Theoretical Overview of correspondence course work

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Most churches have conducted a Bible correspondence course program at some time or another. It is perhaps the most used evangelistic tool today. Although they are so popular, there is very little practical information available on how to conduct and manage one. In this first article, I would like to discuss a few things to consider before starting a correspondence course program.

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A correspondence course pro-gram can be used to accomplish a number of objectives all worth-while. One objective for using this program is to set up one-on-one studies with a student so that you can teach them. This is my primary objective and the one to be discussed in this article. Perhaps other writers will discuss additional objectives. For me, a correspondence course program stands or falls on the basis of getting one-on-one studies. To accomplish this, I begin by getting the student to make the least form of commitment merely sending in their name. As they progress through the course lesson by lesson, they become more comfortable with you. Up to this point, they have enjoyed the cloak of anonymity that the mail service provides. (Remember that without that cloak, they might never have enrolled in the first place.) But, by the time they have finished the course, they should be ready to study the Bible on a higher level of commitment, preferably one-on-one. A correspondence course will perform two very important functions. First, to break the ice so that they feel comfortable studying the Bible and develop a trust in you as a teacher. Second, to whet their appetite for further Bible study. With my objective, I don't expect to convert the student through the mail. The course should bring a cold contact to the point of being a warm contact. The primary purpose of the course is not to increase their knowledge of the gospel but to increase their commitment level and desire for further study of the gospel. At this point, how they learn is more important than what they learn.

My work with correspondence courses does not include two popular objectives often associated with these programs. First, I do not view a correspondence course as a means of merely preaching the gospel. I use newspaper articles instead. They do a better job and are cheaper. A correspondence course can accomplish much more than just giving sinners a hearing of the gospel. Second, I do not view a correspondence course as a means of bringing the student to a point of saving knowledge or even conversion. I consider this to be expecting too much to be accomplished from the course. In my experience, it is extremely rare for a person to be ready for baptism after completing a correspondence course without one-on-one studies. These two views may represent extremes, but either could seriously affect the number of converts the course will eventually produce.

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Choosing a Course

I have collected and have on file over 45 different courses written by brethren. They vary in length from 4 to 30 lessons and vary in cost from $0.25 to $3.00 a set. Unfortunately, most of these courses are, in my opinion, not desirable for evangelistic work. Many of them are excellent for establishing new Christians. But for reaching the lost, most are either too expensive, contain too many lessons, are too milky (lack any real substance that will interest the average seeker), or are too meaty (discussing instrumental music, the holy spirit, etc.).

Because of my objective, I have written a four-lesson series called BIBLE COURSE . I believe a correspondence course should create a desire in the student to study one-on-one, which otherwise would not have developed if they had never taken the course. Every aspect in the design of BIBLE COURSE is focused on stimulating the student's desire to study one-on-one. In designing my course, I took the best conceptual ideas contained in the other 35 courses and added a few ideas of my own. It took one year to write and two more years to work out the bugs that became evident with use. Although it was originally designed for my personal use only, other churches are currently using it and are happy with the results. If you would like to receive a sample set, see the note at the end of this article.

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What Results You Can Expect

What kind of results can you expect from a correspondence course in your city? I don't know. All I can give you are my results. Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, with a population of 55,000, is not a Bible belt city. It is considered by many who have preached here to be hard soil territory. Results should be better in most other places. About a year ago, I did a statistical analysis of our Bible correspondence program. In 1986 we had about 150 enrollments. Of these 150 students, 27 of them resulted in a home Bible study. We had about 8 resulting baptisms. The only accurate way you can compare results between two cities is the enrollment-to-study ratio. Comparing the total number of enrollments is irrelevant because they are affected by population and the amount of advertising. Based on my experience, I expect to set up one home Bible study for every six enrollments that comes through the mail chute! Two key factors are important in achieving this kind of result. One is the choice of which course you use. The other is proper follow-up methods, which I will discuss in coming articles.

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Overseeing the Course

You can conduct the course in two basic ways. The first is to let one individual be responsible for the whole program. (Advertising, grading, and follow-up.) The second is to involve the church in one or all of these three areas. I have worked extensively with both systems and am firmly convinced that, in most cases, it is far better to let one man, usually a full time evangelist, conduct and manage the course. This will be explained more fully in future articles.

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Choosing Your Advertising

Usually, the number of enrollments is directly proportional to the amount of advertising. There is, however, a saturation point which will be reached with every form of advertising. Therefore, it is important to have several different methods of advertising, or irons in the fire, to ensure a steady flow of enrollments. Always request the student's name, address, and, especially, the telephone number. Following are five effective modes of advertising that I use regularly.

1. Posters:

I have had great success with posters. I photocopy 100 posters at a time which advertise the course. At the bottom of each poster, I glue an envelope with FREE! TAKE ONE stamped on it. Then I place 2" by 5" enrollment cards in the pouch with the return address stamped on the back. (It is not necessary to pay the return postage on either the enrollment card or the subsequent lessons.) Lethbridge has two small campuses and we put up 40 posters on each. Laundromats, Bible book stores, supermarkets, and coffee shops are also good places for putting posters, but, for us, we focus our attention on the campuses. Try putting posters at any place that has a bulletin board. Be imaginative. We have found that, unless you have very dedicated people as helpers, it is more efficient for one man to handle all poster advertising. It may take you an entire day to put up posters in a large city. But the Lord's church needs more evangelists getting out of their offices and into the fields! I check my posters at least once a week for enrollees. Be methodical.

2. Bible Call:

The two-minute recorded message program is also very effective. Simply advertise the phone number in the personal column of the local newspaper. Always offer the course at the end of an inspirational-type message. View it as an indirect method of getting enrollments. Interested people phone for the message, and after a few days, enroll in the course which you have offered after every message. I believe the only value of Bible Call is to use it in conjunction with a correspondence course. I do not recommend the use of the question/answer format or the labor-intensive message library format where the caller requests, Tape #63, please. For us, the inspirational message format outperforms them all! You change the tape daily and mail the first lesson to those who request it. A good quality answering machine is usually the most economical investment. Avoid endless loop machines. A variable outgoing message machine is a real time saver.

3. Printed Media:

Newspapers are a good way to get enrollments. Be creative. A 2" by 3" display ad works well. The ad should resemble a coupon which advertises the course and provides a space to fill in their name, address, and phone number. The newspaper coupon is then mailed to you. Also try the classified section, i.e., instruction courses, wanted column, and personal column. Advertise for Bible students in the wanted column.

4. Windshields:

Print handbills and place them on the windshields of cars. For us, this is by far the most efficient method of mass distribution and is much cheaper and faster than mail-dropping or door-to-door distribution. I suggest a 5 1/4" by 2 3/4" size or six to a page size. On one side, advertise the correspondence course. On the other, advertise Bible Call. Usually, the shopping malls and parks are filled with thousands of cars on Thursday and Friday nights, and on Saturdays. This is one of the few times I recommend that you involve the church. Determine the number of fliers needed, print them, and then engage the members for distribution. Target the major malls in your area. Our procedure is to meet at 10 a.m. on Saturday at the church building, target the malls, and divide up the manpower. We start working at 11 a.m. and allow about an hour for distribution at a mall. We meet someplace for lunch and then send the teams back to the same malls at 1:30 p.m. By this time, an almost new set of shoppers will be at the mall. Malls are great but don't overlook the evangelical Billy Graham type crusades that attract thousands of religious people each night they are in town. I have had my greatest response during these crusades.

5. Personal:

Ask each member of the church to supply you with five names of people they think might be interested in the course. Send a letter which mentions the Christian's name and include the first lesson.

Steve Rudd

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