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  • Writer's pictureW. Austin Gardner

Evangelistic innovations

Moody introduced several innovations to revivalism.

First, he advertised his campaigns widely. Some criticized Moody for this, but he replied, “Some ministers think it undignified to advertise their services. It is a good deal more undignified to preach to empty pews, I think.”

Second, Moody introduced the “inquirers’ room” to American evangelism. Finney invited those who were anxious about their salvation to sit on the “anxious bench” at the front of the hall. Moody did not use the anxious bench; instead, he invited those who wished to inquire further about salvation to go into the inquirers’ room where personal workers waited to counsel with them.

Third, in the later years of his evangelistic ministry Moody’s assistants prepared “decision cards.” The cards were distributed to the personal workers before the service, and they were instructed to write the inquirers’ names, addresses, and church background. This was a significant development because it enabled local pastors to visit the inquirers, and it made it possible to keep accurate records of the meeting’s results.

Perhaps Moody’s greatest innovation was his use of music in the meetings. Moody used several different musicians in his career, but he worked with Ira Sankey during the 1870s, his most active period of evangelism. Sankey’s winsome music attracted many to the meetings. In fact, the humble Moody said, “The people come to hear Sankey sing, and then I catch them in the gospel net.” Normally, the crusade committees advertised with this slogan: “Mr. Moody will preach the gospel and Mr. Sankey will sing the gospel.”

The meetings usually offered three types of singing. At the beginning of the evening service Sankey would lead the congregation in singing for thirty minutes. Next, the trained choir presented special numbers. Before the sermon, Sankey would sing solos accompanying himself on his pump organ. Sankey wrote a number of gospel songs and popularized others. Perhaps his most popular song was “The Ninety and Nine.” Moody’s favorite was “Jesus of Nazareth Passeth By.” At the conclusion of the sermon Sankey led an invitation hymn to encourage people to go to the inquiry room.

Moody’s preaching was notable for its simplicity. He preached simple sermons that any store clerk could understand. His grammar was poor, but Moody made the message clear by using short, simple sentences and lots of illustrations that touched the heart. Moody’s sincerity shone through his sermons, and he often wept in the pulpit. Moody was a great storyteller, and many of his messages were simply Bible stories retold and applied to contemporary life. Moody loved a good joke, and he often injected humor into his sermons. Usually, Moody presented topical messages with rather loose outlines. He did not like outbursts and discouraged them in his meetings.

John Mark Terry, Evangelism: A Concise History (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 154–155.

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