Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
January 26, 1956

Potentialities And Actualities

P. J. Casebolt, Weirton, West Virginia

Our subject is couched in big words, and such words often amaze and confuse people more than they clarify and edify. But, it is because of this that I am centering attention upon a term which I think has been overworked; a term that has awed brethren and left them with the wrong impression. I know that the term "potential" is used by salesmen of various products, as a "selling point," which is purposely intended to inflate a thing to favorable proportions above and beyond its actual merits. I hope that brethren are not using the term as loosely as some non-Christians, when promoting a certain idea.

Though I have known for some time what the word "potential" means, the excessive use of the word within the past few months has driven me to the dictionary to check on it once again. The sense in which it is used is described by Webster as "existing in possibility, not in actuality; possible or in the making, as opposed to actual or realized."

Lately I have read of the following "potentialities": "a potential listening audience of 15,000,000"; "a potential viewing audience of 37,000,000"; etc., etc., until many receive the impression that all these millions are now or soon will be buying a certain product. Specifically, we are concerned about selling the gospel to "potential" audiences by various mediums of teaching.

Figures always impressed me, because I generally think of figures as stating facts, or actualities. I once conducted a radio program from a station that covered an area including parts of seven states. One brother told me that my "potential" radio audience would "run into the millions." I was stunned, until I started thinking in actualities instead of potentialities. It was a fact that the combined population of the several communities covered by the radio waves of that particular station would be numbered in the millions, but I doubt that my audience ever exceeded a few thousand at any one time. Why? Because a goodly number of the population were working, and unable to hear the program; children were in school at the time I was preaching; there were dozens of other radio stations on the air at the same time, trying to reach the same "potential" audience that I was trying to reach; some people weren't listening to any station at all. I never did convince myself that all those people were going to abandon all activities, abandon all other programs on the air, and turn my "potential" audience into an actual one!

There are many networks interlocking their AM and FM frequencies, along with UHF and VHF channels, to cover the vast "potential" audience of the United States, Canada, South America, and even the entire world. If there are three stations in a given place, with the same power output, their "potential" audiences would consist of practically the same people. In other words, if each station realized its potentiality, the combined audience of the three stations would be three times the population in the given area. I suppose we could call this predicament a "potential" impossibility!

Even when the President of the United States is on the air, his potential audience is not his actual audience.

When I enter the woods to hunt squirrel, and there are hundreds of squirrels in the woods, my "potential" chances of getting the limit are rosy, but experience has taught me that I'm fortunate to even get the limit. My success depends upon the weather, the eating habits of the squirrels, my accuracy as a marksman, type of ammunition, and a dozen other factors.

My aim is not to destroy zeal of well meaning brethren. Neither am I discounting the air waves as an effective means of getting the truth before people, for I have had a little experience with this medium of preaching, and am still using it. My aim is to get us all to face facts, and actualities, instead of basing our actions and our program of work upon potential alone. I have seen too many efforts dashed upon the rocks, simply because an over-zealous brother, or brethren, launched a work upon the deceptive sound of the word "potential."

Let us consider all factors which might contribute to the success or failure of a venture, instead of launching out blindly upon the billowing, beautiful-to-look-at cloud of "potentialities." It may well be that the same amount of money could be used better in supporting evangelists and workers in a given field, than by trying to convert that area by radio or television. :Again, the same amount of time, energy, and finances may be used more effectively in a community with a population of 1,000, than if expended upon a metropolis numbering 100,000. Circumstances and conditions should be considered as well as the "potentialities" of an anticipated work. Let us consider the cost of building, not only financially, but spiritually, for the end result is to convert people, not just to create an impressive front by letting people know the church is "doing big things too." (Luke 14:28-32.)