Key 73—What Doors Did It Open?
“EVANGELISM IS ON THE MOVE! It has found a new integrity, a new enthusiasm, and a bold new thrust.”
“The fulfillment of Key 73 may well mean Open Doorway 74 for evangelical Christianity in America.”
What is this “Key 73” about which such stirring hopes were voiced? Were those hopes realized?
A TREMENDOUS GOAL
Key 73 was conceived in 1967 by a group of religious leaders from more than a dozen denominations. Because they met near Francis Scott Key Bridge (linking Virginia and Washington, D.C.), and because they believed it would take another five years to launch the project successfully, they christened it Key 73.
Forecast as “the biggest cooperative evangelism project in the history of the Christian Church,” Key 73 was designed to unite adherents of many religions in an unprecedented witnessing campaign throughout the United States and Canada. The campaign’s slogan was “Calling Our Continent to Christ” and its aim was to revive apathetic church members and bring in many new converts.
The Denver Post (December 30, 1972), commenting on the project, said: “Presumably, no suburban pre-fab, arctic igloo, city high-rise or . . . adobe hut will be untouched by the most ambitious campaign for conversion ever to fire the energies of the American church.”
Massive publicity was planned, by television broadcasts, widespread newspaper coverage, by “Gospel-rock concerts” for young people. And all of this was to prepare the field for the witnessing activity.
“Every Christian should be carrying the message of Christ to a nonbeliever,” said Key 73’s executive director, Theodore A. Raedeke. Churchman Arthur F. Glasser, writing in the religious weekly Christianity Today (January 19, 1973), urged: “Reach every home with a winsome witness to Jesus Christ! . . . In short, the call is to ‘follow him.’ And what will be the result? He will make us fishers of men. (Matt. 4:19). And those who do not reach out after others this year are not faithful followers of Jesus Christ. . . . Let’s end the snide remarks about those who go from house to house and persuade men to embrace Christ.”
Along with “Coffee Pot Evangelism” and witnessing at shopping centers, the good news was to be carried right to the homes of the people, particularly to give out copies of portions of the Bible (Luke-Acts). But that was not all. The Key 73 Congregation Resource Book says:
“The development committee was unanimous in its recommendation that ‘bare’ Scripture distribution programs are of little value. . . . Laymen must be trained to give a brief explanation of the Scriptures and to follow that explanation with an invitation to join an evangelistic Bible study group, or to enroll in an evangelistic Bible correspondence course, administered by the local church. The main emphasis of this event then is to get people to study the Bible—not just to place a portion of Scripture on a doorstep or in a mail box.”
Who would share? During the five-year preparation period the number of denominations pledging their support grew to over 140, involving an estimated 300,000 local churches. Virtually all the main branches of the Baptist, Methodist and Lutheran groups were included and many Pentecostal organizations. The National Council of Churches endorsed it and, to the surprise of many, so did the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Not that support was unanimous. Major holdouts as to full endorsement included the Episcopal Church and the United Presbyterian Churches. Nevertheless, the total number of members in the churches backing the campaign added up to some one hundred million persons. Potentially a mighty army of evangelizers!
Have you ever wondered what would happen if such a large number of churches got together to bear witness to the good news to their neighbors? What would it produce? What, actually, did happen?
“KEY ’73 FAILS TO UNLOCK SPIRITUAL DOOR”
Thus read the headline on one newspaper report about the campaign. (The Courier-News, September 1, 1973) The Atlanta Constitution (September 20, 1973) said: “Key 73 Evangelism Dream Fizzles.” What went wrong? A number of things.
One early problem was lack of financial support. The campaign had a goal of $2,000,000 for use in television programs and other mass publicity. But even after five years of preparation, and the hiring of a professional fund-raising firm, what happened? Just three months before the end of 1973, campaign officials expressed little hope of receiving more than about one fourth the money needed!
Genuine enthusiasm on the part of both ministers and members for such proclaiming of the good news never really developed on a wide scale. The National Observer noted one Key 73 official as saying: “The average American pastor is not a fisher of men, he’s the keeper of the aquarium. We’re going to have to convince him and his congregation that it’s just as important to witness as it is to worship.” The Key 73 Congregational Resource Book had referred to the people in the pews as “frozen assets” of the church. “More than 99 percent of the world’s Christians are in this category,” it said. “No massive movement in evangelism can be envisioned without their involvement and cooperation. They are one of the greatest untapped spiritual resources in the world.” Yet when Key 73 sought to turn on a great flow of zeal from this source, it got only a dribble.
True, in some areas and in some cases there were momentary signs of life—some large meetings, some mass distribution of Bible portions. But the overall picture was very weak. In Georgia, a Key 73 task force arranged for a statewide “Day for Evangelism” and invited supporters to the Peachtree Presbyterian Church with its 1,000-person seating capacity. Less than one hundred came. In Chicago, Minister Daniel A. Barret said that two attempts to hold mass rallies there “could most charitably be termed ‘disastrous.’”
The United Methodist Reporter, which had supported the Key 73 campaign, ran an editorial asking “Whatever Happened to Key 73?” Its own answer was that in most local congregations it “seems to have produced nothing more than a giant yawn.” Similarly, The Texas Methodist said: “We believe it is time for Christians to drop the gimmicks and face the facts: our continent is not being effectively called to Christ because relatively few Christians make an effort to share their faith with others.”
But why is this the case?
THE REAL CAUSE OF THE FAILURE
Key 73’s leaders and spokesmen generally failed to recognize the root causes of the campaign’s failure. They were these:
Christendom’s clergy themselves have not been, and are not now, an example to their own flocks as to proclaiming the good news. Rather than get out among the people and carry the good news to the homes as the apostles and early disciples did, these men ring church bells and wait for the people to come to them. (Acts 5:42; 20:20) These sectarian ministers are themselves the chief ones who have made “snide remarks about those who go from house to house and persuade men to embrace Christ.”
In this connection, a comment by Ken Briggs of Newsday is noteworthy. He said: “Getting the laity to go door-to-door like Jehovah’s Witnesses was not as simple as it might have seemed. . . . the average Christian knows precious little about his faith and would be tongue-tied in trying to explain it to himself, let alone convincing anyone else.”
Yes, the religious leaders have consistently failed to equip their followers to share the good news. They are like those religious leaders to whom Jesus said: “Woe to you who are versed in the Law, because you took away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not go in, and those going in you hindered!”—Luke 11:52.
Finally, how could these churches ‘call the Continent to Christ’ when “Christ exists divided” among them due to their scores of different sects and denominations? The Bible shows that Christ’s true followers would be at unity.—Read John 17:21, 23; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13.
By contrast, during the last ten days of September 1973, Jehovah’s witnesses earth wide distributed tens of millions of tracts alerting people to the urgency of our times and pointing out clearly what steps they now need to take for a happy future. World wide, Jehovah’s witnesses now conduct some 1,200,000 Bible studies in the homes of interested persons each week. And they have been ministering the good news to people in their homes in this way—not just in 1973—but year in and year out for decades!
Slogans and similar devices will never open the doors to lasting benefits. The truth will. Do you know where to find it?