Many members in our traditional Southern Baptist church were accustomed to an “altar call,” but to be honest, I had never seen this done in an effective, biblical way. I was aware of the dangers of a drawn out, highly emotional appeal that could manipulate people or give false hope. There was no way I was going to tolerate endless refrains of “Just As I Am” and melodramatic statements from the pulpit like “No One Looking Around” and “I See That Hand.”
At the same time, the gospel does demand a response. I knew I needed to provide some kind of opportunity and clear instructions for people to put their faith in Christ. I just wasn’t sure what.
For the first couple years, we concluded the service with a simple “hymn of response,” and I hardly pushed the invitation at all. I cringed at the thought of someone walking down the aisle and making a spectacle. However, some of our folks yearned for more. As I listened to their pleas and asked their reasoning, I realized that many were looking more for an opportunity to pray with a leader than a full blown evangelistic crusade.
As I grew in confidence and better understood the needs of my people, I finally began to develop our closing invitation. These links by Justin Taylor and this article by Nathan Finn also gave me a historical and theological framework to build on.
Personally, I still feel there is too much theological baggage and risk of manipulation in formal altar calls. Instead, we make several provisions for people to respond to the gospel:
- Weave the gospel through the worship service
- Present the gospel during the sermon with a sense of urgency, and invite people to repent and believe right where they are sitting
- At the end of the service, welcome people to come talk with a leader
- Have a leader available up front, plus myself in the foyer as people leave
- Have a space on our Guest Information card where people can express their interest to receive Christ
- Equip believers to look for opportunities and share the gospel with people around them
Invitations are a sensitive issue, and each church will no doubt do things a little differently. But whatever we do, we must be clear that walking down an aisle or praying a sinners prayer does not actually save anyone. It is a matter of faith and repentance in the finished work of Jesus Christ, and only He can accurately know our heart.
On a side note, our church is also more cautious about baptizing new converts than many churches. Not because we don’t want more baptisms, but because we want to celebrate genuine regeneration and minimize false conversion experiences. In the short-term, our baptism numbers may appear lower than other churches our size, but in the long-run, we have a much higher retention rate and ratio of baptisms to committed members. And that is something to truly celebrate.
Question: How do you think a church should communicate the gospel and give opportunity to respond without manipulation? Share your thoughts by clicking here.