By Reuben Archer Torrey
SERVICES IN THEATRES, CIRCUSES, ETC.
I. IMPORTANCE AND ADVANTAGES.
1. MANY PEOPLE ARE LIKELY TO BE REACHED BY SERVICES IN THEATRES, CIRCUSES, AND OTHER PLACES OF ENTERTAINMENT, WHO ARE NOT LIKELY TO BE REACHED ELSEWHERE. Actors, actresses, and the other employees of theatres seldom attend services at churches; it is difficult also to find them in their homes, but they can be reached on their own ground. At the very first service in Forepaugh's circus tent in Chicago during the World's Fair, an actor was brought under deep conviction of sin and converted to Christ. In services held in the city of Minneapolis I had frequent opportunity of speaking personally with the actors and other employees of the places. But not only can the employees be reached, but also the frequenters. We held services one New Year's afternoon in the Theatre Comique in the city of Minneapolis. A few days afterward I received an anonymous letter from an Iowa city. The writer said that he had been present at the theatre service that day. It was the first time he had been in a religious service for years, although in the old country he had been a local preacher. In the two or three weeks preceding that service, he had squandered over $300 in that theatre, but the word spoken that afternoon had brought him back to Christ. The man afterwards returned to Minneapolis and made himself known, and subsequently became a deacon and one of the most faithful workers in our church.
2. ANOTHER ADVANTAGE OF SERVICES IN A THEATRE IS THEIR NOVELTY AND ATTRACTIVENESS. The interest especially of young men is awakened by seeing a service advertised in a theatre. They go out of curiosity, and an opportunity is thus offered of bringing them to Christ. Everything about the place attracts them; they like the surroundings; they are off their guard and the Gospel gets an entrance into their hearts.
3. MANY ARE CONVERTED. It has been the writer's privilege to conduct services every Sunday afternoon for several winters in the theatres of one of our American cities, and during the World's Fair to conduct theatrical services for many weeks, seven nights in the week. In both places most encouraging results followed. In the services in Chicago many were converted every night. At a recent theatre service for men only in a southern city, about one hundred and fifty men professed conversion.
II. HOW TO CONDUCT.
1. THE FIRST IMPORTANT MATTER IN THE CONDUCT OF THEATRE SERVICES IS THE CHOICE OF THE THEATRE. What sort of a theatre to choose depends upon the purpose for which the meetings are held. If the aim is to get hold of those who have sunk into the deepest depth of sin, of course a theatre of the lower order is preferable. On the other hand, there are objections to such a theatre. It is not a good place to take people, but you are not likely to take anybody there except those who frequent it already, or those who go for a definitely Christian purpose. Nevertheless great care should be exercised in the choice of workers for such a place. Girls and boys should not be taken to such a place unless they already frequent it. A young man approached a prominent business man in the city of Minneapolis who was handing out dodgers on the street, inviting people to the Theatre Comique for a Gospel service. The young man said, "Do you know what kind of a place the Theatre Comique is?" The business man replied that he had not lived in Minneapolis twenty years not to know. The young man asked again, "Do you think that such a place is a proper place to hold a religious service?" The reply was made, "When you go fishing, where do you go?" The young man smiled and answered, "Oh, I see, I go where the fish are." A good many fish were caught in that pool, though it was a cesspool.
If the aim is to reach a better class of people, of course one must engage a theatre of the higher order. During the World's Fair the Haymarket Theatre and Columbia Theatre in Chicago were packed to overflowing each Sunday morning, to hear the Gospel preached by leading preachers of this country and Europe, and there were a great many conversions.
Sometimes the size of the theatre will be a determining factor. Twenty thousand people could be crowded into the Forepaugh tent, and were crowded into it each morning that services were held there; this in spite of the fact that the heat was almost insufferable. The circus men were so astonished at the vast audiences that came out to religious services, that they approached Mr. Moody to see if he would not furnish a speaker to go around with their show and hold services every Sunday, they offering to pay all the expenses.
It is best to select, if possible, a theatre that is in use rather than one that is abandoned. If the theatre has been given up, the probability is that people did not go to it, and they will not be likely to go to a religious service in that place. I knew of a case of what appeared to be a very desirable theatre being purchased to hold religious services in. It seemed to be in a good locality and well adapted to the work. The theatre, however, had been abandoned by the theatrical people, and it was never possible to get the people to attend religious services there in any great numbers.
2. THE SECOND POINT OF IMPORTANCE IS SECURING THE THEATRE FOR THE SERVICES. Oftentimes this is not a very difficult matter. Theatrical people are frequently very glad to have their building used for religious services. I once went to the proprietor of a very vile den to see if I could secure his place for Gospel meetings. To my surprise, he received me very cordially, and said certainly we could have the place, and he only charged a nominal rent. Going the next year to another theater in the same city, only a theatre of a much higher order -- a very attractive and respectable place -- I inquired of the manager if I could secure his theater for Sunday afternoon services. He replied, "Certainly." When I asked him what he would charge for it, he asked me if there was any money in it. I told him none at all, that we were going to spend money and not take it in. "In that case," he said, "you can have the theatre for nothing." He stood to this agreement, furnished light and heat, ushers and everything, and would take absolutely nothing for it. Even the stage manager was in attendance every Sunday to see that everything was in perfect order. As a rule it is far better to rent a theatre than to buy it. If you buy it, it ceases to be a theatre and becomes your church, and the very people you wish to get hold of are no longer attracted.
3. EXERCISE GREAT CARE ABOUT THE MUSIC. Provide just as large a choir as possible. Secure the very best leader possible; the best leader is a man with a good large voice, a great deal of enthusiasm and ability to get people to sing, who is filled with the Holy Ghost, and knows how to sing to save. In addition to a good leader and a large choir, it is well to have male choruses, duets, quartets and solos. A band is sometimes helpful, but not at all a necessity. A good cornetist is of great help, but the singing attracts as much as instrumental music, and does far greater execution.
4. SECURE THE BEST POSSIBLE SPEAKERS. No man is a good speaker for a theatrical service who does not preach the straight Gospel, and preach it in a way to attract and hold the public. If there is one person in the community who has a peculiar gift in this direction, it is best usually to have him do the major part of the speaking week after week. It will do to throw in another speaker occasionally, and good may be accomplished by it, but one speaker who knows the audience and the work, and follows one sermon up by another, will accomplish the most definite and most satisfactory results.
5. BE SURE THAT THE SERVICES ARE THOROUGHLY EVANGELICAL, AND EMPHATICALLY EVANGELISTIC. Very little good comes from holding meetings in theatres and similar places unless these meetings are emphatically Gospel meetings. Preaching along ethical and social and philanthropic lines accomplishes very little good. If, however, the meetings are thoroughly evangelical and evangelistic, the ethical and social results will necessarily follow. Drunkards will be converted and give up their drinking, gamblers will give up their gambling, impure people will forsake their impurity, politicians will be brought to Christ and thus their politics will be reformed. I was talking to a converted politician last night. The night he came to the meeting where he was converted (during the World's Fair) he had been out with a number of his political friends. They had been planning for his election to an important office here in Chicago. At the service he heard nothing about political reform; he heard the simple Gospel, a Gospel that would save the slave of drink. He accepted Christ that night. The result has been that his whole life, personal, domestic, commercial and political, has been renovated. A sermon on political reform would not have touched him at all.
6. ADVERTISE THE MEETINGS LARGELY AND WIDELY. Large billboards such as the theatrical people use for their own advertisements are perhaps the best of any, but the newspapers should also be used to the utmost. Newspapers are generally willing to do a great deal of free advertising for services of this character. Men, with invitations to the meetings should be placed upon all the street corners for blocks around. Transparencies, carried through the streets by men, attract the attention and bring many to the services.
7. HAVE A THOROUGHLY DRILLED CORPS OF USHERS. Sometimes the theaters provide their own ushers, and for many reasons it is well to use them. They know the building, understand just how to seat people, and furthermore they need to hear the Gospel themselves and are likely to be converted.
8. HAVE WISE AND WELL-TRAINED PERSONAL WORKERS SCATTERED THROUGH THE AUDIENCE. This is of the very highest importance, even more important in the theater than it is in a church. No speaker can take note of what is happening in every part of a theater. Many men and women will be touched by the sermon, but only touched. If gotten hold of right then and there by a watchful and wise worker, and the effect of the sermon followed up, those persons will be converted, whereas if they are allowed to go out, the impression will soon die away and they may be lost forever. These workers should be carefully trained, as to exactly where to sit, and what to do during the service, and at the close of the service.
9. HAVE AFTER-MEETINGS. This is of the highest importance. For details regarding aftermeetings, see chapter on "Aftermeetings."
10. INVITE THE AUDIENCE TO THE CHURCHES. There is a prevalent opinion among the masses of the unchurched that they are not welcome at the churches. We should do everything in our power to disabuse them of this false notion. The theatre service affords a splendid opportunity for doing it. It is well to have the ministers themselves extend the invitation. In this way a permanence is given to the work. The church is the only thing that goes on continually. Missions, theatre services, tent services, come and go, but the church was established by Christ and perpetually continues. A work that does not lead the people ultimately into the churches and get them connected therewith, seldom results in any permanent good. It is well to have printed invitations from the churches to distribute among the audience. These invitations should be gotten up in an attractive form so that the people will be glad to take them home and keep them.