By Reuben Archer Torrey
HOUSE TO HOUSE VISITATION
I. ITS IMPORTANCE AND ADVANTAGES.
1. IT IS APOSTOLIC. The Apostle Paul was a house to house visitor. In Acts 20:20 he calls to the minds of the Ephesian elders the fact that he had taught them not only publicly, but also "from house to house." Many of us feel above this work, but the Apostle Paul, the prince of preachers, found a great deal of time to do it. We have also the example of Christ Himself. Not a little of His work was done in the home. One of the most touching scenes of His life was in the home at Bethlehem, with Mary sitting at His feet listening to the words of eternal life (Luke 10:39).
2. IT BRINGS YOU NEAR TO THE PEOPLE. When Mr. Moody was in Glasgow, some one asked him how to reach the masses, and his reply was, "Go for them." There is no better way of going for them, and getting near to them, than by going into their homes. One of the simplest solutions of the problem of how to reach the unchurched in city and country is to go right into their homes.
3. YOU CAN GET HOLD OF PEOPLE THAT YOU CANNOT REACH IN ANY OTHER WAY. There are people who never enter a church, who will not attend a theatre service nor a mission meeting, who will not even attend an open-air meeting, but there is nobody who does not live somewhere, therefore you can get hold of everybody by house to house visitation. There are special classes who can be reached in this way and in this way alone, for instance the very poor, who are afraid to enter a church because of their shabby dress, or who may be utterly unable to leave home on account of the multiplicity of home duties. The sick also can be reached only in this way. Then there are in every city many who would not attend church if they could; among these are infidels, and other classes of non-churchgoing people who are never seen within the walls of an evangelical church. Some workers pay no attention to Roman Catholics because they think that they cannot be reached. Yet they can be reached by going right into their homes. Many a minister can tell of the large number of them that have been converted and come into the church. When once shown their duty to the Lord Jesus Christ they make splendid Christians. There is no better way to reach them than by house to house visitation. You may not get them the first time, nor the second, nor the third, but they are bound to yield at last, to simple genuine kindness.
4. IT WINS PEOPLE'S CONFIDENCE AND ATTENTION. Many people seem to feel that a great honor has been bestowed upon them when the missionary, minister or Christian worker calls at their home and takes an interest in them. I once called upon a saloon-keeper, but I did not realize what an honor he considered had been conferred upon him until a neighboring saloon-keeper afterwards upbraided me for not calling upon him, and asked me if he was not just as good as the other man. Few Christian workers realize how much good it does people to go into their homes, and what a short road it is to their confidence and attention. You first go to them, and they will afterwards come to you.
5. IT GIVES YOU AN OPPORTUNITY TO SEE HOW THE PEOPLE LIVE, AND THUS TEACHES YOU HOW TO DEAL WITH THEM. It has been well said that "one-half of the world does not know how the other half lives," and we never will know until we go right into their homes. It is a perfect revelation to see some people on Sunday in their Sunday clothes, and then go on Monday and see them at work in the home. You are forced to say, "Does this woman come from a house like this?" or, "Does this child come from a home like this?"
6. THEY WILL OPEN THEIR HEARTS TO YOU MORE FREELY AT THEIR HOMES THAN ELSEWHERE. People feel at home at home. They are always more or less restrained at church, or in an inquiry meeting, or in a mission hall -- less probably in a mission hall than in a church, and still less in a cottage meeting than either -- but when you get them at home they throw off restraint and talk freely. You never know what is going on in people's hearts until you go to their homes and they open their hearts to you there.
7. IT OFFERS OPPORTUNITY FOR CLOSE DEALING WITH SOULS. You can get at a man for close personal dealing far better in a quiet house than anywhere else. People do not like to open their hearts in public, and even an inquiry meeting is more or less public.
8. IT AFFORDS OPPORTUNITIES FOR SUGGESTIONS REGARDING HOME LIFE. The great majority of people need to be taught how to live in this world. They need to be taught plain truths on plain subjects. The ignorance of many poor people on the little affairs of everyday life is perfectly astonishing. One great trouble with many poor people is that they do not know how to live, they do not know what to eat, or how to cook what they buy; they do not know how to dress, or how to spend their money to the best advantage. They do not know how to train their children. They do not know how to eat properly at the table, nor how to make a bed or air their houses. A family living in Minneapolis were in great poverty and destitution; they were in absolute need of the bare necessities of life. The attention of a friend of mine was called to them, and he sent me $7 with the request that I should go and look them up, investigate the case, and if I found them in real distress, give them this money. I called and found them in very great need. The mother was sick in bed, the father out of work, the glass out of the window and an old garment stuffed in the place. They were without the commonest necessities of life, and I saw at once that it was a case of real distress. Being quite without experience at the time, I gave the family the $7 as requested. Thinking it well to follow up the work, I called again. To my astonishment, I found that they had used the $7 in purchasing a mirror that reached from the floor to the ceiling. It was simple ignorance on their part.
I once gave a man some money to buy groceries for a family in extreme destitution. When he came back I asked him what he had bought. He told me among other things, that he had bought three pounds of cheese and a lot of loaf sugar. I asked him why he bought the loaf sugar, and he said the father said the children liked to have it to eat. A few instructions as to the most economical food to buy and how to prepare it, would save many a family from want, without it being necessary to give them a cent.
9. IT SANCTIFIES THE HOME. Let a minister of Jesus Christ, a true man of God, go into a home and talk and read the Bible and pray, and that home is a different place ever afterward. If the minister is a man who in his prayer actually brings God down to the place where he is praying, it will make a change in that household. The same is true of the visit of a godly woman. Oftentimes after that they will be on the point of doing something wrong, when they will think what the messenger of Jesus Christ said in that prayer. They will think hallowed things when they go into that room. Many a home has been changed by the presence of the minister of God. You can set up a family altar for them. When you get people converted who have had religious training, they know what family worship means, but if they have never had family worship, it never occurs to them that they ought to have family worship at home. Tell them to "set up a family altar," and you might as well talk Greek to them, but go into their homes, read the Bible to them and pray, then ask them, "Do you enjoy this?" and when they say "Yes," tell them to keep right on doing it every day, and show them how to keep on.
10. IT RESULTS IN MANY CONVERSIONS. It is a question whether any other form of Christian work results in as many satisfactory conversions as house to house visitation. of course it is a great deal more gratifying to our pride to stand up before a large audience and speak to them; there is an exhilaration in doing that, but when it comes down to definite results, I do not know of any kind of work that brings larger results in souls won for Christ than patient house to house visitation. I have often thought that a person who would devote his whole life to going from house to house week after week, would have a far more splendid record at the close of life than the minister who preaches to from one hundred to one thousand every Sunday. Take the London Home Missionary Society, they are doing a magnificent work in many directions, but a very large proportion of it is this kind of work. Many women are employed for simple house to house visitation, and they are accomplishing great results. In country work I am sure we have been laying comparatively too much stress on the church as a church, and the gathering at the central meeting house, and too little on the work in the scattered homes.
A great deal of foreign missionary work, and oftentimes the best part of it, is house to house work. Foreign missionaries have been far wiser in their work in this direction than we have at home. Perhaps it is so partly from the necessities of the case.
II. HOW TO DO HOUSE TO HOUSE VISITATION.
1. BE SYSTEMATIC. It pays to be systematic in everything. The man who has a plan for doing things and carries out his plan is the man who reaps the largest results. Many, however, spend their whole time in making plans which they never carry out. Better have a poor plan which you execute, than a perfect plan that you spend your whole time in elaborating.
2. A THOROUGH HOUSE TO HOUSE VISITATION SHOULD BE MADE BY DISTRICTS. What I mean by thorough house to house visitation is that every habitation in the district should be visited. This is the true way to begin a country pastorate. In a town where there are churches other than your own, you can invite the Methodists to the Methodist church, the Congregational people to the Congregational church, etc., but you should not be too sensitive about calling on people that do not belong to your own flock. Better to call upon someone that belongs to someone else's flock than to leave someone neglected. Surely if your own church is the only one in the vicinity, you should visit every habitation in that part of the country. It will take time; you will have less time for general reading and for study than if you did not do this work, but you are in the ministry to win souls, and not primarily for the glorification of your intellect. You must spend and be spent, you must make full proof of your ministry. Just so in the city, you should yourself visit every family, or else get every family visited. It is not the man who can preach good sermons who succeeds, it is the man who gets hold of the people. In district visitation, it should be borne in mind that people are constantly moving, and need to be visited very frequently.
In an evangelistic campaign, one of the first things that should be done is to have a house to house canvass of every house and habitation anywhere within reach of the church, or churches, where the meetings are to be held. Every family in the town or district where you are working should be visited. That means not merely that some one should go to the door with a dodger in his hand which he hastily gives to the first one who comes to the door, it means that someone should go into every house in the town. Visitors should be sent out two and two to go to every house and deal with people personally about their salvation. If it is a union meeting it is well that the two should be of different denominations. There should be a thorough house to house canvass of every city at least once a year, covering the entire city. This is easily accomplished when the churches unite in the work.
3. SELECT HOMES FOR REGULAR VISITATION. In some communities you must visit every home regularly, and where you cannot do it yourself, you can see that it is done. In other communities it is wise to visit only part of the homes regularly.
How shall we select the homes?
(1) BY A THOROUGH CANVASS.
As you go around visiting from house to house you will find some homes that should be visited regularly, and others that it will not do to visit regularly. Do not be too hasty in concluding that it is of no use to visit a certain family. For instance, do not conclude because a family is Roman Catholic it is of no use to visit them regularly. Every one of much experience knows that some of the "hopeless" families are those which turn out best in the long run.
(2) SELECT PERSONS WHO DO NOT ATTEND CHURCH.
Every person who does not attend church should be visited. Not merely the members of your church should be visited regularly and systematically, but those who do not attend at all should be visited.
(3) THE PARENTS OF THE CHILDREN WHO ATTEND THE SUNDAY SCHOOL.
You have a good excuse and a wide opening in visiting the parents of children who attend your Sunday School. Of course there may be exceptions. There are sometimes children attending Sunday School whose parents do not know that they are attending, and who would be angry and opposed if they did know. In such cases the parents should not be visited, or if they are visited, nothing should be said to them about the children attending the Sunday School.
(4) PARENTS OF CHILDREN YOU GET HOLD OF ON THE STREET.
Talk with the children as you go about the street, and if you find children that do not attend Sunday School anywhere, go and visit their homes, go and deal with their parents, and gather the whole family into the church of God.
When Mr. Moody was engaged in Sunday School work in Chicago, he was constantly picking up children on the street and getting them into the Sunday School, and afterwards getting into their homes. One day on the street he met a little girl with a pail. He asked her if she went to Sunday School. She said she did not. He then gave her a hearty invitation to his school, and she promised to go, but she did not keep her promise. He at once began to watch for that girl. Weeks after he saw her on the street. He started for her, and she broke into a dead run and he ran in pursuit. Down one street and up another she went, the eager missionary running behind her. Finally she shot into a saloon and he followed. On she went up a back flight of stairs and Mr. Moody still in close pursuit. She dashed into a room and under a bed. He followed and pulled her out by the foot and had a talk with her. Her mother was a widow with several children; her father had been a drunkard. Mr. Moody had a talk with the mother and called again and again, until at last the whole family was won for Christ, and became prominent in the work of the Chicago Avenue Church. There are many families that you can get hold of in no other way than by such persistent pursuit.
(5) FUNERALS AFFORD A GOOD OPPORTUNITY TO GET HOLD OF A FAMILY.
Almost everybody wants a minister to conduct a funeral. When you once get an entrance into a home this way, do not let go of it. I do not know how many families I have gotten hold of by being invited to conduct a funeral in the home. Do not consider your work done when the funeral has been conducted, just consider that an opening for further work.
(6) WEDDINGS ALSO AFFORD GOOD OPPORTUNITIES FOR GETTING INTO HOMES.
When you conduct a wedding do not be satisfied when the $5.00 is safely deposited in your pocket. You have gained an opening into another family, another opportunity of winning a family for Christ. Follow it up.
4. KEEP BOOKS. Be just as systematic and thorough as a man in business. Have your families classified alphabetically and by streets. Keep an accurate record of when you called last and the result of your call. If one has a large parish, the card system of indexing is better than the use of books.
5. ALWAYS REMEMBER TO PRAY BEFORE STARTING OUT. If there is any work that requires wisdom, it is house to house visitation, and God alone can give the wisdom that is necessary.
6. INTRODUCE YOURSELF THE BEST WAY YOU CAN. It is impossible to lay down rules about this. It often takes almost infinite tact to get into a home, and quite as much tact to visit there after you get in. Frequently it is necessary not to let it be known in first coming to the home that you are there on a religious errand. Proceed to win the confidence of the people. Be very courteous. Do not notice any rudeness on the part of the people that you are visiting; leave your pride at home, and no matter what insults are offered you, let them pass unheeded. Remember that you are there not to serve your own interests, nor to spare your own feelings, but as an ambassador of Jesus Christ, and to win souls to Him. If you keep your eyes open, an opportunity will afford itself for doing some kindly thing that will open the hearts of the people to you, and win their confidence. A young lady got into one home by offering to do the washing of an overworked woman. It was hard work, but it won that woman and her husband and child to Christ. The woman, who was thoroughly worldly, became a very active Christian, and the husband, who was a drunkard, is now in heaven. The child has grown up into a fine young man.
Take an interest in the things the people you are visiting are interested in. One minister got an entrance into the home of a surly farmer by proving that he could plow. Be sure to notice the children. Children are worth noticing anyhow, and there is no surer road to the confidence and affection of the parents than by showing attention to the children.
7. AS SOON AS POSSIBLE BEGIN TO OPEN THE SCRIPTURES. Very frequently it is not wise to begin this at once. It must be led up to. When the time comes, the Scriptures should be thoroughly applied. Use them to convince of sin, to reveal Christ, to bring to a decision, to lead to entire consecration, and to instruct in the fundamental duties and truths of Christianity. It is astonishing how little the average man or woman really catches of a plain sermon. If there is to be thorough indoctrination in fundamental truths it must be done largely in the homes.