Methods of Preaching​—Using Every Means to Reach People

Methods of Preaching​—Using Every Means to Reach People


God’s people use a variety of methods of preaching to reach the largest audience possible

1, 2. (a) What technique did Jesus use in order to speak to a large audience? (b) How have faithful disciples of Christ followed his example, and why?

CROWDS gather around Jesus on the shore of a lake, but he boards a boat and pulls away a short distance. Why? He knows that the surface of the water will amplify his voice and that the large audience will be able to hear his message more clearly.​—Read Mark 4:1, 2.

2 In the decades surrounding the Kingdom’s birth, faithful disciples of Christ followed his example, using novel techniques to spread the good news of the Kingdom to large audiences. Under the direction of the King, God’s people continue to innovate and adapt as circumstances change and new technologies become available. We want to reach as many as possible before the end comes. (Matt. 24:14) Consider just some of the methods we have used to reach people, no matter where they live. Think, too, of ways that you can imitate the faith of those who spread the good news in the early days.

Reaching Large Audiences

3. How were enemies of the truth frustrated by our use of newspapers?

3 Newspapers. Brother Russell and his associates had been publishing the Watch Tower since 1879, bringing the Kingdom message to many people. In the decade prior to 1914, however, Christ seems to have maneuvered matters so that the good news would reach an even wider audience. The chain of events began in 1903. In that year, Dr. E. L. Eaton, a spokesman for a group of Protestant ministers in Pennsylvania, challenged Charles Taze Russell to a series of debates on Bible doctrine. In a letter to Russell, Eaton wrote: “I have thought that a public debate of some of those questions about which you and I differ . . . would be of immense interest to the public.” Russell and his associates also thought the public would be interested, so they arranged to have the debates published in a leading newspaper, The Pittsburgh Gazette. The newspaper articles were so popular and Russell’s clear explanation of Bible truth so compelling that the paper offered to publish Russell’s lectures every week. How that development must have frustrated enemies of the truth!

By 1914, over 2,000 newspapers were publishing Russell’s sermons

4, 5. What quality did Russell display, and how can those with positions of responsibility imitate his example?

4 More newspapers soon wanted to carry Russell’s lectures. By 1908, the Watch Tower could report that the sermons were published in “eleven newspapers regularly.” However, brothers familiar with newspaper work advised Russell that if he moved the Society’s offices from Pittsburgh to a city that was better known, more newspapers would carry the Bible-based articles. After weighing that advice and other factors, Russell moved the offices to Brooklyn, New York, in 1909. The result? Just months after that move, some 400 newspapers were publishing the lectures, with more constantly being added to the list. By the time the Kingdom was established in 1914, over 2,000 newspapers in four languages were publishing Russell’s sermons and articles!

5 What important lesson does that development provide? Those who have a measure of authority in God’s organization today do well to imitate Russell’s humility. In what way? When making important decisions, consider the advice of others.​—Read Proverbs 15:22.

6. How did the truths published in newspaper articles affect one person?

6 The Kingdom truths published in those newspaper articles changed people’s lives. (Heb. 4:12) For example, Ora Hetzel, who was baptized in 1917, was one of many who first learned the truth through such articles. “After I was married,” said Ora, “I went to visit my mother in Rochester, Minnesota. When I arrived, I found her cutting out articles from a newspaper. They were sermons by Russell. Mother explained the things she had learned from them.” Ora accepted the truths she learned and for some six decades was a faithful proclaimer of God’s Kingdom.

7. Why did those taking the lead reassess the use of newspapers?

7 In 1916, two key events caused those taking the lead to reassess the use of newspapers in spreading the good news. First, the Great War that was raging at the time made printing supplies difficult to obtain. In 1916, a report from our newspaper department in Britain highlighted the challenge, saying: “There are just over 30 papers publishing the Sermons at the present time. It is quite likely that this number will be greatly reduced shortly owing to the increasingly high price of paper.” The second event was the death of Brother Russell on October 31, 1916. Thus, The Watch Tower of December 15, 1916, announced: “Now that Brother Russell has passed beyond, the sermon feature [in the newspapers] will be discontinued entirely.” Although this avenue of preaching came to an end, other methods, such as the “Photo-Drama of Creation,” continued to have great success.

8. What was involved in producing the “Photo-Drama of Creation”?

8 Picture presentations. Russell and his associates worked for some three years to produce the “Photo-Drama of Creation,” which was released in 1914. (Prov. 21:5) The Drama, as it was called, was an innovative combination of moving pictures, sound recordings, and colored glass slides. Hundreds of people took part in reenacting Bible scenes that were captured on film, and even animals were involved. “The largest part of the population of one of the large zoological gardens,” says a report from 1913, “was brought into use in order to reproduce in Motion talking pictures Noah’s part in the big show.” As for the hundreds of different glass slides used in the production, artists in London, New York, Paris, and Philadelphia colored each one by hand.

9. Why was so much time and expense poured into making the “Photo-Drama”?

9 Why was so much time and expense poured into making the “Photo-Drama”? A resolution adopted at the 1913 series of conventions explains: “The unprecedented success of the American newspapers in moulding public opinion by the aid of cartoons and illustrations in their news and magazine sections, together with the wonderful popularity and adaptability of moving pictures, has fully demonstrated their worth and, we believe, fully justifies us, as progressive preachers and Bible class teachers, in giving our unqualified endorsement of moving pictures and stereopticon slides as an effective and desirable method for evangelists and teachers.”

Top: A “Photo-Drama” projection booth; bottom: “Photo-Drama” glass slides

10. How widely was the “Photo-Drama” shown?

10 During 1914, the “Photo-Drama” was shown in 80 cities each day. Almost eight million people in the United States and Canada saw the presentation. That same year, the “Photo-Drama” was shown in Australia, Britain, Denmark, Finland, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. A simplified version of the production, one that did not include the motion pictures, was assembled for use in smaller towns. That version​—the “Eureka Drama”—​was cheaper to produce and easier to transport. By 1916, either the “Photo-Drama” or the “Eureka Drama” had been translated into Armenian, Dano-Norwegian, French, German, Greek, Italian, Polish, Spanish, and Swedish.

During 1914, the “Photo-Drama” was shown in packed auditoriums

11, 12. What impact did the “Photo-Drama” have on one young man, and what example did he set?

11 The French translation of the “Photo-Drama” had a great impact on an 18-year-old named Charles Rohner. “It was presented in my town​—Colmar, Alsace, France,” says Charles. “From the very outset, I was impressed by the clear presentation of Bible truth.”

12 As a result, Charles was baptized and in 1922 entered full-time service. One of his first assignments was to help present the “Photo-Drama” to audiences in France. Describing this work, Charles says: “I was assigned several jobs​—to play the violin, to be the accounts servant, and to be the literature servant. I was also asked to quiet the audience before the program began. During intermission, we presented literature. We assigned each brother or sister a section of the hall. Each one had an armful of literature and approached every person in the section. In addition, at the entrance to the hall, we had tables full of literature.” In 1925, Charles was invited to serve at Bethel in Brooklyn, New York. There he was assigned to conduct an orchestra for the newly established radio station WBBR. After considering the example of Brother Rohner, we could ask ourselves, ‘Am I willing to accept whatever assignments I am given to help spread the Kingdom message?’​—Read Isaiah 6:8.

13, 14. How was radio used to spread the good news? (See also the boxes “ Programs on WBBR” and “ A Momentous Convention.”)

13 Radio. In the 1920’s, the work with the “Photo-Drama” began to wind down, but radio emerged as a significant way to spread the good news of the Kingdom. On April 16, 1922, Brother Rutherford gave his first radio broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An estimated 50,000 people heard the talk “Millions Now Living Will Never Die.” Then, in 1923, came the first broadcast of a convention session. In addition to using commercial stations, those taking the lead decided that it would be wise for us to build our own station, which was built on Staten Island, New York, and registered as WBBR. The initial broadcast was aired on February 24, 1924.

In 1922, an estimated 50,000 people heard the radio broadcast of the talk “Millions Now Living Will Never Die”

14 Explaining the purpose of WBBR, The Watch Tower of December 1, 1924, said: “We believe that the radio is the most economical and effective way of spreading the message of the truth that has yet been used.” It then added: “If the Lord sees fit to build other radio stations for the spreading of the truth, he will provide the money in his own good way.” (Ps. 127:1) By 1926, Jehovah’s people owned six radio stations. Two were located in the United States​—WBBR in New York and WORD near Chicago. The other four were in Canada, located in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and Saskatchewan.

15, 16. (a) How did the clergy in Canada react to our broadcasts? (b) How did radio lectures and the house-to-house work complement each other?

15 This wide broadcasting of Bible truth did not go unnoticed by the clergy of Christendom. Albert Hoffman, who was familiar with the work done at the radio station in Saskatchewan, Canada, said: “More and more people began to know of the Bible Students [as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called]. A wonderful witness was given until 1928, when the clergy put pressure on officials and all the stations in Canada run by the Bible Students lost their licenses.”

16 Despite the closure of our radio stations in Canada, Bible lectures continued to be transmitted on commercial stations. (Matt. 10:23) To boost the effectiveness of those programs, The Watch Tower and The Golden Age (now called Awake!) carried a list of commercial stations that broadcast Bible truth so that publishers calling from door to door could encourage people to listen to the lectures on their local stations. With what impact? The Bulletin of January 1931 says: “The radio work has been a real stimulus to the friends in their canvassing from door to door. Many reports have come to the office telling us that persons have listened in and, because of hearing the lectures given by Brother Rutherford, were very ready to take the books offered to them.” The Bulletin described the radio broadcasts and the house-to-house work as “the two great publicity branches of the Lord’s organization.”

17, 18. Although circumstances changed, how did radio continue to play a role?

17 During the 1930’s, opposition mounted against our use of commercial radio stations. So in late 1937, Jehovah’s people adapted to the changing circumstances. They withdrew from commercial broadcasting and focused even more on the house-to-house ministry. * Nevertheless, radio continued to play an important role in spreading the Kingdom message in some remote or politically isolated parts of the world. For example, from 1951 to 1991, a station in West Berlin, Germany, regularly broadcast Bible discourses so that those living in parts of what was then East Germany could hear the Kingdom message. Starting in 1961 and for more than three decades afterward, a national radio station in Suriname, South America, broadcast a weekly 15-minute program that spread Bible truths. From 1969 to 1977, the organization produced more than 350 recorded radio programs in the series “All Scripture Is Beneficial.” In the United States, 291 radio stations, in 48 states, carried the programs. In 1996, a radio station in Apia, the capital city of the South Pacific nation of Samoa, transmitted a weekly program entitled “Answers to Your Bible Questions.”

18 As the 20th century drew to a close, radio no longer played a primary role in spreading the good news. However, another technology emerged that made it possible to reach an audience of unprecedented size.

19, 20. Why have Jehovah’s people produced, and how effective has it been? (See also the box “ JW.ORG.”)

19 The Internet. As of 2013, more than 2.7 billion people, almost 40 percent of the world’s population, were connected to the Internet. According to certain estimates, some two billion access it on mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. That figure continues to climb globally, but the fastest growth in mobile Internet connection is currently occurring in Africa, where there are more than 90 million mobile Internet subscriptions. Those developments have fundamentally changed the way many people receive information.

20 Starting in 1997, Jehovah’s people adopted this method of mass communication. In 2013, the Web site became available in some 300 languages, and Bible-based information was made available for download in over 520 languages. Each day the site receives more than 750,000 individual visits. Each month, in addition to viewing videos, people download over 3 million complete books, 4 million complete magazines, and 22 million audio tracks.

21. What have you learned from the experience involving Sina?

21 The Web site has become a powerful method of spreading the good news of God’s Kingdom, even in lands where our preaching work is restricted. For example, early in 2013, a man named Sina found the site and called world headquarters, which is located in the United States, asking for more information about the Bible. What made this call unusual? Sina comes from a Muslim background and lives in a remote village in a country where the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses is severely restricted. As a result of this call, arrangements were made for Sina to study the Bible twice a week with a Witness in the United States. The study was conducted using an Internet video service.

Teaching Individuals

22, 23. (a) Have the methods of reaching large audiences replaced the door-to-door ministry? (b) How has the King blessed our efforts?

22 None of the methods we have used to reach large audiences, such as newspapers, the “Photo-Drama,” radio programs, and the Web site, were meant to replace the door-to-door ministry. Why not? Because Jehovah’s people learned from the pattern set by Jesus. He did more than preach to large crowds; he focused on helping individuals. (Luke 19:1-5) Jesus also trained his disciples to do the same, and he gave them a message to deliver. (Read Luke 10:1, 8-11.) As discussed in Chapter 6, those taking the lead have always encouraged each servant of Jehovah to speak to people face-to-face.​—Acts 5:42; 20:20.

23 One hundred years after the Kingdom’s birth, more than 7.9 million publishers actively share in teaching others about God’s purposes. Without question, the King has blessed the methods we have used to advertise the Kingdom. As the following chapter will show, he has also provided us with the tools we need to spread the good news to every nation, tribe, and tongue.​—Rev. 14:6.

^ par. 17 In 1957, those taking the lead decided to shut down WBBR in New York, the last of our radio stations.