This lesson from the 1945 missionary prep Sunday School class describes an important tool in the kit of the missionary in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It follows a similar lesson on “Cottage Meetings” posted here recently.
THE GOSPEL MESSAGE: Teaching the Gospel to Others
The Nature and Value of the “Hall Meeting.”
“Hall Meeting” is a name applied to a meeting held in the mission field which is open to the general public and which is used primarily for the preaching of the Gospel to non-Mormons. The meeting may be held in any available hall, or in a chapel, any day of the week or period of the day, although Sunday evening is most commonly used. The meeting is essentially different from the regular meetings of the church members in established wards and branches. The sacrament is not administered, and the usual order of regular Church meetings may be greatly altered. No ordinations, confirmations, or other matters pertaining to the Priesthood are carried out in the hall meeting, but are reserved for regular meetings with Church members. The hall meeting is essentially a meeting for preaching the Gospel.
While final conversions to the Gospel generally result from personal contacts with the missionaries and a renewed study of the scriptures, the preaching of the Gospel to congregations gathered in halls or chapels still plays a vital part in missionary work. The hall meeting has a number of virtues: It enables one missionary to reach a great number of individuals in a short period of time. It has the value of what is sometimes termed “mass psychology.” People in large gatherings are swayed in their emotions by the spirit of the gathering, and people, who would not be touched by a private conversation, may be stirred in their hearts in a public meeting. Further, the hall meeting attracts individuals who would not take time for or be inclined to enter into a gospel conversation with a missionary. Some of these individuals attend meetings held by the Mormon missionaries through curiosity; some because of an inward longing for companionship, which is partially satisfied by mingling with a crowd; some through a desire to hear the Gospel where they are safe from being questioned concerning their own beliefs or personal habits; some out of honest desire to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ; some few to heckle and ridicule the missionaries. Whatever the cause of their attendance, those who enter a hall meeting will generally remain to listen and even the heckler may lose something of his antagonism, if the meeting is skillfully conducted.
Preparation for the ‘”Hall Meeting.”
The success of the hall meeting will depend upon several factors; the nature of the audience, the careful preparation of the meeting in advance, the ability of the missionaries to speak and their knowledge of the Gospel; and the “spirit of testimony” which accompanies the missionaries in their remarks.
Music has an especial value in the hall meeting. An organ prelude of about five minutes’ duration has a remarkable effect upon an audience gathering together in a strange hall. The opening song should be one that is commonly sung in Christian churches. Such songs as “Lead Kindly Light,” “Zion Stands with Hills Surrounded,” “O Say What Is Truth?” or “Abide with Me,” are used by Mormons and non-Mormons alike. The missionaries should be prepared to sing the song chosen without help from the audience, but the audience should be invited to join in the singing. Where song books or mimeographed copies of the words of the song can be distributed, congregational singing may be very successful. People who sing with the missionaries never ridicule their remarks.
The opening prayer should be given by a missionary. The prayer need not be written or prepared in advance, but the missionary should have thought deeply about it. An attempt should be made in the prayer to cause each individual present to become conscious of his own weakness and inadequacy in meeting the trials of life. It should be a prayer of deep humility, recognizing the mercy and goodness of God and asking for wisdom, tolerance and understanding.
When special musical numbers can be obtained, they should ordinarily follow the prayer. Two or three numbers, if well rendered, are not too many. Music enters the human heart as words cannot do. It calms the mind, driving from it conflicting thoughts and evil designs. It leaves the mind receptive and the attention centered.
In preparing the sermon the nature of the audience must first be considered. Will the congregation be largely Catholic or Protestant? Rich or poor? Educated or uneducated? Old or young? Friendly or antagonistic?
In general, sermons delivered in hall meetings should center around themes of universal interest to Christians. “The Life and Mission of Jesus of Nazareth,” “The First Principles of the Gospel,” “Salvation,” “God’s Authority on the Earth,” “Practical Religion,” are examples of general themes suitable for the hall meeting.
Where a series of hall meetings are held in the same building with largely the same audience, the subjects discussed should progressively lead to a portrayal of the fundamental doctrines of the Latter-day Saints. At the latter part of such a series, “The Book of Mormon,” “Temple Work for the Dead,” “Marriage for Eternity,” and similar topics would be fitting for discussion.
In a particularly hostile area, the first meeting might well deviate from the usual and a portion of the time be spent in portraying “Mormon Life and Culture,” “The Church Welfare Program,” or other similar topics by using film slides. These do much to break down prejudice toward the missionary and arouse curiosity which paves the way for a successful hall meeting to follow. An evening devoted to good music, where sufficient talent is available, serves a similar purpose.
The value of the hall meeting is realized only when there is a careful follow-up. Missionaries should carefully work out techniques to help them reach people who have attended their meetings. The following are suggestive:
(1) Near the close of the meeting, the audience should be informed that the missionaries will remain after the regular meeting to answer questions, and those interested should be invited to remain for such personal conversations. The location and time for regular Church services should be announced, as well as the time and place of the following hall meeting, if another is to be held.
(b) A missionary should be stationed at the exit of the building to distribute tracts to the people as they leave the building. The tracts thus distributed should be chosen carefully, having in mind the nature of the audience, and the problems which the evening’s theme might have aroused in the minds of the listeners.
(c) A slip of paper might be handed each person as he enters the building. Before the meeting is over, the audience might be asked to write on the slips of paper any questions they should like answered by the missionaries and to give their names and addresses. The slips are later deposited at the door. While the majority of the people might ignore this privilege, many fine leads may be obtained. The lead may be followed up in some cases by writing letters or by mailing tracts and pamphlets. Preferably, it is followed up by a personal visit to the individual’s home. In making a call on a person who has left an address and a question, the missionary has a real opportunity. He is fairly sure of being invited into the home, and the stage is already set for a discussion of some one phase of “Mormonism.”
Preparing a Sermon.
In preaching the gospel to the people of the world, the missionary must be thoroughly prepared. This preparation is of two types: preparation of the mind through study of the gospel principles, and preparation of the spirit through humility and prayer. Only when this preparation is fully made can the missionary fully obey the admonition God has given to those who preach the Gospel.
“Neither take ye thought before-hand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your mind continually the words of life and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man.” (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 84:85)
Concerning this method of speaking, the late Brigham H. Roberts, himself a great missionary, said: “This method of speaking is also the method which must have been enjoined upon the apostles and elders of the Meridian dispensation by the Christ, for so far as may be judged from the Christian documents, especially from the Acts of the Apostles, that is the uniform method followed by both the Master and his apostles. The apostles were directed by the Master in cases where they were brought under accusation unto the synagogues and before magistrates and powers, ‘to take no thought of how or what thing they should answer or what they should say: For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.’ (St. Luke 12:11-12). St. Matthew on the subject says: ‘For it is not ye that speak but the spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.’ (Matt. 10:19-20.)
“If this could be true when the ministry of God was hailed before magistrates, namely that it was not those forced into court that should speak, but the spirit of their Father that shall speak in them, of course it could be acclaimed true under this method of preaching that the Gospel would be taught by the spirit of God in the ministry, which, of all things, of course, would be most desirable; because then the gospel would be preached by the power of God and men would be taught of God. That doubtless accounts for the severity of judgments against those who reject the gospel because they would then be rejecting the voice of God through His servants.
Let it not be thought, however, that this method of preaching the gospel or in any case, where the extemporaneous method is employed, is a lazy man’s method or that it will give encouragement to giving no thought to such matter that is to be presented in extempore speech. It does not mean that materials shall not be gathered from the fields of knowledge and hived with the passing of the studious years. Extempore speech does not mean without thought, without knowledge. It may even be said that this method requires more thorough knowledge of a subject than the written method, or the memorized method of speech-making. Extemporaneous speech to be successful must be speech from a fulness of knowledge of the subject, and if connected with the teachings of the gospel, must be speech arising out of having ‘treasured up continually the words of life.’ It requires that those who follow it shall have their knowledge of things most carefully digested and their intellectual powers most carefully trained. Let it not be thought, however, that extemporaneous speech is so arbitrary in its form that it loses its character if some scattered quotations are read or the statement of another’s position is read; this does not make the discourse composite in character, unless such reading be the principal part of it. One may often read into unwritten or extemporaneous speech, passages from the scriptures to great advantage in the above manner.” (B.H. Roberts, The Seventies Correspondence School, Lesson for Feb. 1934, p. 5-6.)
St. Augustine, a powerful preacher of the early Christian Church wrote:
“The Christian teacher to make his hearers comprehend what he says – to read in the eyes and countenance of his auditors whether they understand him or not, and to repeat the same thing by giving it different terms, until he perceives it is understood, an advantage those cannot have who, by a servile dependance upon their memories, learn their sermons by heart and repeat them as so many lessons. Let not the preacher become the servant of words, rather let words be servants to the preacher.” (Pittenger, Extempore Speech, p. 34.)
The missionary to successfully preach the gospel must know all phases of it and be full of the spirit of his calling.