By Reuben Archer Torrey
I. COLPORTAGE WORK DEFINED.
What is Colportage work? By Colportage work we mean the distribution of religious literature from house to house. As a rule, the literature thus distributed is sold, sometimes for its full value, sometimes at less than cost.
II. ITS IMPORTANCE AND ADVANTAGES.
1. PEOPLE WHO FAIL IN OTHER LINES OF CHRISTIAN WORK CAN SUCCEED IN COLPORTAGE WORK. There are many who wish to work for the Lord, and feel they have a definite call to give their whole time to that work, who are unable to preach to edification, who are incompetent to run a mission, who would not even succeed as house to house visitors. What can they do? They can do Colportage work and oftentimes meet with great success in it. I have in mind one man who felt a call to Christian work, but it soon became evident that he had no gifts whatever that would warrant his preparation for the ministry. He was exceedingly slow and tiresome in speech, he lacked fire, and apparently lacked energy. He was induced to take up the Colportage work, and he became one of the most successful Colporters I even knew, not only making a very generous living by the work, but also reaching many homes and touching people who could be reached in no other way. Another man who could not even speak to edification in prayer meeting, who was exceedingly limited in all directions, sold during a single month 1,200 volumes and cleared about $54 over and above expenses; the same person cleared about $400 in ten months. Going from town to town, he was the means of doing untold good. Superannuated ministers who have reached the point where their services are no longer in demand for churches, do not need to give up the Lord's work. They can take up Colportage work, and perhaps be more useful than they were in their preaching days.
Ministers and other Christian workers who are broken down physically, and unable to bear the strain of regular work, can take up Colportage work with great advantage to their health, and accomplish very much for the Master.
2. COLPORTAGE WORK REACHES NEGLECTED DISTRICTS. All over the land there are stretches of country so sparsely settled that it would be impossible to maintain religious services, yet in these thinly settled districts taken together, there are thousands upon thousands of souls that need to hear the Gospel. Oftentimes they can be reached by Colportage work better than in any other way. One solution of the religious problem in the country is to be found in Colportage work.
3. COLPORTAGE WORK IS SELF-SUPPORTING. The Colporter needs to have no missionary society back of him. He can go out and sell his books and support himself, and if he has any gift in this direction, make a comfortable living. Take for example the books of the Colportage Division of the Moody Press. They contain some of the very best evangelical literature of the day, books adapted to the unsaved to lead them to Christ, books on the deeper Christian life, books on Christian work. They are written by some of the best known and most gifted authors, men like F. B. Meyer, Campbell Morgan, Andrew Murray, D. L. Moody, Major D. W. Whittle, Charles Spurgeon, and others. These books can be secured in quantities from the Moody Press.
4. COLPORTAGE WORK CONVERTS SINNERS AND BUILDS UP CHRISTIANS. All over our land today there are many people who have been led to Christ, and many Christians who have been led into a deeper knowledge of Christ, through the work of Colporters.
5. ITS RESULTS ARE PERMANENT AND EVER-WIDENING. A preacher goes away, but a book stays. One man reads a book and is blessed by it and hands it to another, and he to still another. A single book may be read by scores of persons.
6. IT OPENS DOORS TO OTHER WORK. Many a man begins Christian work as a humble Colporter, but as he goes from house to house and village to village with the little books that carry the knowledge of Jesus Christ, he soon begins to preach the Word, and is quite likely in time to receive a call to be a pastor or an assistant pastor.
7. COLPORTAGE WORK IS A SPLENDID PREPARATION FOR OTHER CHRISTIAN WORK. The Colporter gets right into the home, gets acquainted with all kinds of men, has to learn through necessity the modes of convincing men. There is perhaps no better preparation for many phases of ministerial work than the work of a Colporter.
III. HOW TO DO COLPORTAGE WORK.
1. GET A FEW BOOKS TO BEGIN WITH, AND THEN BEGIN. A man once came to me out of money and out of employment. I bought for him four Colportage books, and sent him out. He came back in less than half an hour. He then took his share of the money and bought himself other books, and thus the work widened. The way to begin is to begin.
2. VISIT EVERY HOUSE AND STORE AND SALOON. When one undertakes to do Colportage work in any given district, as a rule it is well to visit every house and store and saloon in the district. Of course, if one continues to work the same district, he will soon learn what houses can be visited again and again, and what places to avoid. Experience shows that many even in saloons will buy the books, and sometimes the saloon-keepers themselves, and no one can measure the good thus done.
3. LEAVE THE BOOKS IN ENVELOPES FOR EXAMINATION. Some have found it very useful to have envelopes that will contain the books, and leave the books in every house on a street, giving notice that they will be called for afterward, and if the people wish to keep the books, they can leave the money in the envelope; if not, return the books. Opportunities for conversation are often thus opened. One prominent Christian worker, wishing to experiment on the work for himself, went down one of the leading streets of a western city, leaving a book in every house. As he came back, he found interesting opportunities for speaking with people whom the ordinary missionary could not reach. Even where the books are not purchased, they will often be read and so the truth will get a hearing.
4. Churches can employ a church visitor without expense to themselves, by equipping the church visitor with Colportage books which he can sell, and thus meet his expenses. Of course the visitor must have the public endorsement of the pastor of the church, and in this way he gets an entrance for his work. This plan has been adopted with great success in some quarters.
5. GET PASTORS TO RECOMMEND THE BOOKS. When the Colporter visits a new village, he should look up the pastors of the place and present to each of them a copy of one of his best books. In this way the interest of the pastors will be enlisted, and if they will speak a word of endorsement in the prayer meeting or some other place, it will be a great help. Many churches have the Colportage books on sale in the vestibule.
6. Get pastors to preach on certain lines, and then go around and sell the books that bear upon the subject in which the pastor has awakened an interest. For example, if the pastor speaks upon the baptism with the Holy Spirit, go through the community with a book like McNeil's Spirit-Filled Life .
7. ATTENDING RELIGIOUS CONVENTIONS. A great work can be done by Colporters attending religious conventions, and there disposing of books along the lines of the subjects treated in the conventions.