Tears. Smiles. Weeping. Laughing. Salvation. Healing. Restoration.
Altar calls are powerful vehicles for life change and an amazing tool for leaders to partner with God to see people encounter God on a deeper level. There are different types of life change. I would contend that 1) people meet Jesus at every junction of life. Altar calls are one way and there are some people that borderline NEED an altar scenario where God is moving powerfully to say ‘yes,’ (I was one of them! A skin headed drug dealer that couldn’t stop crying) and that 2) there are times of empowerment, deliverance, and spiritual manifestations (healings, miracles, prophetic unction) that could have occurred outside of an altar setting, but at least in America it’s highly unlikely they would.
My last post ‘Stop Having Altar Calls’ was a challenge to leaders is to be attentive to the Spirit, which at times will lead to a powerful altar call. In the article I advocate for not doing an altar call every gathering, but still note that it is dangerous when it is absent all together all the time. It’s not a blanket solution or a formula. It’s acknowledging that we have to have an ear to hear, and if we are hearing rightly, making space for God to move in an altar scenario will be a regular part of our times together.
When I entered ‘charismatic world’ I noticed not only were there altar calls every gathering, but there might be three or four. As unfocused as the message had been, and as sporadic as the altar calls were, they were still powerful. God doesn’t honor perfect theology. He honors genuine pursuit. The problem is that pursuit usually stops when the service ends
Altar calls are moments that serve as an invitation to a journey with God. I would venture to say that many people that answer an altar call were never given the opportunity to respond to the moment with a ‘yes’ to discipleship. That’s why altar invitations are notorious for having a ‘high turnover.’ Altar invitations without discipleship and community invitation is a recipe for disaster. As pastors and leaders we HAVE to remember that altar moments are initiation points for discipleship journeys.
My challenge this post is really quite simple. What happens to your people after they answer an altar call? If we can’t adequately answer this question it means we don’t care about discipleship nearly as much as we thought we did. I want to offer a few things to consider when you are giving thought to this question.
Have a Plan for Discipleship
I really want pastors to consider this: we will have to answer for the ones that we let slip through the cracks because of our apathy in leading this area and lack of wisdom in fulfilling the Great Commission. The question of ‘how do we make disciples’ as a church body should keep us up at night. If it doesn’t, perhaps we need to recalibrate our hearts to be aligned with Jesus. After all, that was pretty much the last thing he told us.
One pushback I’ve recieved when there is a challenge to create a discipleship plan is that Jesus didn’t have one, that it just happens. I don’t think that could be further from the truth. I see Jesus going to specific men and saying ‘follow me.’ I see Jesus gathering his disciples around a camp fire and dissecting His message together. I see regular meetings in Acts for the purpose of growing in the word and in community. I see people gathering in large and small groups to learn more about God and serve the church. They might not have had a John Bevere book to go through together or a small group leader manual, but it’s obvious that specific wheels were turning. Jesus had a plan.
What does the process look like for you? How do you turn someone that just got prayed for in an altar into a mature disciple and member of the church?
Plans provide strategy. Systems provide a framework to ensure that these plans happening. They show us ‘weak links’ in our plan and help us to track how the current plan is working. But, somewhere along the way Pentecostals have forgotten that God is a God of order. Show me a verse in context where it is irresponsible to create a systematized pipeline for people to flow more easily into a growing life with Jesus. Please.
This is not easy. You have to do the hard work of finding what is going to work in your church, in your context. Be ready for a lot of trial and error. One of our staff values is ‘make it better.’ That means we will be constantly shifting our approaches to have the maximum amount of fruit.
Remember that initial follow up is crucial. From what I’ve seen the best initial follow up comes from the person that prayed with them. How personal is that!? I remember working the altars at Trinity Church and always following up on Tuesday with the people I prayed for on Sunday. For many of them it might have been the ‘personal’ touch that helped them plugin in deeper ways.
Questions to ask: How can I measure an individual’s progress? How can I effectively track our whole process? How can I make sure the handoff from altar worker to staff (small groups/next steps/etc) is smooth?
Trained Altar Workers
You aren’t going to be the one telling people that they need to take the next step after the altar call. Altar workers that pray for people are. This means the language they use as the altar time is closing is going to be the first personal invitation to discipleship these people have. That’s a pretty big deal!
Two questions that need to be answered: What do your altar workers say? What information do your altar workers take?
If our altars are going to have continual fruit the conversation can’t just be ‘God bless you. Hope to see you next week!’ The conversation must 1) determine what just happened in this person’s life, 2) determine their current level of involvement in the church, 3) intentionally direct the person towards the appropriate next steps, 4) capture their contact information.
It may seem ‘unspiritual’ to some to end an altar call by recording people’s contact information. But when they are part of a small group, become a growing disciple and a contributing member of the church I bet that stigma fades away. It’s about fruit!
Questions to ask: How can I train my altar workers to make sure these convos take place consistently? How can I ensure that altar workers are following up?
Disciple Altar Workers
This should go without saying right? But I’ve found that altar and prayer workers tend to be some of the flakiest volunteers. I have a few suspicions as to why, but that’s for another post. My point is this: how much passion and conviction can an altar worker speak about discipleship and next steps with if they aren’t in a discipleship relationship themselves?
As I said, these people will likely be the first ones to challenge new converts to be a disciple. It’s pretty hypocritical to tell the new guy he needs to be in a community group when they aren’t in one themselves. Don’t just hope this happens. Make it a requirement and stay on top of it. It will communicate that you value discipleship above someones ability to pray in an altar.
Questions to ask: How can we ensure that our altar workers are growing disciples themselves? What specific discipling needs might altar workers need?
TBN all alone is probably not the best way to be a maturing disciple. It happens best in the context of real relationships. Discipleship and community go together like Oreos and whole milk. Sorry, I couldn’t think of any gluten free analogies. After the altar we don’t just want to give someone a ‘Now That You’re Saved’ swag bag and send them on their merry way. We want them to plug into our community in a meaningful way. The concepts of discipleship and relationship are interwoven and inseparable.
If our discipleship plan doesn’t end with a person being in a relationship setting where they are creating more disciples, well we’ve missed the point.
Let’s summarize with some quick questions to help us get going:
- How can we create a reproducable discipleship plan that moves people from being a new convert to actively discipling others?
- How can we create a system that adequately tracks this process without overwhelming those that oversee the system?
- How can we train disciple workers to make sure they are communicating ‘next steps’ with utmost importance?
- How can we have a system that ensures altar workers are maturing disciples as well?
- How can we work to ensure that everyone that has a moment in the altar is pushed towards a journey together in the context of community and relationship?
Moments matter. But so does the journey. Hopefully this ‘After the Altar’ post has provided you with more than a little food for thought. Let’s take inventory of who serious we are about discipleship and make up our minds to make sure it happens after the altar is through.