The Rev. Leslie Dunn had a vision of reaching out to vacationers in Wildwood, NJ by erecting a chapel building right on the boardwalk. Somehow he persuaded the Presbytery of New Jersey to purchase a parcel along the boardwalk many years ago, when it was only remotely related to the amusement locations. Today businesses, sandwich shops and tourist trap shops line the boardwalk on either side of the chapel.
Activities attract crowds every night. It may be a young violinist or a special choir or a gospel magician or other entertainer to catch the interest of passers by. Christian supporters come and sit in the chapel to encourage others to linger also. A good musician will stop a large crowd around the open doorways of the chapel. Then when the speaker of the evening takes the stage to talk about God, they usually scatter like roaches when the light goes on. At least that was my experience.
As a poverty level preacher with four kids, it was difficult to plan fun vacations for my family unless it was tent camping (which we did a lot). This was a free week at the beach, and my kids loved it. There was a large house associated with the chapel that was available for the preacher of the week and his family. My only responsibility was to speak each night. I tried to create two or three short zingers for each night. For this kind of preaching it was important to get their attention in my first sentence. Perhaps some of the methods we used there ought to be employed in church--at least once in a while.
The four listeners laws for public speaking were very much on my mind in those days. The four laws? Oh yeah, they were: 1) Ho hum, 2) Why bring that up?, 3) For instance?, and 4) So what?
When I jumped on stage to preach, I had to imagine my audience as stifling yawns and thinking, "Boy am I bored. And this guy is going to make it worse." That was "Ho hum". You can guess the contents of the other three, I'm sure.
Well one night I jumped on stage and asked for a show of hands of people who believed they were perfect. People who had never sinned. From there I was going to teach that our perfect God requires perfection in order to get to heaven, and from there I would offer them the Savior that God prescribes. Clever? Well, I thought so. Only one rather aggressive man came down the aisle toward me with his hand raised, saying, "I am. I'm perfect." I really didn't know what I was going to do with him by the time he got to the stage, but my friend, Leonard Chanoux, the director of the chapel, intercepted this guy and ushered him aside for a chat. I learned later that the same guy had been disruptive with other speakers at the chapel. I was glad for a savvy director.
It was a good experience for any preacher to learn a little humility. Why don't they flock to hear my interesting message? Why don't more of them linger to hear where my clever introduction will lead? Why didn't dozens of people get saved when I preached my heart out?
During the day the chapel was open for discussion. A seminary student lingered near the door with interesting literature on display, and several people stopped to argue, listen or browse. One of the more outrageous lingerers stopped to tell the seminary student who god really was. Several off-the-wall assertions were laid on the discussion table before he ran out of gas. The student just patiently listened. I was within ear shot, and felt like jumping into a roaring argument with this dude. When he finished, the seminarian simply said, "That's all very interesting. Where did you get those ideas? Here's what the Bible says." And he proceeded, expecting social courtesy to require the young man to listen to the truth. That day I learned that I needed to argue less and listen more if I was going to be an effective witness.