by Harry Banks


The experiment is ridiculously easy. You take a pink strip of litmus paper and dip it in a solution. Wow! Pretty exciting, huh? If the paper turns blue, you know the solution is a base or alkaline solution. Some of your household alkali solutions are ammonia, bleach, baking soda, soap, and even milk.

Then there is the blue litmus paper. Dip it in an acid, like lemon juice, and it turns pink! Bakers use tartaric acid. Vinegar is also an acid, and of course your car battery’s sulfuric acid is a powerful form of household acid.

For a young high school chemistry student the experiment seemed… well… too simple… as a matter of fact… boring!

But gradually over time I have learned that it can be most helpful to test an unknown solution to see if it belongs to the alkali family or the acid family. Sometimes I even want to know the pH value, which is another way to measure a solution. Water has a pH of 7. Above 7 is a alkali, below 7 is an acid. And with Universal Indicator paper you can test a solution from pH 1 through 14, very acid to very alkali and in between.


These days we sometimes use the phrase “litmus test” in the political arena to describe questions that clearly identify the political leanings of a candidate.

Ok, so I just wanted to give you some background for some of the language that showed up in the “shark tank” (Sabbath school class – see earlier blog).


The topic was evaluating evangelism. Hmmm… Since I expect the class to explore any lesson-related materials, adult quarterly materials, EGW supplements, books they find, youth materials,  online sources…  I decided to look up a few of my own as well.

At I found pages for the following:
FACTs on Growth 2010,
Attracting and Keeping Congregational Members,
Insights Into Compassionate Congregations,
Insights in to Congregational Conflict, (not sure how that got in there… just thought it looked interesting) 
FACTs on Worship, and
Severnth-day Adventist Final Report.

Ok, so I found stuff… Printed the stuff out and took it to class.

Can you believe someone asked to take the pile of reports home to read after class!!!

But what happened to the litmus test?

OK, OK, I’ll get there… don’t get your blood in a boil!


So the shock of the lesson was they had the nerve to include the comment from Jesus about converts becoming sons of Hell… Not only once but twice in the lesson… Hmm… They must have wanted us to notice…

You know that place where Jesus says,
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are"? (Matt 23:15, New International Version (©1984))

Well, in the class we got to thinking… OH NO… Thinking! Yep…

What is the real test of effective evangelism?

In the reports and some of the other outside research we noticed that the North American Division had added “number of persons attending church” as a weekly metric in addition to the traditional “members listed on the church books” and “baptisms.”

And then there is that bothersome “son of hell” reference… (we actually read all of the seven Woes…) So here come some of the other questions…


What kind of metrics would the Pharisees have used to measure their evangelism? “Conversions”– would they count like our “baptisms”? That line of questions could take on a life of its own.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes the question you ask shapes the answer? And have you noticed not all questions work as hard as others? Which makes me ask from time to time are we asking the right questions? And the really scary question… If I’m a blind leader like one of the Pharisees how would I ever know how to ask the right question?

So what should the real metrics be? Attendance? Member list? Baptisms?

I sometimes wonder what kind of spiritual ecology we are providing for new members? And do we know how to adequately describe a healthy environment?

So I asked the class… (OK, so finally here it comes…)

What is your litmus test for effective evangelism?

Yes, I have my own litmus test… But I’d like to talk about that later… I'd like to hear about your litmus test first, please!

If you were to create a question that would help us understand effective evangelism what would that question be?


OK, So welcome to the shark tank… What would your top question (or 3 questions) be? Take your time… Good questions are hard to come by… It once took me two years to come up the “The Question” for one of my projects.

What's your litmus test?