Two Altar Call Extremes
Mark Boer has been teaching the Word of God in full-time ministry since 1989. In 2001 he founded Life Church—a dynamic, growing church in Boise, Idaho, which he continues to pastor. Mark is a graduate of Rhema Bible Training College and resides in the Boise area with his wife Amy. They are the parents of three children: Whitley, Wesley and Windelyn. You can visit the Life Church website by clicking here.
2 Timothy 4:5
But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Doing the work of an evangelist, though not being one, has long been important to me as a pastor. I want to see people saved. I don’t want to pass up the opportunity to win them to Christ if they come to our Sunday services—thus the altar call. I am a believer in giving this type of invitation every Sunday and have seen first-hand the fruit that comes from giving an effective one. Because of this, I have given much thought to both what is said and how it is said. I continually consider how I can improve my approach to be more skillful. According to Proverbs, it takes wisdom to win a soul (Prov. 11:30).
Over the years I have observed what I consider to be two extremes that I want to avoid. The first one is the “super quick—no time to think about it” type of call. It goes something like this: “Before we close, if you want to accept Jesus or become a Christian, raise your hand.” Then with no more than a brief two-second pause, the minister moves on and closes the service. It’s not that no one will ever respond to this, but they pretty much had to have decided ahead of time that they wanted to get saved that day so that with any mention of it they jump at the opportunity.
If we would just take the time to give a simple gospel presentation—showing both a person’s sinfulness and need of salvation, the Holy Spirit will use it to bring conviction to the sinner. (Romans 1:16; John 16:8) I like to then tell them what I am going to do (e.g. – have them raise their hands) before I have them do it. This gives them a moment to decide before it flies by and their opportunity is lost. This is salvation, eternity. It is so important. Let’s not rush it.
On the other side is the extreme of throwing such a wide net that it encompasses far more than people accepting Jesus as Savior and Lord. Here is an example: “If you would like to make Jesus the Lord of your life, rededicate yourself to Him, get to know Him more, or if you’ve had a bad thought recently, raise your hand.” I know the last part may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it makes the point. I have had people in my church feel like they should apologize for answering a call that a guest speaker gave that was so broad when given, but then turned into simple salvation when they were down front praying. It was awkward both for them and others who knew they were already saved and walking with God. I know it feels better as a speaker to have a full altar, but I think we do a disservice to people by offering overly vague invitations.
So, my recommendation is to give a strong, direct, clear and compelling call for salvation. Elements I like to include are: the reality of eternity in heaven or hell, the fact that we have all sinned and need forgiveness, examples of what doesn’t save us like religion or good works, God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the resurrection being the completion of the full payment for all sin, and the need to be born again. Give sufficient time for people to consider their response—a yes or no, acceptance or rejection. I think some minsters will see many more people respond to their altar calls, while avoiding what appears to be padding the numbers with an excessively broad invitation.