Missionary journals and accounts in church magazines often refer to “cottage meetings” and “hall meetings.” These are pretty much just what they sound like – small meetings (distinguished from social gatherings), held in private homes or in rented halls, to introduce the gospel to investigators. These meetings had quite different goals and a different structure from today’s individual or family discussions, and from regular worship services for church members. Simple as they seem, cottage and hall meetings seem exotic, something closer to the missionary practices of the 19th century than to anything I’ve experienced.
This lesson from the 1945 missionary prep Sunday School class indicates what was expected in a cottage meeting; the description of hall meetings will appear in a separate post in a few days.
THE GOSPEL MESSAGE: Teaching the Gospel to Others
Nature of “Cottage Meetings.”
A “Cottage Meeting,” as the name implies, is a meeting held in the room of a home or cottage. It is, however, more than a conversation or visit with the members of a family; it has a certain formal procedure common to public meetings and is attended by others than the family group. Such a meeting is conducted by some individual who assumes its direction and extends to others present the right to speak or perform. As a method of preaching the Gospel, the cottage meeting is commonly employed by missionaries who conduct the meeting and direct the singing, prayers, and discussions.
Types of Cottage Meetings in the Mission Field.
The procedure followed in arranging a cottage meeting and the proceedings of the meeting itself vary greatly. Usually the meeting will be held in the home of a Church member, but it may be in the home of a non-Mormon acquaintance or friend. The meeting will ordinarily consist of the following: A song or special musical number, (or both), a prayer, remarks upon some phase of the Gospel by one or more missionaries, an open discussion between the missionaries and those assembled, a closing song, and prayer.
There are many variations of the above program. Some cottage meetings may be devoted almost wholly to music – the portrayal of the story of the Church through Latter-day Saint songs. Some meetings may be entirely informal save for the songs and prayers. Occasionally the entire time of a cottage meeting may be taken up with the presentation of dramatic recordings of Church history, or with projected picture films from the life and culture, or projects connected with Mormon beliefs.
The nature of a cottage meeting is largely predetermined by the circumstances under which the opportunity of holding such meeting has arisen, and by the qualifications of the missionaries who are to conduct the meeting. Missionaries may easily arrange to show pictures in the home of a non-Mormon who would not invite his friends to hear the missionaries preach. On the other hand, where the meeting is held in the home of a Church member or an earnest investigator, a doctrinal discussion may well be in order.
Value of the Cottage Meeting.
The cottage meeting, skillfully carried out, is one of the surest methods of winning friends and of introducing the Gospel to them. There is a distinct advantage in meeting strangers under the conditions which prevail in a cottage meeting. Those who attend the cottage meeting come to it expecting to meet the missionaries and are, at least in part, receptive to the message they may give. The host and hostess, in inviting others to their home in order to meet and hear the missionaries, are virtually recommending the missionaries as to their character and message.
The cottage meeting also presents an ideal teaching situation. People present are generally interested, are willing to remain for an hour or more, expect the missionaries to present the message, and yet feel free to interpose questions and make comments.
In such a meeting, a friendly spirit should be encouraged; and a spirit of tolerance and good will, promoted.
Suggestions for the Conducting of Cottage Meetings.
While circumstances vary and greatly alter the course of a meeting, some general suggestions might be made.
The opening song should be one acceptable to all churches and preferably one known to the congregation. Such procedure permits the congregation to join in the singing. As about forty percent of the songs used in the L.D.S. Church are taken from Protestant song books, the selection of such is not difficult.
The opening prayer should be given by one of the missionaries or by a Church member previously contacted. The prayer should be one acceptable to all creeds, centering on the love of God and fellowmen, and with a petition that the minds of all might be made receptive to the truths of the Gospel.
If a second song is used, it should direct the minds of those assembled to the theme to be discussed. hence, if the story of the origin of the Church is to be the theme of the meeting, such a song as “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer,” or “We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet,” would be appropriate. As the people assembled are not likely to know these songs, missionaries should not attempt community singing, but should prepare the song as a solo, duet, or quartet, etc.
In speaking at a cottage meeting, the missionary should use a free conversational style, simple and direct language, and explain L.D.S. history and doctrines without casting ridicule or criticism on the religion of any of those assembled.
A message should always be given before questions and comments are invited, so that any conversations which follow might be directed to a purpose. In some instances the meeting is carried through to completion and dismissed with prayer, before those present are invited to ask questions. The missionaries then remain with those who desire conversation with them.
When missionaries have been invited into a home for the express purpose of giving a musical program, to show pictures, or to present recordings, they should use care not to offend by overstepping the bounds of the invitation. Questions will likely be asked, and in answering them, ample opportunity will be given to present something of the Latter-day Saint message.
If a cottage meeting does nothing more immediately than to create good will and respect, it has succeeded. It will not be likely that those who attend will later close their doors in the faces of the missionaries or speak unkindly about them.
Following up the Cottage Meeting.
Unless careful follow-ups are made much of the value of the cottage meeting may be lost. One of the immediate follow-ups is the giving of tracts and pamphlets, after the meeting is over, to those who desire them. Such tracts should be closely related to the discussion of the evening or to questions which have been asked.
Missionaries should obtain from their host or hostess the names and addresses and, if possible, the occupation and church membership of those who attended the meeting. These people should be called on in their homes during the course of the following two weeks and be given the opportunity to discuss the Gospel further, to obtain other Church literature, and to find where regular L.D.S. services are to be held. If the missionary has created a favorable impression in the cottage meeting, these follow-up visits will be pleasant and fruitful.
When great interest is shown by individuals attending a cottage meeting, care should be taken to arrange other cottage meetings to which they will be invited. If the interest of an investigator is sufficient, the missionary might offer to hold such a meeting in his or her home. In such a case, the host should be invited to help plan the meeting and to determine who will be the guests.