I’ve had the opportunity to visit many churches as a ‘first time guest’ this year. Many Sundays we’ve visited churches in Atlanta and one observation is made many times over: the altar call, one of the most powerful hallmarks of Christian preaching is completely absent from many ‘modern’ church services, even among charismatic and pentecostal churches.
Now, it would be dogmatic to say that you have to have an altar call every single service. If there was one thing that Jesus avoided it was creating a formula when it comes to a move of God. You don’t have to look much further than how he healed people to see that. But, more than a few churches that we have been to multiple times have no space in their service to invite life change, whether it be the call to salvation or to accept a challenge from the message.
It makes me think of a few reasons we might forsake the altar and the change that happens when humanity finds itself in front of one.
1. Stop having altar calls if you don’t value the power of a moment.
One reason I’ve heard that pastors don’t have altar calls is because they can be little more than emotional moments that doesn’t lend itself to lasting change. But I am a firm believer that altered lives follow altar calls. These moments are the invitations to a journey.
Yes altar calls are emotional! When the Holy Spirit of God is convicting you of sin, filling you with grace, and empowering you for life, well it tends to be an emotional thing for many people! It is an emotional moment, but life is made up of moments. My daughter’s birth was a two hour window, a moment, that changed my lfe. My marriage was a 45 minute ceremony, the blink of an eye in the scope of life, that affects me years later.
My salvation was a moment in an altar that initiated a journey with God that I’m still on today. We live in moments. Monumental change happens in moments.
2. Stop having altar calls if you don’t want the power of God.
God can move anywhere at anytime. I have had powerful encounters on the street with strangers. But while God is not limited to a service or an altar, there is something special about a man or woman meeting with God there. Having an altar call, in essence, puts a demand on the presence and power of God in the same way my daughter reaching up and saying ‘hold me’ puts a demand on me to pick her up.
It communicates to God that you value His activity when you gather corporately. Though I hope we have the mindset that God can interrupt as He wills, having an altar time gives him an explicit space where we are asking Him to come and move.
3. Stop having altar calls if you care about offending men.
The reason many pastors fail to put a demand on the power of God is because of how they think non believers and seekers will react after seeing people deeply pursue God in the altar.
I am not seeker sensitive and make no qualms about it. I have friends that are, that love God deeply, and do great things for the Kingdom, but it’s always been amazing that men can watch a three hour football game but pastors are worried they’ll offend people if the service is not 58 minutes. Don’t misunderstand me. God can do volumes of work in an hour. The issue arises when God wants to go longer and Pastors miss the moment for fear of turning people off.
The reason people get offended and uncomfortable in supernatural moments is because leaders don’t take the opportunity to turn these into discipleship moments as well.
When God starts moving in a gathering, or in the altar, don’t just run with it and leave every new comer behind. Take a second to disciple the people. Identify them what is going on as best you can, even if it’s just saying ‘God is visiting us.’ Establish a scriptural precedent for this. This will help establish a culture that pursues the supernatural while also maintaining biblical order.
4. Stop having altar calls if you chased a message and not the anointing.
Thanks to a misunderstanding of what it means to be relevant our churches are polluted with professional preachers that can bring it in the pulpit but are lack luster in the altar.
I believe in both! If you step into a pulpit you should take the teaching of the word seriously. You should study! You should craft a message with skill! You should hone your craft! But the calling of preacher doesn’t stop as you are going through your conclusion notes.
I refuse to be a part of raising a generation of preachers that know how to put together a great message but forgo pursuing Jesus for the anointing to be a part of changing the lives of many who hear it.
If our messages are built expertly but our spirits aren’t aligned with heaven and the heart of God we have missed it!
Our church landscape is littered with preachers with charisma and insight but no anointing and revelation. Because of this, altar calls have fallen to the wayside in favor of homiletic excellence.
God raise up preachers that spend hours preparing a message and hours in your presence!
5. Stop having altar calls if you don’t want to see people know Jesus.
I believe in relational discipleship and salvation that comes within the context of relationship. It’s a legitimate fear of a leader whose heart is for discipleship that we have made disciples of churches instead of disciples of Jesus. Ask yourself this: when was the last time you invited someone to Jesus and not just your church. BUT, it would be amiss to say that the altar time has not been instrumental, even now, in seeing the millions of people saved.
Studies show that the matriculation of people into a worship gathering as a contributing member has shifted in the past 50 years. Today, many people plug into the cause of the church, relationships with Christ followers, and the good things they accomplish before they ever buy into Jesus and become a disciple. Even though the chain of events may be different I’m confident that there are millions of people who are down with social justice and in community groups with Christians that are unknowingly waiting on that sacred altar time and a clear call to Christ to say yes.
This isn’t about a formula. I believe there are elements to effective altar calls, but God comes in different gatherings to accomplish different things. There have been many times where I haven’t felt the unction of the Holy Spirit to give a specific altar call. One of the things that makes altar times beautiful is the diversity of how God accomplishes what He wants through those that give him their ear.
God probably isn’t leading you to have full out altar calls every time you gather (contrary to popular Pentecostal belief He really does come to do more than just altar calls), but He is asking you to have them. He is asking you to make space for those moments where He can move in power, where the opinions of man fade away, the moments you are qualified to lead because you have spent time with Him and know His voice and leading.
It boils down to this: invite people to life change.