Let's Build A Visitation Program
By Pastor Jack Hyles (1926-2001)
In reading the Book of Acts, one of the most impressive things we find is that the New Testament Christians were scattered abroad everywhere preaching the Word. Nearly two thousand years since this atmosphere, we find the most pressing problem in the church --that of visitation. All across the country pastors ask me, "How can we get people to visit? How can we get folks on the field? How do you reach people?"
While not pretending to know all the answers or even most of the answers, we hope in this chapter to leave a few suggestions and ideas that will be helpful to pastors and churches across the country.
1. Become Known As An Evangelistic Center
This is of utmost importance in the growing of an evangelistic church. If a church could become the evangelistic church in a town, and a pastor could become the evangelistic pastor in a town, people would call on him and call on the church in an effort to get their loved ones saved. The world, whether we like it or not, looks at churches as specialists. The world looks upon one church as a certain type, another church as another type. I always want my church to be known as the evangelistic-type church.
For example, recently a lady called and asked me to visit her brother who was dying in the hospital. I asked her if she were a Christian. She answered yes, she was. I asked if she had a pastor. She answered yes. I asked her why she did not ask her pastor to go. "Oh," she replied, "my pastor doesn't specialize in those cases."
Needless to say, I try to specialize in those cases myself. So I went to the hospital and led her brother to the Lord. He passed away a few days later.
The church should make a big enough racket about soul winning and evangelism that people from far and wide will know it is an evangelistic church.
Sometimes people who have lost loved ones will bring the lost loved ones to such a church to be saved, then take them back to their own church to be baptized and to serve. This is because they know that a particular church is the best place for evangelism in an area. This is an important thing in building a visitation program.
2. The Pastor Should Visit Constantly Himself
A pastor who is not active in visitation will not lead his people to be active in visitation. The pastor who does not visit regularly will not train people to visit regularly. When the pastor is leading folks to Christ regularly and week after week new Christians are walking the aisles whom the pastor has won, then the people will get the idea and follow him.
Remember that a leader is one who does first that which he expects the followers to do. A good way in the beginning is to learn the streets in the town. Just as a policeman or a fireman would learn the streets, even so must the soul winner. When I accept a new pastorate I usually spend the first week driving around town learning the streets. The streets in a town may be learned easily, such as the numbered streets-- First, Second, Third, etc. Then Avenue A, Avenue B, Avenue C. In some towns the streets in a certain community are named after the states; in some towns they are named after presidents. Usually there is some pattern in the naming of streets. It is important that this pattern be learned.
When you visit, route yourself. Get your prospect cards, divide them according to sections of town, and make a regular route. Usually I take the same route every day, thereby enabling more visits to be made. Some people seem to think that they hire the preacher to do the visiting. Some preachers seem to think that it is their job to preach and the people are to do the visiting. Both are wrong. Both pastor and people together should be reaching people for Christ and should actively participate in the visitation program.
3. Every Service Should Be An Evangelistic Service
To be sure, every sermon cannot be a sermon just to win the lost. There must he sermons on consecration, dedication, stewardship, faithfulness, etc. But every service should have an evangelistic appeal, with an invitation for sinners to be saved. It is the pastor's job to be certain that each service is evangelistic, thereby not disappointing his people who bring their lost loved ones and friends. Many times church members will bring a lost loved one or friend to the services, and the pastor does not give a strong evangelistic appeal. This discourages the members from bringing lost loved ones and discourages visitation.
In our churches we have tried constantly to make every service a service where it is easy to he saved. If we preach on comfort, we close with the thought that the best comfort is to know that you are saved, that you know you would go to Heaven if you died. If we preach on stewardship, we close by reminding the people that the greatest gift we can give to the Lord is the gift of our lives, and the greatest gift that He has ever given is the gift of His Son and salvation through His Son. If we preach on consecration, we remind our audience in closing that there can be no consecration until there has been regeneration. Regardless of the sermon or the type of service, there can be an evangelistic emphasis, with a pungent invitation to sinners which will keep the people bringing lost ones to the services.
One of our ladies called recently to say, "Brother Hyles, I am bringing a lost loved one to church next Sunday morning, and I just wanted to tell you about it.... Oh, all of our services are evangelistic now, aren't they! Praise the Lord, I can bring my lost loved ones anytime and be sure that you will try to get them saved."
4. Make Soul Winning Dwarf Everything Else That Goes on in the Church
In other words, make soul winning the most important phase of the church program. Far too many people think that being a deacon or a Sunday School teacher is the biggest job in the church. Our people should constantly be reminded that the greatest job in the New Testament church is bringing people to Jesus Christ. If we as pastors will magnify the job of soul winning above any other job in the church, then the people will get the idea that being a soul winner is the greatest position that they can hold.
5. Do Not Train a Church of Specialists
As I see the condition of many of our churches, we have taught our people, perhaps subconsciously but at least we have left the impression, that each person has a job to do in the church. Some do soul winning; some have other tasks. This is certainly a detrimental thing. Every Christian is commanded to be a soul winner; soul winning is every Christian's job. For a person to think that operating the business of the church is his particular special field and that is all, is wrong. For a person to think that his job is teaching the Bible alone is also wrong. Every Christian's job is soul winning. Every phase of our church life must be permeated with this atmosphere, and every leader of our church should be reminded that the main job is bringing sinners to Christ.
Someone said to Mr. Moody one time when witnessed to by him, "Tend to your own business."
Mr. Moody said, "Soul winning is my business, sir."
6. Create An Evangelistic Atmosphere in the Church Services
To a great extent, evangelism is more an atmosphere than anything else. If we want a revival-type service every Sunday, then we must try to create a revival-type atmosphere every Sunday. This would include revival-type music, revival-type testimonies, revival-type preaching, revival-type invitations, etc. Perhaps the results on Sunday have more to do with the atmosphere of the service than any of us realize. If we have high church-type music, a ritualistic order of service, an ultra-formal message, and a high church atmosphere, how can we expect evangelistic results? It is so important that the atmosphere of our churches and of our services be conducive to a perennial harvest of souls.
7. Have Periodic Soul Winning Instruction Classes
At least once a year, and maybe more often, we have soulwinning courses in our church. This is a very simple course, much like the one found in this book on how to lead a soul to Christ.
Sometimes this course is taught for three consecutive nights: for example, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday; or Thursday, Friday, Saturday; or Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Sometimes it is taught on Wednesday nights for a period of four to six weeks. Our most recent course was of this nature-five consecutive Wednesday nights given to the learning of how to win a soul to Christ.
8. There Should Be a Definite Time for Visitation
Most churches have a definite night for visitation. Some use Monday night, some Tuesday, some Thursday, some even Friday. It has long been our conviction that Monday and Thursday are the best nights for visitation since this makes it closer to the Sunday and Wednesday night services and makes it easier to promote attendance. You can get promises on Sunday night and Wednesday night from those who will come and pretty well determine your attendance by these pledges. We have found it very profitable to use Wednesday night even for visitation. After the service on Wednesday night, and after an emphasis on visitation, ask the people who will promise to make four or five visits that week to raise their hands. Have the visitation secretary or someone with the cards at the door in the back. They can get the cards before they leave and turn them back in before Sunday. This has been especially beneficial in our church in Hammond due to the fact that we are a downtown church and people travel so many miles to our services.
9. Stress Visitation Constantly and Get Visitation Testimonies and Reports
Each Wednesday evening we ask for a report from our people during the regular midweek service as to how many visits were made the preceding week. We also keep a record of the number of visits made and the number of folks who have witnessed to someone during the week. Also we ask for a report from the folks who have lead someone to Christ during the previous seven days. Then we have testimonies concerning these reports. We are always thrilled to hear the reports and find how many of our people are witnessing week after week.
10. Choose Your Church Leaders From Those Who Visit
No doubt one of the most tragic things in the modern church is that we have turned over the leadership of our church in many cases to unspiritual people who never make a visit. The false assumption that because a person is a successful businessman he can be a successful church leader is decaying the spiritual life of many churches. Because a man is bank president does not mean that he would make a good deacon chairman. Because a man is a civic leader does not mean he is a good church leader.
A man should not be chosen for an office or overlooked for an office because of his position in the neighborhood but because of his spiritual gifts and spiritual life and dedication to Christ. In our churches we have tried to choose Sunday School teachers who visit, deacons who visit, church leaders who visit, trustees who visit, and constantly stress that no person is qualified to be a leader of a church unless he is carrying out the Great Commission of our Saviour. The heart of the New Testament church was soul winning. If that be the case, the heart of the twentieth century church should be soul winning. Hence, the leadership should be composed of those who are visiting and reaching folks for Christ.
11. Give Due Recognition to Soul Winners and Folks Who Visit
Be sure that people who are successful in visitation receive due recognition in the services. This is not to magnify them, but to encourage others and let others know what is being done and what can be done when a person means business for God. When someone wins a soul to Christ and he walks the aisle on Sunday, have the soul winner stand beside the new convert and let them rejoice together. If you know of some soul winners in your church doing an exceptional job, include them in one of your sermons so as to encourage them and others because of the work that is being done in the church. Occasionally bring someone whom you have lead to Christ to the platform. Lead them to Christ and show the people exactly how you did it. Go through it step by step.
Better still, have one of the lay soul winners in the church bring one of their converts to the platform and show how he led him to Christ. This will give the people an eyewitness account and show them what to do rather than tell them.
12. Go With Different People Yourself
One of the best ways in the world to train soul winners is to go visiting with different people if you are an effective soul winner. Let them observe your methods and your tactics. Before long, they can solo themselves and no doubt will become effective soul winners.
This is the method Jesus used. He trained a few well, rather than trying to train a thousand. He trained twelve. They observed and learned by watching. The soul winner may take with him some prospective soul winners. They may observe him and his methods, thereby learning themselves how to win others.
One of the best soul winners I know is Bob Keyes, pastor of the Galilean Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. Brother Keyes came to work as my assistant pastor many years ago in Garland, Texas. He had never won a soul. For three years he went with me. Week after week, day after day, house to house, he observed and learned. Now he is one of the finest soul winners in America. The same can be said about my assistant pastor at the First Baptist Church in Hammond, Rev. Jim Lyons. He first went with others, saw their methods, then went on his own.
A good idea for a pastor is to let his people know the days that he visits. If any man in the church wants to visit with him the day the pastor visits, let the men know they are welcome. No doubt, observing others doing it is one of the greatest ways to make soul winners.
13. In Each Group of Cards Passed Out on Visitation Night, Place One Good Prospect
If you can guarantee each group going out to visit at least one good visit, it will be a tremendous help. Visitation will become a delight to them rather than a drudgery. We have tried through the years to place at least one good prospect in every group, thereby insuring every one of at least one blessing. This will more than likely encourage them to come back again for the visitation program.
14. Do Not Wear the People Out Doing Other Things
Too much could not be said about this. People who are busy doing other things besides soul winning often will not have enough time to do soul winning. Many of our churches are so highly organized and people are so busy doing little things, they have absolutely no time left for the main thing. A church that is too highly organized will not usually train effective soul winners. A church that keeps the people working on smaller tasks and odds and ends too much will have a difficult time training good personal soul winners. A church that has too much going on and uses too many of the people's nights on other things besides soul winning will have a difficult time training good soul winners.
It is so important that the life in our church, the main job in our church, the heartbeat of our church, the hub of our church, and every activity of our church be built upon soul winning and reaching people for Jesus Christ. Too many of our people are on a spiritual merry-go-round. They spend all their time going around in circles, get off right when they got on, and get absolutely nowhere,
15. Some Suggestions Concerning the Visitation Service Itself
If the church has visitation on a week night (and most visiting churches do), it is important that the visitation services be conducted properly.
Prior to the service the visitation file should have been observed and cards drawn from the file for visitation. From four to six cards should be placed in a group usually by geographical location. Enough groups of cards to take care of the visitation crowd should be chosen and prepared and brought to the visitation assembly room. It would be good for the pastor and church leaders to get there a few minutes early before the visitation service starts for a time of fellowship, handshaking, chatting, etc. before the visitation actually starts. As the people come, the pastor may compliment the people with a "God bless you, Jim," or, "I'm glad to set you tonight, Joe," or, "Isn't this the first time you have been to visitation, James? What a blessing it is to have you with us." These greetings will mean something to the people.
Then at visitation time a song or two could be sung. A good song to sing is to the tune of "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms":
Oh, how sweet to walk, round and round the block,
Ringing doorbells for my Lord.
Wearing out my shoes, telling God's Good News,
Ringing doorbells for my Lord.
Ringing, ringing, ringing doorbells for my Lord,
Wearing out my shoes, telling God's Good News,
Ringing doorbells for my Lord.
Or a good one to sing is "Bringing in the Sheaves." Still other good songs to sing would be such songs as "Send the Light," "I Love to Tell the Story," etc.
Then have a few testimonies before going. Have some testify as to what visitation has meant to them. Perhaps they were saved on visitation. Perhaps they have won someone recently. These testimonies would put the people in a spiritual attitude before going.
After this, perhaps the pastor or visitation leader could give a few pointers on visitation, showing how the church could be more effective in its visitation program and perhaps correcting any errors that have been made in past visitation.
Then the people should be divided to go out two by two. Some people already will have partners chosen before the visitation service. Still others must be paired off at the church. People of mutual interest and social standing usually visit better together. The pastor or visitation chairman should be very careful in pairing the people off. It is always good for an inexperienced and an experienced visitor to go together. The pastor should encourage more experienced soul winners to take inexperienced partners so as to train them in the art of visitation and soul winning.
After the people have been paired off in twos, then the cards may be passed out. It is a good idea to have a brief prayer before going. Ask each person to pray for the people they will visit by name. They may go through the cards. After this prayer, leave in an orderly manner and make the visits.
16. Visitation Programs Must Vary and Change
We have found that a certain type visitation program will work effectively for a certain amount of time. Then another should be inaugurated with a big push. This eliminates overstressing every week the visitation program. It should not be stressed to the same extent each week, else the people become so accustomed to hearing it that they scarcely hear what is said.
For example, we have found it wise to change the night periodically. Visit for a year on Monday night, then try Thursday, then maybe Tuesday. New thoughts and ideas should constantly be presented with a big push and a church wide emphasis.
Bear in mind, it is the same old thing of going after sinners, but with a new thought, a new stress, a new idea, a new way of promoting.
17. Use Busses, Bus Drivers, and Bus Captains
One of the most effective ways in reaching people with the Gospel of Christ is by using properly the bus ministry. Presently, in the First Baptist Church in Hammond, we are operating ten bus routes. Just this morning before dictating this chapter my assistant pastor and I decided to add a new bus route within a matter of days, making a total of eleven Let us notice a few thoughts about the busses.
A few busses could be owned by the church. Our church presently owns six busses. Bear in mind, we have eleven bus routes, which means we have to secure five busses elsewhere The reason we own any busses at all is not only for Sunday School and church routes, but also for youth program, rescue mission activities, etc. Our young people go to camp each year on the busses, and they are certainly a valuable asset. Even the smallest church could own one bus and find it a real help.
Busses may be rented or leased. In many cities, the City Transit Company would rent busses at a fair price. In some cities, a bus can be rented from a school or another agency. At the present time we are renting five buses very inexpensively to supplement the six that we own.
Find consecrated bus captains. After preaching some sermons about the bus ministry, and bringing constant challenges before the people about the bus ministry, God has laid it upon the heart of twenty to twenty-five of our people to dedicate their lives to the ministry of bringing people on the busses.
For example, we usually choose two captains for each bus. We simply give them a bus and let them fill it up. Two of our ladies got burdened about the bus ministry. They asked for a bus, and we provided one for them. They went to a government housing project and within six weeks they had filled the bus with over forty people. They came to us and asked for another bus. Now they are filling two busses every week with over sixty people who were not being reached a few months ago.
Two of our ladies were burdened about a neighboring city. We told them that they could have a bus if they would fill it up. They went to the neighboring city, started going from house to house, and in a matter of ten weeks have filled the bus. Just this morning they asked for another bus for their city.
Two of our choir members got burdened about a certain area in our city. They asked for a bus. The first week they made over two hundred visits and have averaged over one hundred and fifty visits per week for the last five weeks. Needless to say, they are rapidly filling their bus.
Two of our deacons asked for a bus. Within ten weeks they filled two busses and now are bringing in nearly one hundred every Sunday. These are people who were not being reached before these deacons got burdened.
Route the busses by areas of town. When we start a bus route, we first get two captains and make several suggestions as to an area. We feel that an area of two to four square miles, or less if possible, is sufficient area for a good bus route. We ask the captains to pray about three or four different areas, choosing the one they feel impressed to work. Once they choose the area, it is their job to visit the absentees just like a Sunday School class and to go house to house trying to find people to ride the busses.
Have a weekly meeting with the bus pastors. This meeting is simply to stimulate interest, get reports and plans, inspire, work, etc.
Give special recognition to successful bus pastors in the public services. Let the people know what is going on and constantly keep the bus ministry before the people.
If possible, secure drivers for the busses apart from the bus captains. This will put more people to work. For example, we will be operating eleven busses soon. If there are eleven bus drivers, twenty-two bus captains, then there are thirty-three people working on the busses. This puts more people to work and is a pretty good crew in itself.
Contests between busses. One of the finest ways to increase attendance is to have a contest between busses and bus routes. A simple award may he given at the end of the contest to the team members of the winning bus. Over three hundred people per Sunday are now riding busses to the First Baptist Church of Hammond. People are saved every Sunday who ride the busses. A well-organized, spiritually-planned bus ministry could put new life into many churches.
18. Teach the Young Christians to Bring Their Lost Friends
A young Christian perhaps could not win a soul adeptly. However, he does know perhaps more lost people than the pastor knows. Even as the woman in John 4 went back to the city and told those with whom she had sinned about Jesus and brought them to hear Him, so we encourage our converts to bring people to hear the preacher and the Gospel.
19. Start Folks Visiting Absentees
You may get the folks in the habit of visiting by getting the people to start visiting absentees. Give them some easy ones at first. They could be people who have been out sick a week or two. Give them some folks to visit in the hospital. Get them in the habit of visiting. After a while they will be able to take a little harder case and still harder, until finally they can be sent out to win souls themselves.
It was many years after I began visiting before I became a proficient soul winner. A person must get the feel of visitation. This can be done by encouraging people to visit hospitals, absentees, etc.
20. Occasionally Have Skits
Perhaps someone whom you have won to Christ recently could be brought to the platform and that experience could be relived to the advantage of the people. They could actually sec you win the person. Use the same conversation that you used in the home, the same Scriptures, etc. Just win the person again, so to speak, so the people can see how it is done. This is tremendously important.
21. Through It All, Build An Old-Fashioned, Sin-Hating, Christ-Honoring, Soul-Winning, Bible-Preaching Church
Let the people know every Sunday that you are for old-fashioned soul winning. Encourage the people to say "Amen" to the preacher. It is important that the atmosphere of the service be akin to the New Testament atmosphere. We encourage our people to say "Amen." We encourage them to participate in the services. We sing Gospel music at every service. The people know that we are preaching to get results and have people saved.
Every preacher should have to watch a jewelry auctioneer in action at least once in his life. Several years ago Mrs. Hyles and I were in Hot Springs, Arkansas, for a vacation. We were captivated by the jewelry auctions in the jewelry stores across from Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs. One night I suggested to the wife that we go sit in the back at one of the auctions and watch the "suckers" buy the merchandise. We had an agreement before going that we would say nothing. We planned to sit on the back row, not participate in the auction at all, say nothing, smile at nothing, and just watch the people bite.
The auctioneer stood and sold a travel iron for two or three dollars. Mrs. Hyles said, "We should have bought that. That was a steal."
I said, "Hush. We came to watch, not to buy."
Then he sold a beautiful waffle iron for about five dollars. Mrs. Hyles looked at me and said, "Honey, I could have used that."
I said, "Be quiet. We did not come to buy, we came to watch."
Several other things were auctioned. We did not make a single bid or a single move to show our interest.
Suddenly the auctioneer cried with a loud voice, "How many folks are here from Texas?" Before we realized it, our hands were up, and we were happily admitting we were Texans. He asked what town we were from. We told him. He said, "Why don't you Texans move down to the front." We had no choice. We moved to the front.
Several hours later we left the auction. Mrs. Hyles had a diamond ring on her finger. I had a travel iron and two or three other objects. We had spent $52 of the $58 we had left of our vacation money and had to go home two days early!
The moral is this: Everything in that meeting was geared to results. The opening, the friendliness, the stories, the handshaking, the asking of "Where are you from?" the intense interest, the salesmanship of the auctioneer -- everything was geared for one thing, to sell the merchandise.
The church of the Lord Jesus Christ should be geared for one thing, and that is to bring people to Jesus. Every song we sing should point toward that. All of our church life should be built around the reaching of people for Jesus Christ.
To be sure, we must occasionally have stewardship emphasis. But the reason we have stewardship emphasis is that people give to spread the Gospel. To be sure, we sing praises to God. But we sing praises to God out of appreciation for salvation and for the fact that we are able to win others to His Son. To be sure, we must teach consecration and faithfulness. And yet all of it must have a major underlying emphasis, and that is that people are dying without Christ and are going to Hell forever.
May we diligently give ourselves to this, the greatest task in all the world.
"In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ."
—2nd Thessalonians 1:8
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