Thursday, August 17, 2006

"The Stress Of The Altar Call"

There I am preaching what God has laid on my heart to say and I can tell as I look at people's faces that God is speaking to them. I come to the end of my sermon and I transition into the Altar Call. I call people to faith in Christ. I call people to rededicate their lives by committing themselves to the message I just preached. I call them to church membership and faithfulness. I call them to be baptized. I call them to vocational ministry. I lead them in a commitment prayer and right after I say, "Amen", I have everyone stand to their feet and start singing a "song of commitment". I invite our people to come forward as an example that they have made a commitment. Most of the time, no one comes forward.

I would imagine that is the experience of most Baptist preachers on Sunday mornings. Personally, I'm tired of it. Don't get me wrong, I believe with all my heart that I should call people to make a response. Every pastor preaches for responses. If you are like me, the Altar Call is the least fruitful and most frustrating time of the service. So I want to ask some questions that I hope my readers will answer. Is there only one style of giving an Altar Call? What is the Purpose of an Altar Call? How does your church do an Altar Call?

For additional reading check out Rick Warren's Toolbox on the subject of "Why there are no Altar Calls at the end of a Saddleback Service."


Blogger Scotte Hodel said...

Thanks for the link to Rick Warren's article. His comment about the personal dynamics of "going forward" in front of a large group of strangers rings very true for me.

I've attended a baptist church since 1989. Prior to that, during my post-conversion college years 1982-1989, I attended a small charismatic church that eventually joined the Association of Vineyard churches. I also attended a Foursquare church and then a Methodist church while on sabbatical leave. Each of these churches has its own form of altar call, each with different answers to your questions. For some, the altar call has the standard baptist "5 purposes of an altar call" (salvation, rededication, unification for baptism, call to missions, and I don't remember #5). For some, it's a time of nurturing prayer, whether over finances, health, salvation, whatever. For others, it's a way to introduce new church members, among other things.

Rick Warren's article asks the question, "Without the altar call, where is the public profession?" I've never understood this Dilbert-like approach to our faith:
"Shake Pastor's hand. Make public profession. Check."
The profession isn't achieved at that point; it's just starting! I think we do ourselves a disservice if we reduce the public profession to walking the aisle or even if we reduce it to baptism.

Warren's statistic on how many people made a commitment to Christ in writing on their first visit to church, as opposed to walking the aisle after 6 visits, is something worth some meditation. His use of a new members class seems to match well with our command to "make disciples," as opposed to decisions.

That doesn't answer your questions, but you've started a very useful conversation, I think.

Blogger Professor X said...

I might throw in the mix here that many a preacher as pointed out that we often move into the invitation without expecting the Spirit to move. We were recently challenged to have our decision encouragers/counselors at the front with us ministers waiting and expecting to have people come forward. It is an interesting thought and challenge for us. Expect great things from God, and He just might provide.

Blogger OKpreacher said...

Urshe Thalor,

Thanks for the comments, your background is very helpful in reminding us that each denomination has a different style of Altar Call.

Your statement on baptism interested me and I thought I would share my view and our practice as a church in West Texas. I view baptism as the first in a progression of public professions of faith. We do not view baptism as the "first act of obedience" or "A believer's only public profession of faith". The reason is there are other acts of obedience and other opportunities for making your faith public. I believe baptism is the first opportunity for a believer to make his faith public. I also believe that baptism is necessary to become a church member.

Urshe, feel free to post any time.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read your article, then clicked over and read Rick Warren's article about alter call. I believe that both, alter call and the card, serve a great purpose. The alter call provides people to come and kneel before the Lord providing them an opportunity to focus totally on the Lord. It also provides an opportunity for the whole church to see the Lord working in a person's life. Plus it gives the christian members an opportunity to pray for those attending the service and for God's will to be done.

The card is a good idea for those afraid or to shy to come down. The pastor can minister to that person one on one in his office or in their home where they feel the security and comfort needed for them to open up.

Both are good and God has used both to call people to himself. I pray that God will direct you and provide you with the answers that you need to be obedient to His will.

Blogger Kevin Bussey said...

I've been tired of it. When I started a church we did not have one. I haven't fought that battle here yet!

Blogger Holiday At The Sea said...

quetions to ponder.

did the church have an alter call prior to charles finney?

if not then why do we have one now?

why is it "ineffective"?



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