who could most increase their attendance.
- We went door to door inviting people to Sunday School.
- We had a bus that picked up kids from some poorer communities.
- On more than one occasion we brought in a “Gospel Clown.” (There may be some folks who would say our church board did too when they called me as pastor, but I digress).
- If we broke an attendance record the preacher would get a pie in the face. I think he once promised to preach from the roof if an attendance record was broken.
- We had dinner on the grounds (which meant a potluck dinner picnic style outside).
- Old Fashion Days were when we would dress up like pioneers (usually there was “dinner on the grounds” on this day). I still don’t know why we did that.
- We had two revivals a year (Sunday to Sunday. Every night. Occasionally, we would extend the services an extra week if it was going well).
- We had little envelopes for Prayer and Fasting and the idea was to put in money that we would have been spent on the fasted meal and give that money to missions. My mom usually gave me 50 cents for my Prayer and Fasting envelope.
- We were taught the Romans’ Road and the Four Spiritual Laws, which were personal evangelism tools for leading people to Jesus.
- There were Sunday School Campaigns: Strive for Five; Everybody Win Some, All Out for Souls and Our Church Can Be Your Home.
- We believed in a heaven, a hell and that Jesus was going to return to earth.
- We had movie nights that consisted of cinematography classics like “A Thief in the Night” and “A Distant Thunder.”
- We were convinced that if we didn’t reach our neighbors and give money so that people on the other side of the world could hear about Jesus, then they were not going to make it to heaven. We took that serious.
We don’t think that way anymore. The arguments are: Our tactics were embarrassing (I’m not preaching from our roof– it’s a little high); It’s old fashion; and those things just won’t work anymore. Instead, our evangelism now consists of…. umm…. well… we are nice and we hope that somehow, people will assume that we must be Christians because of our niceness. (We would never want to actually talk to our neighbors and co-workers about Jesus or invite them to a small group, Sunday School class or church and we would never, ever present the gospel to them because that might make them feel uncomfortable and besides isn’t that the preacher’s job?). But hopefully they will know that we kinda like Jesus and give him a whole hour of our time most (some) Sundays (if there is nothing better going on in our life).
And we wonder why our churches are dying.
Author’s Note: I am not advocating for the good ol’ days. I know we have to change our methods. I just wonder if we have forgotten the message too.