A most significant development of our preaching work in very recent years has been the use of seminars. Most of our suburban ecclesias have now run Bible Seminars, with quite unprecedented results. These results have also been seen on an international scale, with large attendances reported in the United States, Canada and New Zealand.

A recent article in the Mid-Atlantic ASK (Advancement of Scriptural Knowledge) Newsletter gave the following report from the Washington Ecclesia.

“In September 1994, we sent out invitations for the “Learn to Read the Bible Effectively” Seminar: 250 people responded and so we decided to run three seminars. The first seminar started with 87 people and ended with 21, the second seminar started with 65 and ended with 23, and the third seminar started with 20 and is ongoing as of this report.” A letter from Brother George Rayner of Toronto in the July issue of The Christadelphian said:

“The seminar method has been well received across North America. Only one advertisement in a community-based newspaper was necessary to produce our initial core group of 24 students. At the conclusion of our last seminar, the class applauded the first time that I have ever heard the Word of God praised in such a fashion. Our ecclesia is now in the process of follow up. I strongly urge every ecclesia to explore the Bible Seminar.”

In each of these cases, the seminar used was the “Learn to Read the Bible Effectively” series which was developed in 1992 in the quite small North Industry Ecclesia in Ohio, USA. The same series has been used during the last two years by our local ecclesias with consistent attendances being reported.

Why the Success?

 Perhaps we can never answer this question. It is God who gives the increase whatever we may do, and we can only rejoice in the various ways whereby brothers and sisters have been called over the years.

We can, however, observe the advantages over our more traditional lectures. The most significant is probably the “non-threatening” approach. We are not inviting people to come and be “lectured at”, which sometimes has a negative connotation; we are inviting them to a learning experience that will be helpful to their lives. The end result may be similar, but the perception and reaction is different.

The Lord himself taught in that way. He did not threaten (a bruised reed would he not break), but he built relationships with people who were seeking truth and, with their confidence, thereby drew them from their world into his.

The seminar format allows this confidence to be developed. The brothers and sisters and young people who attend have as important a role in this as those who present the seminars. Sitting beside a visitor for six weeks is a most valuable way of building confidence and relationships. Seminar participants learn that we are here to help and guide people to the Kingdom, not to “brainwash” them into some small religious sect.

Seen as education, the seminar does not frighten but encourages attendance. It is a respected course amongst a world of further education courses and thus does not require a person to take such a quantum jump into the unknown. An article in The Advertiser on 4 September 1995 stated that as many as four out of five Australians are likely to take on an adult education course:

“Almost 80 percent of people participated in adult or community education courses last year compared with 6 percent in 1986.”

If people in the world want community education courses, what better could we offer them than a course leading to the award of eternal life!

What Venue?

 The venue is important. Again there is the need to be non-threatening—people must feel comfortable to attend and, unfortunately, coming inside our own halls often represents a formidable barrier.

While many have learnt the Truth in all kinds of situations, rich and poor, the seminars seem to work best in easily accessible and well-known comfortable venues. “The Orphanage” in Goodwood Road is a prime example.

What Time?

 Sunday evening is rightly a proper time for us to proclaim the Truth, and we should continue this, but the world sees it more as prime TV viewing time. Seminars need to be at a time most suited to meeting the needs of the attendees. A mid-week night is a much more acceptable “night for education” than a weekend evening. Sunday afternoons have been successfully used, particularly at Glenelg since this is an area people do visit at that time.

The Topic

 The topic needs to be something which people will readily see as helping them in their lives. “What the Christadelphians Believe” may be interesting to some inquiring minds, but “Reading the Bible Effectively” is more likely to be seen by people as something that may be of immediate help to them. The invitation leaflet needs to clearly stress the benefits of what an individual will learn. The Presentation Seminars allow a less dominant approach than a lecture. Again participants are being led, not threatened, at least in their eyes. Having two speakers alternating their presentations gives variety and interest, as well as recognising that different people will respond to presenters in different ways. If one speaker does not “strike a chord” with a visitor, the other may well do so.

A seminar room set out like a classroom, with properly prepared notes and workbooks, gives an air of seriousness and commitment and encourages people to take notes and learn from the Bible.

The Follow-on

 The Seminar series is designed so that visitors will build up trust and confidence and thus be willing (and keen) to follow through their Bible Studies with us.

Many do not of course, for there are different types of “soil”. But even then the efforts may not be not wasted on them. Maybe something will happen later in their lives that will cause them to remember what they have learned; maybe it will be after the Lord returns that they will be more ready to accept the “everlasting gospel” that will then go out into the world.

Of course we would like to have as many as possible follow through. Experience shows that this will not often happen if we just offer Sunday evening lectures in our halls. There seems to be a need for another series in a similar style. Maybe this is an interested-friends’ class in a brother and sister’s home, but the change to this may still be more than people can take. Continuing on at the same venue and at the same time with another series may be the best follow-on, but that will involve substantial extra venue hire costs.

More experience with how to cast the gospel net in these circumstances should help us to see how to handle better the eventual transition to our own halls.

The Internal Seminar

 An interesting development this year at Brighton and Cumberland, and also to a lesser extent at Aberfoyle Park and Hyde Park (and probably other ecclesias), is the use of “internal seminars” in our own halls on Sunday evenings.

The time and place do not meet the above standards for Seminar Series designed for new interested friends, but these “internal seminars” are particularly designed to help our young people. Essentially they deal with subjects over a series of nights. Our usual one-night presentation of, for example, the Promises to Abraham, must of necessity deal just with the main and thus wellknown passages. But expand this to three or four Sunday nights, introduce more visual media, use a dual-presenter seminar style, have people seated at tables and provide good notes, and the subject can become alive with all kinds of interesting and helpful sideline passages and background material.

The danger though is not to get carried away by complexities. The Sunday night programme must still be presented in a way which preserves the simple logic and clarity of the Truth and allows for the almost complete lack of Bible background of most visitors.

Summary

 Seminar series are an exciting development based on good past practices. They will not “convert the world” and we ought not to focus upon numbers. As mentioned earlier, God gives the increase, but we have a responsibility to enhance our sowing and our watering. They are an important part of preaching, but only a part. They add to, not replace our traditional methods. And if they bring success, it is only God and not the method that is to be thanked.