According to a recent survey conducted by the Barna Research Group in Ventura, California, almost one-third (31%) of American adults are unchurched. This means approximately 60-65 million individuals out there are not being introduced to Christ. It also means that churches have an incredible opportunity to spread the Gospel in North America alone.
Many times, we think of ministering to people in second- or third-world countries, but statistics like the aforementioned drive home the incredible truth that we would do well to be missionaries in our own neighborhoods, workplaces, and communities as well.
Fortunately, you probably already have one of the best tools for saving souls and bringing the lost sheep back to the Lord. I am speaking of a cassette ministry, one of the greatest, most powerful ways your church can spread the Gospel to a friend next door or a stranger across the globe.
For many churches, the cassette ministry is an overlooked resource, used mainly for shut-ins or members who could not attend a particular service. Yet, with a little bit of creativity, you can use tapes to bring glory to His name more effectively than ever before. In the the first part of this article, you’ll be introduced to people who were inspired to use tapes in innovative ways, and whose lives have been enriched as a result.
It’s important to remember that they aren’t the only ways for you to reach the unchurched or those who have fallen away from Christ. By using the strength of your congregation, you can try many, many means to use cassettes to worship and serve Him. We’ll be discussing two dynamic ideas to broaden the reach of your ministry in this article.
Cassette Ministry Innovation #1:
Carry tapes with you into your favorite restaurant or local store.
You have a cassette ministry, and maybe you pick up a couple of tapes every week or every other week, meaning to pass them around. But where do these tapes actually wind up? Do they sit in a drawer until you engage in “spring cleaning”, only to guiltily realize they’ll never be able to do anything in a desk? Do they stay in your car, sitting next to you but never ministering to anyone else? If you can relate to these scenarios, it’s time to take a new look at how tapes can transform your incidental meetings with persons throughout your day.
For instance, when was the last time you engaged in meaningful conversation with a waiter or waitress at your favorite restaurant? Perhaps he or she was in a hurry and was too rushed to speak with you or maybe it was because you just didn’t think of the moment as an opportunity to witness.
Jordan Lapides of Minnesota is the perfect example of someone who will never overlook the value of a friendly conversation and a gift of a tape. Lapides and his wife, Sue, were having a meal in a local eating establishment and discovered during the course of conversation with their server that she was a Christian. They immediately seized upon the opportunity, and handed her a cassette Sue had in her purse. The very next time they entered that restaurant, they were approached by the same waitress, who told them of the blessing that tape had given her, and then asked if there were other tapes she might have.
The Lapides’ have continued giving her tapes now for over a year, and she, in turn, hands them out to other people. Jordan and Sue have been able to minister to many people in that restaurant, including the manager, through the offering of a single tape.
Another inventive technique to spread cassettes was dreamed up by Darlene Presley, Calvary Church of God. While shopping at Wal-mart, she noticed fishbowls and suddenly realized they had the potential to distribute tapes. She labeled them “Food for Your Soul” and placed them in local restaurants, convenience stores, and gas stations; not surprisingly, they are emptied quickly, so Darlene replenishes them every Monday morning.
Notes Presley, “Many people are afraid to come to an unfamiliar church. Through the tapes, they can discover what it’s like before attending.”
Cassette Ministry Innovation #2:
Announce “number of cassettes given away” in each church bulletin
Would it surprise you to learn that churches can take a hint from fast food enterprises and their marketing methods? They can, and it doesn’t require a budget of millions, either. A single line of text in the church bulletin can pave the way for renewed excitement for your church’s cassette ministry.
Remember those “over 1 billion served” plaques outside your favorite drive-through? You can use the same tool to let your congregation know how the cassette ministry is doing. In each week’s Sunday bulletin, insert a line reporting how many cassettes went out the week before, and how many total cassettes have been distributed since the beginning of the church’s tape ministry program.
Think of the enthusiasm your members will feel as they see the numbers rise week after week. And, of course, they’ll begin to realize that they are making a difference when they each give out one or two tapes. The figures will help parishioners understand just how profound the impact of cassettes can be. Additionally, the “team spirit” it will generate will help generate the momentum to try new ways to expand the cassette ministry.
If you’re feeling that you’d like to do more than an inserted sentence in the bulletin, try what Chuck Thompson at Christ Community Church in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, has done. In an effort to make the tape ministry more visible, Christ Community Church has set up a “tape and book room” in the front of the church building, with a cassette player handy. They then play messages or music while people are inside the room, to let potential tape purchasers hear what’s available.
Thompson says they’ve also set up a display along one wall that showcases past messages. He believes that since most people are visually-oriented, such a display is a nice reminder of good messages from the past that they might want to listen to again. “It’s an atmosphere more than anything else,” he concedes. “Making people aware of what is available opens doors to ministry.”
Cassette Ministry Innovation #3:
Send cassettes in all your personal correspondence
Do you grumble when you send out bills? Just imagine how the clerical staff feels when they receive all those invoices and checks in the mail. After all, they aren’t typically the highest-paid workers, and they are often the ones who have to pass along bad news to management (e.g., the Smiths are overdue on their electric payments) or customers (e.g. “I’m sorry we have no choice but to turn off your gas until we receive a check.”) It’s a stressful, thankless job.
This is where you can come in. Visualize the surprise on the employee’s face when a bill comes on time with a check for the correct amount and a tape inside for him her with a friendly note attached. Sure, the employee might just throw the cassette aside and not listen to it, but isn’t it worth it to try this original method to reach one more person for the Lord?
By being so kind and giving, you are, in a sense, saying to the person who opens your envelope: “I care about you. I am a Christian, and this is what Christ wants me to do.” Talk about sending a powerful message!
But don’t limit this idea to just bills your personal correspondence to friends and family can also be a great opportunity to share the Word. Mr. Carroll Potter of Jubilee World Outreach, Oregon, can testify to the benefits of such a small gesture.
“We have one member who sends tapes to relatives in Washington and Hawaii, and another who sends them to a friend in Chicago,” begins Potter. “One fairly new believer takes two tapes every Sunday. He sends one to a friend in Portland, and the other he listens to and studies. When he’s finished studying that message, he sends it to someone else as well.”
Potter continues, “We also have college students who come to our church from the University of Oregon, Northwest Bible College, and Eugene Bible College. These students will pick up tapes and send them home to their parents or to friends. That’s very exciting!
“Tapes are ‘repeatable’ you can listen to them over and over again, and passing them around lets many more people hear the Word.”
Cassette Ministry Innovation #4:
Send cassettes & cassette players together to your cassette recipients (especially those persons in nursing homes!)
Have you ever heard someone adamantly demand: “Don’t ever put me in a nursing home”? Sadly, that is exactly where most of us will someday spend a number of years of our lives, if statistics on aging are any indication.
Yet nursing homes don’t have to be places of death your congregation can help make them places of life and encouragement by taking cassettes and cassette players to those who cannot leave the facility to come to church.
Whether those nursing home residents belonged to your church before they entered the home or not, you can still give them a weekly dose of the Word of God. And on a truly inspirational note, when you play the sermons, the staff and visitors will also be able to listen to the love and grace of the Lord. And perhaps their wounds will be healed and souls will be saved through a small gesture on the part of your members and the tape ministry.
Cassette Ministry Innovation #5:
Feature your tapes on your website
The 20th century will no doubt be remembered for its technological advancements, namely computers and the Internet. In fact, even persons with modest incomes have web pages with pictures of their families or personal stories and your church may soon have one, too, if not already.
The greatest thing about having a church website is that you control the content one-hundred percent. Therefore, it’s a wonderful opportunity to share your cassette ministry with individuals all over the world who visit your site.
Sound crazy? Well, a recent popular search engine turned up over 1,500 web page matches for the term “tape ministry”, most of which were related to Christian churches. Almost all of them offer tapes for free or for a small donation, and many have audio “snippets” of popular sermons as hors d’oeuvres for those hungry for the Word.
You can literally reach thousands of adults and children each month with a website so why not make sure that you offer your tapes on it? After all, there are plenty of people starving for hope and salvation from Australia to Eastern Europe, and if you can minister to them for the modest price of a cassette, why not do it?
Cassette Ministry Innovation #6:
Target a cassette ministry to a niche group
“But we already do this with our ministry to shut-ins,” you may say. Yes, that’s true… but what about some other populations just as needful of the Word? Of course, there are thousands of niche groups, but the ones discussed here are truck drivers, the visually-impaired, handicapped individuals, and prisoners.
Truck drivers are the easiest for whom to start a tape ministry, because their “office” is usually complete with a cassette deck. In fact, they are probably one of the only professions where listening to tapes is encouraged in order to keep them alert and positive while driving long distances under sometimes treacherous conditions. These men and women of the highway are literally ripe “target audiences” for cassette ministries.
Zion Fellowship’s Joel Clemons, talks about their western New York state testimonials from road warriors: “I have had several truck drivers from our church share with me the blessing it is for them to have tapes from our ministry to listen to as they travel. One driver in particular has had his life completely turned around because of tapes he’s listened to while on the road.”
From Clemons’ story of one trucker’s salvation, you can begin to see how powerful cassettes can be, especially to people who travel constantly for their work.
Another niche group is the visually-impaired, meaning the legally blind or those who are print-handicapped. Often, there are few resources available for them in formats they can easily handle, so any material to help them learn the Gospel is well-received.
Steve Mattson of Aurora Ministries, Florida, helps his ministry get the word out about their free products for the blind, such as the Bible in 53 languages (and counting!)
Glynn Langston, another man with a mission, works out of his Louisiana office to record simple Bible messages for the blind. He began his ministry distributing Braille Bibles, but soon learned that very few blind persons can actually read Braille. It was then that he shifted his focus and became a one-man tape ministry crusader for Christ. Inspirationally, Glynn himself is completely without sight. Yet his vision for tape ministry extends far.
The next population your ministry can focus on is the handicapped. These are the people who, for whatever reason, struggle to read the Bible or learn the story of Jesus.
Barbara Graver, a former social worker from New Jersey, understands how difficult it can be for those with physical or mental disabilities to easily learn verses or hymns. She notes, “What got me started is that I would often take some of the people I worked with to church, and they simply could not handle a Bible. And many of them did not have a real way of pursuing a daily devotional or ‘quiet time’ with the Lord every day.”
Today, Graver’s BLESS (Bible Living Experiences Shared Simply) Ministries distributes approximately 120-140 tapes per month. That’s a remarkable feat for someone who works with only two volunteers staff members: herself and her 90-year-old mother, Mary!
Graver sums up her thoughts on cassette ministry by relating, “There have been people who listen to these tapes who have told me ‘please don’t stop making them’ and that is exciting.”
Included in the “handicapped” niche group are the illiterate, about whom Tiff Shuttlesworth, an Assembly of God evangelist, has this to say: “Almost 23% of high school graduates are, in truth, functionally illiterate. That means that nearly one in every four people who respond to the altar call in our crusades either read very poorly or not at all. Cassette tapes make it possible for us to conduct vital follow-up and discipleship without new converts having to struggle with the printed page.”
The final group we’ll discuss under this innovative strategy to expand your cassette ministry are those men and women in prisons. No matter what crime they committed, or how sinful their life has become, they must have the opportunity to become saved.
There have been many testimonies of prisoners who came to Christ by way of a prison ministry, and Ed Ingram, the Ministries Director of Only Believe Ministries Christian Center in Ohio has witnessed firsthand the remarkable power that tapes have; to transform the lives of even the most wayward.
One of those people whose life was dramatically changed by the Only Believe cassette ministry program was a young man who was serving a prison term in a nearby facility. Only Believe’s prison ministry team penetrated that place with the gospel, and this young man was exposed to their teaching tapes. He surrendered his life to Christ there in the prison as a result of their ministry, and two years later, upon his release, he attended Bible college and became a pastor who is serving the Lord to this day.
You can bet that all the people who found the love of Christ through volunteers devoted to tapes ministries shout in excitement and pleasure at having found the Lord and friends who care about their souls.
Cassette Ministry Innovation #7:
Leave packages of cassette tapes & friendly letters on neighbors’ porches/doorsteps
Political candidates often go door-to-door, soliciting votes for themselves. And when no one is home, they leave a small packet with information about their positions on crime, the local economy, and family life.
This is obviously an effective way to reach hundreds or even thousands of people, so why don’t more tape ministries try it? The concerns are varied, from: “We don’t want to bother our neighbors,” to, “It will cost too much money!”
To address the first concern, we must consider the fact that all Christians have been commissioned by Christ to spread the Good News. Therefore, to assume you will be bothering someone is like saying that you’re doubtful as to whether Jesus really meant what he said.
The second concern is well-founded, but not necessarily a brick wall to going door-to-door. The packets don’t have to be expensive just honest, warm, and intriguing. Perhaps they could contain a cassette and a note from your congregation or from a member who lives nearby. An elaborate, pricey campaign is unnecessary.
A powerful plus about a door-to-door crusade for Christ is that it builds momentum among the members of your church. It’s also something families or age-groupers can do together. Imagine a group of teens going to neighborhoods to reach out and spread the Gospel instead of sitting at home alone and watching violent television programs. It’s a positive picture inspiring enough to make you want shout, “Hallelujah!”
Cassette Ministry Innovation #8:
Use cassettes to assist your choir members
If you’ve ever been a member of a church choir, you know how difficult it can be to find the time to learn songs. You are sure you’ll have an opportunity on Tuesday night, but suddenly your son comes down with the flu. Then, on Saturday morning, your daughter’s soccer team winds up having a party… at your house! So by the time Sunday morning rolls around, you’ve been to one choir practice and are just hoping no one hears you stumble.
Many churches complain of lagging choir membership, and perhaps the scenarios above give a hint as to the reason many folks say, “Sorry maybe next year,” time and again. By giving your choir members a cassette with their service music on it (and possibly a short talk by the music director or the pastor), you are enabling them to practice while they commute to work, when they’re washing dishes, or just on the way to the grocery store. It’s a fabulous way to tell your congregation, “We want you to join our choir, but we know how busy you are. So we’ll do everything we can to allow you to raise your voices to the Lord with confidence on Sunday morning, without asking you to completely rearrange your hectic schedule.”
Keith Ronan, Music Director for Heartland Community Church, Florida, agrees. “Heartland has around 4,000 members, but we had no choir. We wanted to find a way to help busy people be able to participate easily, and cassette tapes have allowed us to do that. Members get the tapes with two weeks’ worth of music on them, and they learn their parts by listening throughout those two weeks, as well as a weekly practice. We now have an 80-member choir, and every week they are prepared and on top of the music.”
Now it’s your turn to go back to your members and ask them for their ideas. Copy this article, pass it around, and see what creative brainstorms come to mind. And when you tackle a new way to minister, please let us know! May God bless your efforts and help your church as it grows.