By Reuben Archer Torrey
I. ITS IMPORTANCE AND ADVANTAGES.
1. YOU CAN REACH PEOPLE BY THE TENT YOU CAN REACH BY NO OTHER METHOD. People that you cannot get inside of a church or mission hall, people that will not even listen to the preaching from a Gospel wagon, people that you could not step up to and talk with personally, will come into a tent. The tent itself awakens curiosity. It looks like a circus. Time and again I have preached in a tent where six-sevenths of the audience were curiosity seekers; and not only did we get them into the tent, but many of them were won to Christ. It is stated in the official report of a large and successful tent work that 95 per cent of the audience was composed of thieves, murderers, drunkards and abandoned women. The other 5 per cent were respectable people. A great many of the abandoned classes were converted. People who tried to pull the tent down, threw stones at the workers, cut ropes, and stood outside and tried to prevent people going in, before the meetings had been going on very long were on their knees calling on God for pardon. One of these had recently been released from prison where he had served fourteen years as a safe breaker. He became a very bright convert.
2. THEY ARE PORTABLE. Wherever you put a church up, there it must stay; you cannot easily move it. But if you put a tent up in one neighborhood, if it proves to be a poor neighborhood you can move it to another, or when that neighborhood is worked out you can move it to a new one, at a small cost.
3. IT IS INEXPENSIVE. A new tent can be purchased for anywhere from $150 to $350, or you can get them second hand, but this does not pay. The life of a tent is about three years. You have to pay extra for the seats, but these can be made out of lumber that can afterwards be used for other purposes. For many reasons canvas benches are better.
4. TENT WORK TURNS THE SEASON OF THE YEAR WHICH IS REGARDED THE POOREST FOR EVANGELISTIC EFFORT INTO THE VERY BEST. Ask almost any pastor what he regards the best season for evangelistic work, and he will tell you the second week in January, or Lent. If you ask him what is the worst season, he will tell you July and August, but with a tent July and August prove to be the best season in the year for evangelistic work. This has been demonstrated in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Boston and in many smaller cities, and in country towns. There can be little doubt that the number of conversions in tents in the summer far exceeds the number of conversions in evangelistic services in churches in the winter.
II. HOW TO CONDUCT TENT MEETINGS.
1. HAVE THE RIGHT SORT OF A MAN IN CHARGE OF THE TENT. The most important thing in any tent work is the man who has the superintendency of the tent. If you have the right man the rest will take care of itself, and if you have the wrong man, nothing that you can do will make a success of the work. What sort of a man is needed? A man who is perfectly fearless, who can stand up when ruffians are stoning the tent, and not be the least bit ruffled if a stone comes through the tent and strikes him on the back of the head; a man who can stand the boys shooting at him with tacks, and sharp double-pointed tacks striking him in the face; a man who can stand perfectly unmoved with a lot of roughs moving about and seeking to disturb the meeting in every possible way; a man who trusts God, and believes that God is going to take care of him.
In the next place he should be a man who has handled men; a man who can go into a miked crowd of various denominations, and hold the conflicting elements in the hollow of his hand so that they will behave; a man who has control of his own temper as well as control of the crowd; a man who is never ruffled, just stands there perfectly serene with sunshine in his face but with a grip like iron upon the audience; a man who can preach a plain direct Gospel sermon; a man who can hold the attention of people who are not in the habit of paying attention to ministers when they preach. To put it in a word, you want a man filled with the Holy Ghost, who preaches the Gospel in the power of the Spirit, who if he has time to prepare will prepare, and if he does not have time will stand up without a word to say, but just look to God to give him the message, and as soon as he gets it will give it to the people in the power of the Holy Ghost.
2. HAVE THE RIGHT SORT OF A TENT. The larger the tent is, the better, other things being equal. It is a great mistake to get too small a tent; they are unserviceable. If enough people do not come at first to fill your tent, you can so arrange the seats in the middle of the tent that it is not noticed that there are large vacant spaces on the sides. If the tent is small people will think it is a small thing, and your attendance will be small. A big tent makes a large impression upon the neighborhood.
3. GET THE RIGHT PLACE TO LOCATE YOUR TENT. A good place is one where the crowds gather, upon some great thoroughfare where they are sweeping by the hundreds and by thousands. Tents should often be taken into rough neighborhoods. Some one may ask, "Is it safe there?" The safest place on earth is where the Lord takes you. The safest place for Moses was out in the river among the crocodiles, when God was taking care of him in the little ark. You can put a tent anywhere with safety if God leads you to put it there. We located a tent once where there were two murders during the first week within a block of the tent. One of the men was in the tent a half an hour before he was stabbed. He was urged to take the Lord Jesus Christ that night, but he said, "No, I cannot do it tonight, I will come Sunday night." Within half an hour he was found dying in a lot, where he had been stabbed.
Always select a dry spot. Be careful not to get into a place where you are going to be flooded out. If you are not on your guard at this point, you will oftentimes see what seems to be a beautiful place for a tent, but the first thunder storm that comes up the tent will be useless.
4. CHOOSE THE RIGHT SORT OF A MAN TO BE JANITOR. The man who acts as janitor is next in importance to the man who superintends the tent. He must be fearless; he must be exceedingly wise and extremely patient. If your janitor loses his temper, you are going to get into trouble. If you have a Christian man who is wise and firm and gentle and loving and fearless, you are all right.
5. BE DETERMINED THAT YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE YOUR OWN WAY IN YOUR TENT. Set about that in the very first meeting. If you let the crowd get the upper hand of you once, they will have it for all time; but if you show them the very first time that you are going to have your way, you will have it. Be very pleasant, but be as immovable as a rock. If it becomes necessary, take a man by the collar and help him out of the tent, but be sure you do it with a genial, winning smile. This often proves a means of grace to this kind of people. Do not turn a man out if you can help it, but turn him out rather than have your meeting broken up or seriously disturbed. Drunken men may be allowed some liberties because they know no better, but have it distinctly understood that they cannot go beyond a certain point.
6. GIVE A GOOD DEAL OF THOUGHT TO THE SINGING. Have the very best singing you can get. Have as big a choir as you can possibly gather together, but allow no one in the choir who is not saved. It is well to have an orchestra if you can get it.
7. HAVE THE VERY BEST PREACHING THAT CAN BE SECURED. But what is good preaching for a church is not always good preaching for a tent. A tent preacher should be a man who can hold the attention of plain people. Many a man who can preach to great audiences in a church is an utter failure in a tent.
8. ALWAYS HAVE AN AFTER MEETING AND DO PERSONAL WORK. The purpose of tent meetings is not to keep men out of the saloons; they do keep men out of the saloons, but the purpose of tent meetings is to bring men to Christ. A man once said to me, "This is magnificent. Here are almost a thousand people here who are not Christians. It is magnificent if not a soul of them was converted, for it keeps them out of the saloons." But if all we do for men is to keep them out of the saloon for an hour or two, not much is accomplished. What tent work is carried on for is to lead men to a personal acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ. The best way to accomplish this is by definite, personal, hand-to-hand work in the after meeting.
9. HAVE CHILDREN'S MEETINGS IN CONNECTION WITH YOUR TENT WORK. The neighborhoods where tents are ordinarily put up are thronging with children. It would be easy to fill the tent with children, but it is best not to allow them in the evening service unless they come with their parents. If they are allowed in the evening service, they will crowd out the grown people, but the children must not be neglected, therefore have special services for the children in the tent in the afternoon. Tell them they cannot be admitted to the evening service unless they bring their parents with them. In this way a great many parents will be induced to come to the evening meetings for the sake of the children. The results that are accomplished among children in tent meetings are astonishing. These children come largely from utterly unchristian homes, but many children even of Jewish parents and of drunken parents are won to Christ. A little boy came to one of our tents one afternoon. He heard the story of the Cross, accepted Christ, and went straight home. That night he brought with him his father and brother, and they were both converted, and then he brought two other brothers and two sisters, and these four were converted. His mother who was a backslider was brought back to the Lord. There were also two older daughters who led lives of sin. The whole family had been converted except these two abandoned girls. One of the workers started out with the determination to bring those two girls down to the meeting, and if possible get them to accept Christ. Some of the other workers stayed at home and prayed. This worker pled with the girls to come down to the meeting, and at last persuaded them to come. They got there very late, and just as they entered, Major Whittle was talking about wayward girls, and before the meeting was over these girls were rejoicing in Christ. Three boys, four girls, father and mother, brought to Christ through the conversion of a little boy.
10. ENCOURAGE THE MOTHERS TO COME AND BRING THEIR BABES. If they can't bring their babies they can't come at all. One very successful tent worker promised a rattle to every baby brought a certain night. The scheme took, and mothers and babies and baby carriages came pouring in that night. They had a wonderful meeting, and that man gained the love of the whole community. Another night he had a watermelon meeting, and that was a great success.
III. WHERE TO CONDUCT TENT WORK.
We have already spoken about putting up tents in crowded parts of our great cities, but that is not the only place.
1. IN THE PORTION OF A CITY WERE YOU WISH TO ORGANIZE A CHURCH. You may not be quite sure whether it would be wise to start a church in that locality. Set up a tent and make a test of it. In one locality in Chicago where a tent was set up, a Methodist church and Baptist church were organized, a Congregational mission revived, and one other mission started.
2. IN COUNTRY TOWNS. One of the solutions of the summer problem in country churches is for the church to get a tent and hold its services in that during the summer months. Many will go to it who will not go to the church. Oftentimes it is well for all the churches of a country town to combine in a summer tent work.
3. RELIGIOUSLY DESTITUTE SECTIONS OF THE COUNTRY. There are many places in our country where there are many people but no church for miles. Tents can be set up in these remote parts of townships, and a splendid work done. It would be well for country pastors to take tents out on to the borders of their parishes and do Gospel work there.
4. SUMMER RESORTS. We think that if people go out to spend the summer anywhere, we cannot reach them, but there is no place where you can reach them better, provided you go at it wisely. Set up a tent near where the great vacation throngs congregate. People at these resorts do not know how to spend Sunday; they do not like to go to the country churches, but they will go to a tent.