Are Altar Calls Outdated?

Do you conduct altar calls at your church? (Flickr/Jake Guild/CC 2.0)

Pastors confide that they are frustrated because people "just won't come forward" for the "altar call."

But what is the reason for that? What is the bigger picture?

I asked Warren Bird, the director of Research and Intellectual Capital Development of the Leadership Network, if churches in general, and in particular megachurches, practice some form of an invitation. Here's Warren's response:

"I've visited literally hundreds of churches, and the clear pattern is that growing churches call for a response to their messages. The approach varies—some ask people to come forward in the traditional "altar call," while others ask for a raised hand, a checkbox on a handout, or something specific to the Scripture of that day. For example, one church had a giant open door to walk through in response to the 'open door' reference from the Bible passage being taught."

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"Megachurches tend to do more altar calls and other invitations for a response than other churches. I suspect the reason is more because of outreach, which leads to growth, than due to size. Also, according to research, the larger the church, the more likely it is to have clarity of purpose—and an evangelistic purpose at that, which again would explain why larger churches expect, look for, and call for a response to God's Word."

An invitation of some kind, including the traditional altar call to come forward is still a relevant and effective practice.

So the helpful question is—"How can we all do a better job with an invitation?"

Your church culture will determine part of that answer. Your leadership and style of worship service will also have an impact.

But ultimately the answer is not a mystery. If people come forward for prayer, salvation or whatever the invitation is for—then what you are doing works. If people fill out a card and turn it in, you know it works.

Here's the practical focus. How can we continue to improve how we partner with the Holy Spirit to invite people to respond to the life-changing power of God's Word?

5 Action Steps Toward Improving Your Invitations:

1. Your faith and prayers set the stage.

What you believe God can do matters significantly because that shapes how you pray. What you believe God will do has an equally huge impact and is connected to your faith. We don't have to argue theology here to agree that faith and prayer play a large role in what happens on a Sunday morning when you call for a response.

Faith and prayer will trump your communication skill level every time. We all still need to prepare with great diligence, but this is where the response begins.

2. Check your ego at the door.

All of us have experienced that moment of fear when we extend the invitation and wonder if anyone will respond. Perhaps you have been tempted to "soften" the call to ensure someone will come forward. We've all been there.

No one wants to stand on the stage and look like a lame leader. However, if you struggle with that, you've got to work hard to get over it. It's important that you get freedom from that fear so you can deliver an authentic invitation that people will be drawn to. If you are tense, hesitant or insecure, the people will be as well.

Ultimately, you don't determine how people respond. That's not your responsibility. If no one comes forward, checks a box or raises a hand, then you pray again for the next weekend. That's our commitment, and we never give up.

3. Create the moment, but don't manipulate it.

Avoid routine at all costs. If you do the same thing every week without variance, that may be one of the top reasons the response is lower than you would like. The congregation doesn't anticipate anything different, so they don't respond any differently.

Creativity helps. You don't have to use a "giant door," but why not? Try different approaches. Don't go for clever, but lean toward a little creativity and variation to keep the room fresh.

It is not necessary to "work the moment," to make something happen, always refrain from that temptation.

4. Clarity and brevity in the invite is essential.

I have listened to thousands of invitations, and one of the top reasons people don't respond is because the invitation is unclear. In many cases, the message should have ended earlier, and when it's concluded, and the pastor begins the invitation, he starts teaching the message all over again.

The best coaching I've received for my invitations is: "Know (in advance) when it's time to land the plane and land it. Also, know exactly what you want the people to do and make that clear. Then extend the invitation."

Kevin Myers coaches with these two questions. "What do you want the people to know?" And, "What do you want the people to do." Be clear and make the ask in as few sentences as possible.

5. Exercise great diligence in your follow-up.

Now that you've done all that work, whether one or one hundred responded, it's essential to capture their information so you can follow-up.

Whether it's a new Christian's class for converts, or prayer for a specific need, one of the most spiritually practical things we do as a church is to help people make progress in their faith.

So how will you capture their name and contact info?

Keep it simple. If you ask for too much, they will check out quickly. Most of the time a name and email is all you need. If you have a great text system and prefer that over email, then go for it, but don't walk away from the harvest.

Keep going, and don't get weary in doing good. Your work is worth it!

Dan Reiland is the Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY.

This article originally appeared at danreiland.com.

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