I would like to know what other pastors do relative to inviting people to accept Jesus, etc., at the conclusion of their church services. What content is important to communicate? What tips and suggestions can pastors offer that will help me be more effective? What “mechanics” do pastors utilize in terms of guiding people through their response to invitation (praying in their seats, coming forward, etc.)? What can be done to promote follow-up discipleship and assimilation into the church?
There is a widespread change that has emerged in recent years that I find to be deeply troubling—that is, the removal of altar calls in church services. I believe it demonstrates the need to be careful as we attempt to become more adaptable and relevant to a digressing generation.
Some leaders say, “Because it is no longer comfortable for people to publicly come forward, we provide cards for newcomers to fill out if they express that they have spiritual interest. Afterward, we invite them to a ‘next step’ class to find out more about Christ or how to progress in their spiritual journey.” While I understand not wanting to put people on the spot, I see problems with horrible consequences by taking this approach.
First, this approach gives the unintended, subliminal impression that salvation is simply an option for those who want to find out more. The Bible unambiguously teaches that those who die in sin, without Christ, eternally go to hell when they die. Though this biblical truth is rarely mentioned today, it has not changed the fact that people urgently need to be saved or that people who die in sin, without Christ, go to hell. The implication is that people need to get saved so Jesus will improve their lives, which is true, but the bottom-line that seems to have been forgotten is people are going to hell if they die without Christ. This is not merely an option to help people improve their lives right now.
How we present the need for salvation to both sinners and saints is very important. When it is not demonstrated as being urgent and eternal, people who are lost do not feel the urgent need to make a decision that will save them from an eternity in hell. When the need for salvation is not treated as urgent and eternal, Christians drift in their consciousness that people are lost and that they are going to hell if they die without Christ. Unintentionally the impression is given both to sinner and saint that coming to Christ is just an optional choice that really doesn’t matter that much.
The most urgent need is for the lost to be saved, that they be washed in the blood, and for sin’s powerful grip over their lives to be broken. I’m concerned that simply suggesting people fill out a card if it’s not too inconvenient for them gives the wrong impression that this is take or leave it decision, and not really that important. Sinners and saints both need to understand that those who are lost are teetering on eternity in hell. They need to be constantly reminded how desperate a lost soul is and the urgent need to repent and to commit one’s life to the Lordship of Christ.
The seriousness and sobriety of coming to Christ—from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of light—and one’s spirit literally being reborn MUST be a very celebrated, set apart, “ceremonious” part of a service, not incidental. It is the very essence and foundation of the Christian life upon which all other is built.
In our ministry in Russia, we decided long ago to never cease from giving an altar call at the end of our main services. We do it week after week even when get tired of doing it. The results are clear—the altar is regularly filled with people coming forward to give their lives to Jesus Christ. In the many years we have done it, I cannot recall a single time when anyone has gotten offended by an altar call. In fact, doing this every week keeps the congregation in memory of the precious day when each of them got saved, it reminds them of the need to pray for others to be saved, and it showcases the power of God as unbelievers repent and God’s supernatural power converts a soul.
We have learned that if we will open the door and invite people to come, they come. What happens to a great extent depends on our willing to faithfully open the door week after week for the lost to come. This is such a central part of our church that if we stopped this in our church, our church members would wonder what has happened to the primarily mission of the church.
Another disastrous result of eliminating altar calls is the subliminal message that it is not important to share Christ with the lost. However, when an altar call is given week after week, it confronts every church member with the challenge that people still need to be saved, that we need to be praying for their salvation, and it gives every member of the church opportunity to rejoice when a soul comes to Christ. When an invitation is given powerfully, passionately, and regularly, it is a constant reminder that puts us back in touch with the most basic mission of the Church to reach the unsaved.
Some leaders allege, “Well, we don’t want to drum the ‘altar call’ into people week after week because it’s so repetitious and people get tired of it.” But those same spiritual leaders give mini-sermons every week before the tithe and offering is received, even using the same ole’ scripture over and over again because they believe people need to be regularly encouraged in their giving.
Leaders fervently remind God’s people of spiritual principles that work when they give, pounding it into them week after week, as they should do, giving “offering calls” with the passion they once demonstrated when they gave altar calls. The reason financial giving is treated with importance is because it is important. As a pastor, I also give “offering calls” with mini-sermons each week to remind people of the importance that they sow financially if they want to continually experience God’s blessings.
The reason we emphasize giving so passionately is because we believe in it. So what does this say about the absence of an altar call? Is it possible that down deep we really don’t believe anymore that salvation is essential or that people in the pews who are unsaved are going to hell? Jesus died for the lost, so I wonder if Jesus would stress the need to be saved if He were in the contemporary church today or if He would treat it simply an option and wouldn’t want to cause people too much embarrassment or inconvenience?
I’m not saying altar calls should be given weekly, nor am I implying how it should be done. This is simply used as an example that we need to deeply think through changes before we implement them, considering the unintentional effects that decisions have upon the life of the Church.
It is important for us to remember that while we are preaching, Holy Spirit is also speaking to those needing to make a decision for Jesus. I think something important is lost when invitations are no longer offered in cooperation with the Spirit’s work!
Just as Jesus called people publicly, we probably should as well. With that said, I personally try to also be sensitive when not to have open invitations. Meaning, as a general rule, I give public invitations, but when the Spirit is moving in another direction, I try being sensitive to that as well. I do not believe these to be mutually exclusive, but mutually beneficial in leading people to Christ! Just my thoughts; but however we are led do it, let’s keep adding souls to the Kingdom.
We have had people pray in their seats to accept Jesus, but most of the time we invite people to come down to the front of the church so I can pray with them where they are close enough that we can look in each other’s eyes. This may sound weird, but I want them to see the love of Jesus in my eyes. I want them to see, not just hear, God’s heart for them.
The Gospel has inherent power to it. I simply tell the most powerful story ever told—the story of God’s love for mankind; the sin problem we were stuck in and could not get unstuck; that it’s not enough to believe all the right things, but a person has to receive Jesus as Savior (Jn 1:12). If a person has ever lied, cheated, or stolen a pen from work, they have sinned. The result of that sin is death, eternal separation from the living God. But Jesus…
I never ask if there is anyone who wants to receive Jesus and be saved; I ask “how many would choose to…?” I expect there are people there that must be born again.
Mostly, I would encourage you—love souls! Before every service, I ask God to touch His heart to my heart. I expect my heart to beat with His love and compassion.
We always give people a next step after praying with them. For us, this next step is growth track—a 4-week meeting that meets after the service. It meets all year long; every month we keep running the same 4 weeks over and over again. We cover:
- Connecting With God — Pray. This week they get water baptized and filled with the Spirit.
- Connecting With Each Other — Love. Nobody grows spiritually on their own.
- Connecting With Your Purpose — Serve. This leads into week four…
- Week 4 — This is where they choose to become a member and connect with a small group and/or a ministry team.
Hope this helps!
At the end of our services we always invite everyone to accept Christ, receive the Holy Spirit, come for healing, or for agreement in prayer with one of our prayer partners. For those who desire salvation or to receive the Holy Spirit, unless led otherwise, we send them with one of our prayer partners to a prayer room where they can receive individual attention. Our prayer partner will pray with them, have them fill out a card with their contact information and give them printed materials on the new birth, in Him, and the Holy Spirit. The contact information is given to our secretary who passes the information on to another worker who contacts them by telephone to follow up with them about their experience. Our secretary will send out a follow up letter to touch base with them the following week to let them know that we care and are available to answer any questions they may have.
On some occasions I’ll invite anyone in the congregation and those watching by live streaming to accept Christ by praying with me. On these occasions, I instruct those who accept Christ to tell someone they know about their decision and to get into a good bible-based church where they can grow and develop spiritually.
This is what it is ALL ABOUT! I look forward to the altar call time in EVERY SERVICE. I’m certain that are several ways to handle this process. I believe, however, the most important thing to keep in mind is making certain that your strategy matches your culture. The reality is, no matter how you elect to carry out your vision of winning the lost, somebody is going to find fault with it. Your goal isn’t to find an approach that doesn’t offend. Your goal is to find the most effective way for you to rescue the lost from the grip of the enemy. Here’s how we attempt to accomplish this!
First of all, we’ve made it a priority to do our best to never close a service without creating the opportunity for individuals to collide with God. My routine is to inform the congregation by saying something like this:
“Before we go, we’re going to pray one more prayer ALL TOGETHER. Everybody in the room is going to pray this prayer with me! Whether or not you’ve ever prayed what we at church might call ‘The Sinners Prayer,’ we’re all going to pray together today.
Here’s the question of the day: Are you ready to surrender living life your way and accept God’s way of doing and being right? Will you allow God to lead you into true life? Here’s what I want you to do: I want you to allow ME to agree with YOU today as we pray this simple prayer. If you’ll do that today; if you’re willing to get real with God, I promise you that God will get real with you!
C’mon—let’s take this step today! If you’re in this room and you’re willing to make this prayer that we’re all going to pray PERSONAL; if you’ll pray this prayer as if it were just YOU and Jesus today, just raise your hand REALLY HIGH so I can see it. I’m not going to call you forward or make you stand up right now. Just raise your hand so I can see it.” (I start saying “thank you” to every hand that is raised. We haven’t had a service in 13 years without somebody raising their hand!)
My head usher has trained their team to count the hands that are raised and to note where those people are sitting. They begin to pray immediately for those individuals, not approaching them, but just praying over the section of seating they’re responsible for and making certain to note the people who have responded with an uplifted hand.
I then lead everyone to follow after me and we pray a simple prayer together.
“Dear Heavenly Father, I know I need you. I need your love. I need your acceptance. I need your forgiveness. So I receive it right here and right now. Come into my life and change me. Change me from the inside out. Give me hope. Give me strength. Give me vision. I choose to live for you and for you alone. I’m not waiting… I’m starting right now. THANK YOU for saving me. THANK YOU for setting me. In the Mighty Name of Jesus I pray. Amen!”
When I say “Amen,” our congregation bursts into applause. WE GO CRAZY! Then I continue:
“If you just prayed that prayer with me, AND YOU’RE SERIOUS, that prayer isn’t the end of your journey. It’s only the first step. If you’re not playing; if you’re serious about living for God, I want to invite you to take the very next step. The next step is super easy. You just fill out what we call a connection card. You were offered one when you came into this room; it’s inside your worship guide. If you don’t have one of those, Ushers are walking the aisle right now. Just give them a nod and they’ll run one right over to you. Fill out this card AND GET IT BACK TO US! This is VERY IMPORTANT! Not simply because we want all your private information, but because we’re going to start praying for you TODAY! We’re going to do everything in our power to help you win! So don’t take this card lightly! You can’t do God-Life ALONE and this card is how we’re going to get connected! As a matter of fact, if you turn this card in at the info kiosk—they’ll GIVE YOU A GIFT! If you turn it in at the ice cream station (yes, we have an ice cream station!) they’ll GIVE YOU a free ice cream cone. If you hand it to an usher, a host or hostess, they’ll make certain it makes its way to MY DESK. If your card ends up on MY DESK—when you go to heaven, you’ll automatically get upgraded to FIRST CLASS! It’s a REAL THING PEOPLE!!!
I also want to tell you about the very next step after that one (yep! – the steps keep coming). The first act of obedience Jesus asked of his disciples was water baptism. We can’t wait to celebrate with you at your baptism party. We’re even going to host the party for you! So, turn in the connection card, enjoy a cone and check out your free gift, AND get signed up for baptism! We’re committed to doing life together because ‘together, we’re better!’”
Since moving to this format we’ve baptized many more people than prior. We’ve simplified the process compared to what we used to do, which had people coming forward or standing during the prayer. However, the actual number of responses has increased dramatically and we’re able to measure and track the movement of the responders with much greater ease. We’re very happy to see hundreds of people being baptized each year!
We give the congregation opportunity to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior at the close of every service. We briefly share the plan of salvation and how much each of them are loved. We ask them to raise their hand if they would like to become born again. The ushers make note of who has raised their hand and encourage them to come forward if the person seems reluctant. We have the prayer room workers stand so that they are easily identified. We clearly ask them if they desire to be born again; not if you are not right with God. We also give the congregation the opportunity to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. We share one or two brief reasons why the baptism in the Holy Spirit is so important. We also tell the congregation that if there is anyone not feeling well, Pastor Barry will pray for their healing. Many respond to this.
On holiday services like Christmas or Easter, the pastor preaching will ask the entire congregation to recite the sinner’s prayer. Since there are so many visitors and many are not familiar with an altar call, we do it this way. We also tell them that there will be people in the front of the church they could talk to if they said the prayer or had questions. The prayer room worker follows up with the person they prayed with. Pastor Barry or Pastor Adam will also call any man who accepts Jesus. Pastor Sheila will call any woman who accepts Jesus.
We do not have new believer’s classes at this time, but we have had them in the past. We have people in the church who stay close to the new converts, encouraging them in the things of the Lord. If the new converts desire to become members of the church, we have classes to teach them what the church believes.
Through the people that God placed in my life to learn from, I have imitated them. Which is to say that in any kind of service held—whether a church service, a gathering, or evangelistic in style—I endeavor to make Jesus and all He has promises available from beginning through the end of service. For example, it’s necessary to interject throughout a message the availability to be connected to the Father through Jesus at any point thought a service because it’s a heart decision. It’s spoken of repeatedly in between the message, just the same as people receive healing or being filled with the Holy Spirit.
We believe every service is a God-appointment, and we teach that the moment we come together it’s the start of our receiving from God. It’s our pre-curser statement, so we find people do and follow as is spoken.
We can never assume everyone is a heart-believer. I have found many times that people who come to our services have often received Christ mentally; maybe read a prayer on the back of a book or repeated words mentally and yet hearts haven’t been engaged in the process. So consequently, they haven’t experienced their lives changing. They have relied on their own works.
As messengers (ministers), it is essential that the interweaving through the message from start to finish should always have a sound that draws the hearer to the desired result. So for me, it’s learning to communicate and demonstrate the message so that the reality of Christ can be heard and experienced at any time.
One of my favorite verses is Col 4:6 (NLT), “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” I apply this to the proclamation of the Gospel. Many a time, we hear the report, “Something happened to me today in the service!” Come to find out, the Holy Spirit had drawn them to the Master and they responded to Him right in their seat.
Practically speaking, we also make available the opportunity to speak with people and for them to speak to us about what happened to them in a service. We then follow up with any understanding required with and literature.
We do have home groups and team workers that follow up in the care and with responses.
At the conclusion of the service, I always ask first for those needing salvation, restoration, or the infilling of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues. I pray for them and then release each one to a personal worker who will go over scripture, pray, and explain and answer any questions. Also, each person is given Kenneth Hagin’s small books on the subject (The New Birth, Why Tongues, and In Him). If they do not have a Bible, they are also given one.
It is then required that the personal worker make contact with the individual within two or three days to see how they are doing. The personal worker fills a card out on them and we send each person a special letter as soon as the information is turned in at our office. We explain the different opportunities we have for them and invite them to feel free to call or meet with me. This is done within the following week.
At the end of the service I also call for those that may have special needs such as, healing, finances, addictions, etc. I always go by the leading of the Holy Spirit for those with only back problems, headaches, hearing problem, etc.
There are times I will have the entire church family stand and we will confess together certain phrases and scriptures together that are uplifting to all.
Receiving Christ is identical to what occurs at a wedding ceremony: two become one.
How many have prayed the prayer and nothing changed? I see no place in scripture where a salvation prayer is taught or prayed. I see many places in scripture where people are encouraged to give themselves to the Lord.
Vows spoken at a wedding ceremony can mean everything or nothing. From what I see, salvation occurs when the words have meaning; when people actually give themselves to the Lord. For me, I gave myself to the Lord and was walking with Him, clearly saved, for a year before I even heard there was something called a “salvation prayer.”
To me, it’s about teaching people that there is a great life to live, a journey to go on, a relationship to have, and sins that can be forgiven right now if only we will ask.
Below is generally what I say during our altar calls at the end of our service.
Before we leave this morning I want to make sure that you’re right with God.
I have a very important question to ask you! God forbid if you were to leave here this morning and you were to die. Now here’s my question for you: would you go to heaven or would you go to hell?
I want you to think about that for a minute.
Maybe you said, “Pastor Matt, I think I’m going to heaven.” Well, I love you enough to tell you the truth, and the truth is if you think you would go to heaven, you would not. You would go to hell.
Or maybe you said, “Pastor Matt, I hope I would go to heaven.” Once again, I love you enough to tell you the truth, and the truth is if you’re hoping you would go to heaven, you would not. You would go to hell.
I hear this one quite often: “Well, I’m a good person.” I celebrate your goodness, but by whose standards are you good? God’s standards or man’s standards? Because one day when you die you’ll stand before a holy and a just God and you will be judged according to His standards not man’s standards. Let’s take a little test and see just how good you are?
(1) In your entire life, have you ever told a lie? Yes, of course we all have. Would you please hold up one finger with me. (2) Have you ever stolen anything before? The amount is insignificant. It could be an answer off of a test, a piece of candy from one of your siblings, your boss gave you 30 minutes for lunch and you took 31 minutes. Hold up two fingers with me. (3) Have you ever hated someone? Jesus said if you hate someone you’ve committed murder in your heart towards that person. Hold up three fingers with me. (4) Have you ever looked at somebody and you had sexual thoughts in your mind or your heart towards them? The Bible says you’ve committed adultery or fornication in your heart. Hold up four fingers with me. (5) Have you ever been disobedient to your mom or dad? Grounded, spanked, sent to your room, or put in a time-out? Hold up five fingers with me. Now, I’ve gone through five of the Ten Commandments, and probably like myself, you broken all five or maybe you said you’ve only broken one or two. Well, in the Book of James it says if you break just one of God’s laws then you’re guilty, and if you’re guilty, the Bible says you deserve hell. Now that’s horrible because the Bible describes hell as a horrible place where the flames burn you and never consume you. It’s a place where the worms eat you and never consume you. Hell is a place of torment and agony and once you’re in hell you can never get out. It’s eternity with the devil who hates you.
But the good news is that God loves you so much that he has made a way for you to escape hell and to go to heaven through his son Jesus Christ. The Bible describes heaven as a wonderful, beautiful, peaceful, loving place free from pain and torment. It’s a place where you will be in the presence of God who loves you for all eternity.
Now, at Christmas time, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to Earth, lived 33½ years, and lived a sinless life doing awesome loving miracles. Loving on people and showing us who God the Father is. But then on Good Friday, they whipped Jesus with a cat of nine tails, nailed him on a cross and then he died and went to hell to pay our penalty and pay our price for our sins so that we would not have to go to hell. Three days later, God the Father raised Jesus Christ from the dead and that’s when we celebrate Resurrection Sunday or Easter Sunday.
Now, if you’re here this morning and you’re not a hundred percent sure if you were to die today that you would go to heaven, then I want to pray a miracle prayer with you so that you can be sure. Or, if you’re here this morning and at one time you asked Jesus into your heart but you’ve falling away and you’ve gone back into the world like The Prodigal Son, and this morning you want to come back and rededicate your life to Jesus Christ, then I want to pray a miracle prayer with you as well.
Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to count to three, and on three, I’m going to hit my Bible. And when I hit my Bible, you raise your hand. By you raising your hand, you are saying, “Pastor Matt, I want to get right with God,” or, “I want to recommit my life to Jesus Christ.”
Maybe you’re thinking, “I would be embarrassed to raise my hand in front of all these people.” But I want to assure you that you are in a safe place this morning and we will all rejoice with you at the decision you are making. The Bible says that all the angels in heaven will rejoice with you when you give your heart to Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “If you confess me before men, I will confess you before my Father in heaven. If you deny me before men, I will deny you before my Father in heaven.” So by you raising your hand, you are confessing Jesus Christ. Everything that Jesus did for us, he did openly and out in public – unashamed. One: this will be the biggest and most important decision you’ll ever make. Where will you spend eternity in Heaven or Hell? Two: let nothing stop you from getting right with God; don’t let fear, don’t let arrogance, don’t let pride. The Bible says that tomorrow is not promised to you. Today is the day of salvation. Now, who should raise their hand? Two types of people. If you’re not a hundred percent sure if you were to die today you’d go to heaven, then you should raise your hand. Or, if at one time you did ask Jesus Christ in your heart but you’re falling away and this morning you want to rededicate your life, then you also should raise your hands. Are you ready? Look at your neighbor and say, “Are you ready?” Here we go…three (I hit my Bible). Praise God! I see those hands. Yes, thank you Jesus. I see those hands over there. Yes, praise God. I see those hands back there.
Now for all of you who raised your hands, I ask you to stand up right now. That’s right. Go ahead and stand up.
After everyone that raised their hands is standing up, I then say the following: Now, take a step of faith and walk right up here and stand in front of me.
When all those who have raised their hands are standing up in front of me, I say this: I have loved these people enough to make sure they’re right with God and have invited them up here to say a miracle prayer with me. I asked you people in the audience to love somebody enough to look to your right, to look to your left, to look in front of you, and to look behind you and say to that person, “If you need to go up there, I will go up there with you.” (About 90% of the time, a few more people will come forward after someone asks them.)
Then I will say: Everyone standing up here, please repeat this prayer after me and you in the audience please say this prayer out loud with us as well. And all you by live stream, say this prayer out loud with us as well.
Say: “Heavenly Father, I believe in my heart Jesus Christ is your Son. I believe Jesus died for my sins. God, I’m sorry for all my sins and I ask you to forgive me. I believe that you raised Jesus from the dead and I say with my mouth Jesus is my Lord and Savior. Now I am saved, I have chosen life and I am Heaven bound. In the name of Jesus, Amen.”
Let me tell you some cool things from this moment; back into your history of life, all of your wrong thoughts, words, and actions are wiped clean. How cool is that right! Now from this moment into the future, if you were to miss it (and chances are you will because you’re a human), you just go to God who is now your father and say, “Father, I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.” And instantly, he will forgive you.
Now, if you’ll turn around and see that person right there waving at you, follow him. We have some wonderful information to give to you. If you’ve come with somebody, they’ll wait for you; it’ll only take a few minutes. Praise the Lord. Give your new brothers and sisters a big hand, and all of you by livestream, if you’ve made this decision, if you’ll fill out that form online, we will send you the material as well.