The results of the response pages originally mailed late last year have finally been tabulated. We still continue to get a few more each week, but the vast majority are here:
98 returned the response page and asked to unsubscribe;
590 did not return it and lost their subscription;
500 others did not return it, but their subscription continued because they had recently responded in some other way;
1430 returned their page asking to continue their subscription;
1930 is the current mailing list;
1129 of the above filled out the survey part of the response page;
318 asked to be in the Local Servants’ Directory, included with this issue.
Thanks to all of those who returned their response page. The Local Servants’ Directory should be beneficial to many and the answers to the survey portion have been very helpful in determining what I should do.
For a couple of years I have been praying, studying and to some degree struggling with the future of the “Church of God” groups as well as the future of Servants’ News and Shelter in the Word. It has been very clear to me that the hierarchical church model does not work—especially when there are numerous similar hierarchies all insisting that they are “the one God is using”. The free flow of Internet information also makes hierarchies much more difficult to run.
But when I considered the many independent Sabbatarian congregations, I did not see a great success record either. Some groups continuously argued doctrine or frequently broke up. Few seemed successful in any kind of evangelism among new people. Even my own efforts at evangelism seemed to be rather unsuccessful. There are only about 40 Shelter in the Word Subscribers who do not have a “Church of God” background. Only four people regularly attend our local congregation as a result of our yellow-pages line in Sabbath-Observing Churches section.
But during the past year, I have seen a number of local independent congregations gain stability and begin to work effectively. I have seen more interaction between former-WCG members, other Sabbatarians, and non-denominational Sunday keepers. I have seen them learn from each other and have seen local evangelism work.
So why hasn’t our local evangelism born much fruit? I think I have found the reason—read on.
One day, somebody asked me for a booklet on the Holy Days. I have not written one and could not think of one that I could completely recommend. Other people asked about other literature that was biblically sound but that would be acceptable to people who did not want to get involved with a denomination or church organization. I did not have an answer for them.
During this same time, I was looking at the survey responses and seeing that “biblical articles” were always the highest priority of the readers. In the final survey results accompanying this article, 866 people said biblical articles were “very important” to them. A little bit of extra study (not apparent from the results below) showed that most of the people who did not list biblical articles as “very important” were responded negatively to most of the other questions—they were interested mostly in the news and letters columns. If there was any clear counsel from the brethren who subscribe, it was to continuing publishing biblical articles.
The two items next most often regarded as “very important” were “doctrinal articles on the CoG controversies” (Passover, Pentecost, etc.) with 731, and then “letters” (713) which often deal with doctrinal subjects. In “fourth place”, was writing new basic literature with 651 saying it was “very important”.
The issue became clear. If it is my spiritual gift to write biblical articles and to find and publish the articles of others, then that is what I should be doing. I can help to fulfill the great need for biblical non-denominational literature. Local evangelism, and many other spiritual gifts are important, but Christ distributes gifts throughout the body and we cannot all do everything—or even half of everything.
Shelter in the Word was intended to be an evangelism tool, but only 449 subscribers said that producing it was “very important”—the third lowest of all questions. Its early issues contained many basic articles for individuals just becoming acquainted with the Bible. There is a need for a magazine like that, but there are probably many others more gifted than myself in creating it. I will keep publishing Shelter in the Word because I believe it is necessary to learn how to teach people with no knowledge of the “Church of God” groups—Shelter in the Word does not mention them. But I am changing the focus of Shelter in the Word to serve the serious non-denominational Bible student who knows his way around the Bible, is not afraid of a Strong’s concordance number, etc.
It was clear that “church group news” and “analysis of other groups” was important, but less important than Bible articles. For now, I will continue these sections, but I will probably spend less time searching for news, and mostly print those things that are sent to me or major issues that are very important. I will no longer try to cover every split of every group. They are no longer as traumatic as they used to be: most former-WCG members have been through one or more church splits by now, and have dozens of friends who have been through many different splits. Everyone is much calmer about them. The Journal, News of the Churches of God, is a much more thorough source of CoG news (ask us for a free copy).
Christian activist articles received a slightly less enthusiastic response. I firmly believe that there are many positive things that believers could be doing now, but doing them is not everyone’s gift. I certainly have no great experience with them, and so will bring them up only when I have a definite reason for so doing.
The item upon which subscribers were most divided was point “e”—analyzing the writings of Herbert Armstrong. (For mathematicians, its response had the highest standard deviation.) Approximately equal numbers of subscribers were in favor of it as were opposed to it, with about a fourth of the people in the middle. Many hand-written comments appeared on the response pages, some encouraging us to keep the Herbert Armstrong analysis—that their life was greatly helped because of it.
Others said it was a complete waste of time or the one thing that made them want to discontinue their subscription. While we may still have some letters or short news items on this subject, we will try to publish any major items as separate literature, only for those who want it.
Question “m”, about “assisting others”, was poorly worded and some wrote that they did not understand it. Even though it was rated the lowest of all the questions, I do think that I can give up helping people who are starting a new independent group and are asking for help. I talk to someone who is starting a new group about once per month.
The survey said nothing about The Holy Scriptures Version of the Bible and Commentary (see lead article, page 1), but I knew little about it when the survey was first published. I believe The Holy Scriptures Version and its associated Commentary will fullfill the need for Bible teaching, both for the advanced person and the new person.
While there was nothing on this survey about improving our Internet sites, my own experience has clearly shown me that it is very important. The Internet is the ideal place to give away free literature, and Internet search engines can often give as good access to a small site as they do to a large site. Several people have volunteered to help me with the Internet sites, and I have most of an overall plan written. I will be helping to implement it as I have time.
Several very good sources of literature (booklets and tracts) have found us and would like us to print them or put them on the Internet. I simply have not had time to read through all the literature and prepare it for printing. (I do not like to send out literature that I have not read!) Hopefully, there will be time to complete this.
I intend to continue to work in this ministry full-time for many years. However, for the past few months we have had to use our diminishing “savings” to continue supporting the ministry and our family. Many, including my own family, have suggested that I look for a good computer job (my previous field of work) and continue the ministry as time is available. However, it is obvious to me that working part time in this ministry would barely be enough time to respond to the mail—it would be very difficult to write anything new.
I would appreciate any constructive suggestions that anyone may have about any of the things mentioned in this article.
May the Eternal strengthen all of us and help all of us to better serve Him.
— Norman Edwards