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Territorial Assignment

Our Lord Himself gave us our original assignment of territory when He said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). This assignment has been reemphasized for God’s remnant church as follows: “The church must realize its obligation to carry the gospel of present truth to every creature.”—Christian Service, p. 111.
 

In line with this objective we are reminded that “wherever a church is established, all the members should engage actively in missionary work. They should visit every family in the neighborhood, and know their spiritual condition.”—Ibid., p. 12. That every church member is to be assigned a specific responsibility in the fulfillment of this territorial program is made clear in many inspired statements, including the following: “God expects personal service from everyone to whom He has entrusted a knowledge of the truth for this time. Not all can go as missionaries to foreign lands, but all can be home missionaries in their families and neighborhoods.”—Ibid., p. 9.
 

And again, “Every one who is added to the ranks by conversion is to be assigned his post of duty.”—Ibid., p. 74.
 

Believing that we are living in the last days, the 1974 Annual Council voted, “To adopt a plan for assigning each church member a specific missionary territory in harmony with the counsel of the Spirit of Prophecy.”
 

While the pastor might logically look to his personal ministries leader for help in organizing and implementing territorial assignment for the church, it should be remembered that this is far more than a departmental program. It is a responsibility that involves administration at every level and every department of the church.

  1. The pastor will bring to the church board or church evangelism council their responsibility to divide and assign the total territory of the church. The enthusiastic support of church leaders can be enlisted by challenging them to consider such questions as the following:
  2. What is the evangelistic objective that God has given His church?
  3. Does our church presently have an adequate plan to confront every person in our territory with the claims of Christ and His final message of mercy?
  4. Can the gospel commission be carried out by paid workers alone, or must we involve total church membership?
  5. How can we “carry the Word of God to every man’s door” (Ibid., p. 144)?
  6. Are we to wait for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit before laying plans to reach our God-given objective, or is God waiting for us to move forward with bold plans that will demand the power of the Holy Spirit?

Preparatory Work

A special Assignment Sabbath should be preceded by four to six weeks of careful preparation. The church membership list should be studied to determine how many able-bodied, resident family units you have in the church. This will exclude only those members who have moved out of the community without transferring their membership, and the shut-ins. A family unit may be one person, as in the case of a single person or a widow, or it may be a family with mother, father, and children. Territories are assigned by family units.
 

Taking a hypothetical case of a church with one hundred members, you might find that you have thirty resident, able-bodied family units. In such a case the total church territory should be divided into thirty segments.
 

There are several reasons why it is important to assign the total church territory.
 

Giving a few blocks to each member would advance the work, but we are laying plans to finish the work.
 

When we attempt more than what seems humanly possible God’s miracle-working power comes into action.
 

If we do not assign total territory we will have no provision for the follow-up of radio-TV names, missionary journal names, etc.
 

If we do not attempt to involve the total church membership in soul winning, those who are not working for souls may unintentionally discourage the prospects brought to church by those who are working. Every member needs training to know how to relate to inquirers who are just beginning to show an interest in the church.
 

Even inactive members can be challenged to renew their commitment to Christ and His church by asking them to accept a territory. In the book Evangelism, Ellen White describes a visit to a former member in England. She says she treated him as though he were still with us. She took some books to him and encouraged him to share them with his neighbors. There is a valuable basic principle inherent in this experience.
 

Showing this kind of attitude toward one who has dropped out of church generates a type of assurance that leads the discouraged member back to the fold. Faith, prayer, and work for others in need will result in growth in love and faith, which produces a stable Christian.
 

“This is the recipe that Christ has prescribed for the fainthearted, doubting, trembling soul. Let the sorrowful ones, who walk mournfully before the Lord, arise and help someone who needs help.”—Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 266.
 

Two identical maps covering the entire church territory should be obtained. The same boundaries should be traced on both maps so as to provide territory for each family in the church. Each territory should be assigned to a number. One map remains intact as the permanent file copy. The other map is cut into individual family territories.
 

The master copy of the map should be posted for at least one week in a place accessible to the church members so they may have opportunity to indicate their choice of territory by placing their name on a sheet of paper alongside the number identifying the territory of their choice.
 

After giving the church members this opportunity to indicate their selection of territory, the pastor and the committee may feel free to select territories for those who did not indicate a preference. Many times members want territory close to their place of residence. This desire should be honored whenever possible so they can work first of all with their immediate neighbors.
 

In many areas it is necessary to give each family two territories, one that includes the area where they live and another, more distant, territory that might be considered as their mission territory. In assigning the territories, consideration should be given to the size of the family unit. An elderly widow would normally have a smaller territory than would a family with children who are old enough to participate in visitation. Whether or not the family has a car might also be a consideration. In some large cities, zip code boundaries might serve as logical territorial boundaries.
 

Assignment Sabbath

The assignment of territory should climax the worship hour on Assignment Sabbath. There should be a deeply spiritual sermon on the finishing of the work and the responsibility of each church member.
 

The territories can be assigned in one of two ways. In those churches where the deacons know the entire membership, the territories can be delivered to the members as they sit in their pews. In large churches one representative from each family should come to the front of the sanctuary to receive the family’s territory. It may be necessary to have several stations across the front of the church. Members with surnames beginning with the letters A-G can go to one station, etc. Each station will be identified by a placard and manned by two members who will have in their hands the family territories already selected for those in that segment of the alphabet.
 

On Assignment Sabbath each family receives an Every Member Personal Territory Guide booklet. These booklets are ordered through the Personal Ministries Department of the General Conference. Along with the booklet each family gets its segment of the map.
 

Some pastors follow the practice of providing the family with duplicates from the interest file of those names that are in their territory. From that point on, the interest coordinator channels copies of incoming prospect names to the family responsible for that territory. Care should be taken to make the presentation of territories a beautiful and spiritual occasion. Appropriate Scripture and Spirit of Prophecy quotations can be read against a soft organ background as the territories are being assigned.
 

It is important to emphasize that all we ask of our members initially is that they accept the territory and begin praying for the people in it, as well as for themselves, that they may know how to reach these people for Christ and His message. We encourage our people to get acquainted with their territory by walking through it or driving through it and recognizing that these people are their responsibility.
 

It will prove most effective to give the church families freedom to select the means of working their territory. Many more will respond if such freedom is provided.
 

While the initial emphasis is on prayer, the ultimate objective is to lead each member into service and to reach every door with the message. “Every church should be a training school for Christian workers.”—The Ministry of Healing, p. 149.
 

Experience has demonstrated that there will be an increased interest in training programs once the members have accepted the responsibility of a family territory.
 

Suggestions of different methods of sowing seed and cultivating the territory should ever be kept before our people. Time should be provided for those who are experiencing success to share their experience for the encouragement of others.
 

Some who have not previously been active will begin to work once they have a territorial responsibility. Simply removing the uncertainty of where to work results in more soul-winning activity.
 

There must always be flexibility to provide for the one who has a contact living in someone else’s territory. All that is necessary is to ask for the privilege of continuing with such a contact. This is simply an act of courtesy to the one responsible for that territory. It also helps to avoid confusion and possible embarrassment.
 

Members with special gifts and special expertise can be called upon to help with special cases outside their own territories. For example, we have those especially trained in medical ministry, temperance ministry, and ministry to the blind and deaf. We also have those with special ability in languages other than English. We have those with backgrounds in other organizations and churches, such as the Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormons. The resources of such individuals can be a blessing to the entire church, but these people should not be deprived of their own individual territory.
 

Just as farmers often work together cooperatively and exchange labor, so an exchange of labor is a wholesome thing in the field of soul winning. Two or more families may band together and work their territories collectively at least part of the time. This makes possible variations in visiting teams. In addition to husband and wife, parent and child, you can have two husbands, two wives, or two teen-agers as possible teams.
 

Elderly members who are too old to take the responsibility of a territory can be assigned as prayer partners to another territory. They should be given specific names to pray for, and they should certainly be notified when there are answers to their prayers. Such a program can be a tremendous blessing to shut-in members.
 

Ensuring Continuity

Territorial assignment will benefit every activity of the church. Members can visit within their territories in the interest of programs such as the Five-Day Plan to Stop Smoking, Vacation Bible Schools, healthful cooking classes, invitations to evangelistic meetings, Ingathering, Bible course enrollments, and literature distribution. Experience will prove that more organized witnessing will result in more spontaneous witnessing.
 

As with all programs, it is easier to launch the program than to keep it going. Many churches have found it helpful to use the Sabbath School classes as the missionary units. This does not mean that class members must have adjoining territories. The important thing is that they are all involved in witnessing in their own areas. To keep the program operating efficiently, it is necessary for witnessing to become our way of life.
 

Some follow the practice of having the Ten-Minute Missionary Service conducted within the individual Sabbath School classes three weeks out of the month. On the remaining Sabbath the missionary service is conducted from the rostrum as usual.
 

If the Sabbath School teacher does not care to function as the missionary leader of the class, someone else can be selected for this responsibility.

The Ten-Minute Missionary Service should provide time for sharing fresh territorial experiences, planning for the future, and issuing supplies. It is most effective to have supplies such as survey blanks, Bible correspondence school enrollment cards, gift-Bible lessons, and other literature available to the members through the Sabbath School classes during the ten-minute period. This should also be a time for reporting and monitoring the progress.
 

A reasonable objective is for each member to dedicate a minimum of two hours each week to work within his territory. This can include visitation, giving Bible studies, and other types of seed sowing and cultivation.
 

Two Bible studies a week might be a worthy objective for the average member. When the number of interests exceeds this they can be enrolled in a Bible correspondence course. In such cases a personal contact should be maintained periodically in order to nurture the interest and cultivate friendship.
 

The weekly emphasis on territorial assignment during the Ten-Minute Missionary period will definitely help to ensure the continuity of the program.
 

The buddy system has proved a further help to ensure continuity. This is simply a matter of two families being teamed together. Toward the end of each week they check on each other to see if they have been active in their respective territories.
 

Two or three members might be assigned to share responsibility for a dark county in addition to their individual territories closer to home. Experience has demonstrated that when members band together to pray about these challenges, God hears and answers their prayers.
 

When there are additions to membership by transfer or baptism, existing territories should be divided to provide territories for new members. This gives a sense of growth and accomplishment.
 

When a member wins a family within their territory it is logical to divide the territory in order to provide a mission field for the new convert. It would then be the privilege and responsibility of the original holder of the territory to help the new member get started with a visitation program within their portion of the territory.
 

Pastoral Responsibility

Territorial assignment provides an ideal framework for effective pastoral ministry. The pastor and undershepherds can lead church members into a deepened spiritual experience by taking them along on visits. This provides on-the-job training.
 

If a prospect name within the area assigned to an inactive church member lies dormant, the pastor can go to the church member and suggest that together they make the visit, with the pastor assuming responsibility for leading out. After one or two such visits the timid or inactive church member will often be willing to follow up the interest discovered.
 

There is no more rewarding aspect of the ministry than that of leading church members into fruitful soul-winning experiences.
 

“Let ministers teach church members that in order to grow spiritually, they must carry the burden that the Lord has laid upon them—the burden of leading souls into the truth. Those who are not fulfilling their responsibility should be visited, prayed with, labored for.”—Christian Service, p. 69.
 

“The work of God in this earth can never be finished until the men and women comprising our church membership rally to the work, and unite their efforts with those of ministers and church officers.”—Gospel Workers, p. 352.
 

Suggested Approaches

Keep adding to the following list of possible activities for use within assigned territories.

  1. Friendship visitation. See Christian Service, pages 113-131.
  2. Community religious survey. See Witnessing for Christ, pages 35-41, 74.
  3. Radio-TV survey. See Personal Ministries leaflet Discover Bible School.
  4. Community Services survey. See Personal Ministries leaflet Community Services.
  5. Bible correspondence school enrollments. See Personal Ministries leaflet Discover Bible School.
  6. Missionary journal distribution. See Personal Ministries leaflet Visiting With Literature.
  7. Literature distribution. See Personal Ministries leaflet Visiting With Literature.
  8. Welfare approach. See Personal Ministries leaflet Community Services.
  9. Temperance approach. This could include Five-Day Plans and temperance literature, including Listen.
  10. Health approach. This could include health screenings, cooking classes, and health literature, including Life and Health.
  11. Lending library for books or cassettes. Lend cassettes or books to interested persons in conjunction with weekly visits.
  12. Give Bible Plan. See Witnessing for Christ, pages 51-53, and Personal Ministries leaflet Bible Studies.
  13. Ingathering. See Personal Ministries leaflet Ingathering Evangelism.
  14. Audio-visual Bible studies. See Personal Ministries leaflet Discover Bible School and Bible Studies.

The community religious survey has proved to be one of the most practical approaches for determining the spiritual condition of men and women and finding openings for Bible studies. For a copy of the recommended survey and detailed instructions on its use, see the denominational witnessing manual Witnessing for Christ, available through the Adventist Book Centers.
 

Let us press ahead with territorial assignment until all the territory has been assigned and every family has a territory.
 

Let us remember the promise that “when the members of the church of God do their appointed work in the needy fields at home and abroad,. . . the Lord Jesus will return to this earth with power and great glory.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 111.