Ten years ago Bill Gowland was minister of the Albert Hall, Manchester, which with more than 1,500 members was one of English Methodism’s key pulpits. Yet always in his mind was the haunting concern of how to reach those millions to whom the Church was irrelevant. Characteristically he saw a parable in the leper squint, a feature still to be seen in certain ancient churches in Britain. The leper squint was a small window through which the leper, in his completely outcast plight, could watch the service being conducted. Millions outside the Church, with no intention of coming in, were still contemplating the Church’s doings from afar, some with a new curiosity.

To Bill Gowland, a congregation displaying a cosy insularity (“ghetto-minded” is his phrase) was sowing the seed of its own destruction. A new imaginative approach was needed and a new mode of expression: references to lilies and sheep were alien to men working with coal and steel. The 42-year-old Methodist pastor stated his aim thus: “The kind of places in which we wish to operate are those in which men and women work and play, sweat and swear.” The industrial town of Luton (population now 150,000), thirty miles northwest of London, offered a fitting challenge to a man of vision and courage, and there he went with the blessing of The Methodist Church, in 1954. Thus was born Luton Industrial Mission. He took over a moribund church which had a seating capacity of 2,000—and a congregation of 60. By 1959 it had 500 members and was growing at the rate of 100 per year.

But this was not the whole story. “We must bridge the gulf between pavement and pew,” he asserted, “and get onto the factory floor.” And he did. The chaplain who had at first been introduced at an employer-employee conclave under “Any Other Business” became a familiar figure who through selfless love and infinite patience won his way into the hearts of those who had lost sight of their eternal destiny.

Here, in industry, Gowland insists, is the most effective forum of our day. In a little book, Militant and Triumphant, he had pointed out that the Communist target was not a majority in Westminster (in Luton two months ago the Communist Parliamentary candidate polled a mere 1,200 votes), but a strategic minority in the trade unions, shop stewards, trade councils, and other focal points of working-class life. In this vital sector of the world-struggle Christians have been conspicuously absent, leaving empty thrones for Communist occupation and thus abandoning millions, workers and employers alike, to the mercy of stark materialism.

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William Gowland is now universally recognized as the foremost expert on the subject of the Christian relation to industry. Consultant of many trade unions, managements, and groups in all parts of the world, he has lectured widely in the United States and Canada, and returned a few months ago from Australia, where he established the pattern of industrial evangelism.

In 1957 he found Luton Industrial College, where he gave priority to the training of chaplains. This work continues, but with greater emphasis now on the layman. The chaplain is regarded as the bridgehead, but the layman has a permanent foothold, and in his hands is the real task of the Church in industry. So far several hundreds of men—chaplains, shop stewards, apprentices, and managers—have graduated from the college. One year the college was swamped with 3,000 applicants. Hospitality is given by local townsfolk, who hold Gowland in high respect; but funds for the residential accommodation on which he has set his heart are badly needed. Only when Bill Gowland feels that chaplains, lay members, and lay preachers have been adequately trained does he allow them to do evangelistic work on the factory floor. Similarly, he will not receive anyone into membership of his church unless he is convinced that the candidate will become a militant Christian. “I just can’t afford to have passive Christians at Luton,” he declares. Last month his church was crowded at a memorial service for President Kennedy at which a U. S. Air Force chaplain gave the address.

With the church and college Gowland runs also a community center to demonstrate Christian faith and practice in persistent social concern. Sixty per cent of its 1,100 members are non-churchgoers (“this is how it should be”). Gowland’s voluntary staff help in visiting homes, ministering to the needy, running extensive campaigns, and conducting open-air meetings. The whole project is run on a shoestring: Gowland has one ministerial assistant and a tiny administrative staff. He is a modest man who disclaims all credit for his truly staggering achievements, stressing that the glory is God’s alone.

In October last the mission celebrated its ninth anniversary, and in his report Bill Gowland made a typical point: “If industry is in parts dirty and difficult, that is all the more reason why we should find the way by which it can be made to serve the purposes of God.”

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Advertising The Gospel

Can the language and methods of advertising be used to put across a basic Christian truth?

Mennonite Broadcasts, Inc., sponsors of “The Mennonite Hour” and other religious radio programs, are currently testing two series of brief radio messages aimed at the man in the street—one series written by them, one by an advertising agency—to get an answer to this question.

The Mennonites’ “sermonettes,” written by Stanley Shenk, a Mennonite minister, take one minute and are being broadcast once a day for six months. The agency’s promotional “spots” take thirty seconds and were broadcast for nine weeks, at the rate of 120 messages a week. The two series were planned for two undisclosed cities, the secrecy extending through the duration of the test to avoid prejudicing the results.

It was made clear that the experiment was not intended as a formula for “instant salvation.” “We can’t preach the whole Gospel,” said Kenneth Weaver, executive director of Mennonite Broadcasts. The idea was rather to find out whether a “basic Christian truth” could be put across.

The Mennonites are trying this novel approach to gospel broadcasting because they believe that “the usual religious program attracts an audience which already has some tendency toward spiritual orientation,” as the chairman of the Minute Program Committee, Dr. Henry Weaver, puts it. “Such a program serves a worthwhile purpose, but we feel we also have a mandate to reach the unchurched,” Dr. Weaver said. He also said that he hoped that the program would ultimately bring those reached in touch with a church, although the immediate aim is solely for comprehension of the message.

A research firm has been retained to measure attitudes before, immediately after, and six months after the programs. As far as anyone has been able to determine, this is the first time that modern audience research techniques have been applied to a religious broadcast, according to Alvin A. Sarra, senior account executive of Henry J. Kaufman and Associates, the agency handling the project. Both programs are aimed at men between 18 and 40, he said. There are no Mennonite churches in either broadcast area.

Since final returns are not yet in (the agency’s nine-week series was completed in November, but the six-month sermonette series will run until February), neither the agency nor the Mennonites are making official statements about how the experiment is going; but privately they are reported encouraged.

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Here is a sample of the messages prepared by the agency;

Young but mature, highly enthusiastic male voice. “My children love life,” says the young father.

Round, vibrant voice—sincere in sound and pitch. “I give life,” says Jesus Christ. Echo chamber. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Selling voice—varied in pitch, range, and tempo. Help your children to live a new way—live abundantly—really live! Teach them to take the gift of new life that only Christ can give. Take Him, too. He forgives sins. He leads to new understanding and enjoyment of life. Don’t keep Him waiting any longer! Don’t let your children miss out!

Here is one of Shenk’s messages:

This is a minute; it may be your minute.

Many people who have never accepted Christ as sin-forgiver think they’re good Christians—just because they’re Americans and have never killed a man or robbed a bank.

Many who have never accepted Christ as leader think they’re Christians just because sometimes they ask God to follow along like a good fellow and give them a hand.

The religion of these people is a foggy combination of self-satisfaction, personal convenience, once-in-a-while church attendance, and thinking of God as the Man Upstairs. They know next to nothing of true religion.

A man gets a start at real religion when he accepts Christ as sin-forgiver and leader. Then he gets a whole new outlook on life—and he finds what religion is.


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