Monday, July 24, 2006

Altar Calls

Why do you make them? How do you make them? Should you make them?

I could tell the Holy Spirit was working on hearts as I preached yesterday. I finished the message with an appeal for the people to affirm their love for Jesus and be restored to discipleship. I invited them to pray a prayer along with me to that effect and then announced the closing song. Mission accomplished.

Except that after the sermon during my ‘debriefing’ time on the way home to had the impression that I should have made an altar call or at least asked those who wanted to commit to Jesus to raise their hands. I think I need to be more intentional about making ‘altar calls’. It seems to solidify your decision when you let other people know you’re making it, at least that how altar calls have worked for me.

The problem is I feel so goofy when I make them. I think I put too much pressure on myself instead of trusting in the Holy Spirit.

What do you think? Do you make altar calls; do you like them? What works for you?


  1. At our church, every week there are "Next Steps" at the end of the sermon. On the back of our attendance cards, there is a place to mark which Next Steps you want to do throughout the week. Most weeks, there is an option that says "I want to learn how to have a relationship with God."

    Sometimes the pastor/elders follow up the next steps, and sometimes they're just a personal commitment.

    It's a nice, low-pressure way to encourage everyone to make a commitment based on the sermon.

    If you go to and look at the sermon handouts, you will see the next steps listed at the bottom of the sheet. You can also hear them presented at the end of the audio sermons.

  2. What I've noticed about altar calls is that the same 20 members of our congregation answer the altar calls every time and these members are the ones who have been in the adventist church and local congregation possibly their entire lives. If I were a relatively new church-goer, and saw this a few times, it would rather make me shy away from truly answering an altar call.

    I personally don't care for altar calls, but this may be a personality quirk on my part. I am a bit reticent and the thought of announcing to the entire church something as personal as my own decision to follow Christ is ... well, it's not a particularly pleasant thought.

    In the end, there are a set of people for whom altar calls seem to be very attractive - but I generally find that these are people who have grown up with altar calls and enjoy the warm fuzzies they get when others (or themselves) answer such calls. But for new-comers (whom I suppose are the ones we wish to reach), it is a rather high-profile way to take the next personal step in the Christian walk.

  3. Kendra:

    I like the decision card idea. If I ever got organized enough I'd love to do that each week.


    I don't think I started responding to alter calls until college. I don't know what changed at that point. I probably wouldn't want to make alter calls where I know the same people would come forward. It kind of cheepens the whole thing.

  4. An Altar call is most often meant as a form of emotional manipulation. In some churches it is used to compel people forward because they don't want to be the only ones not responding. This is why altar calls that ask people to stand nearly have 100% participation, everybody stands they have prayer and are dismissed.

    Is there a reason to go up front in an altar call. In general no. There is nothing up front to help them with their commitment to God, and God is not any closer to the front of the building then where they sit,so who is it really for? I would submit it is for the ego of the speaker. Now if the call is for people who have never asked God into their lives and if you have people up front who are going to talk to these people and arrange further instruction an Altar call actually has a purpose. Otherwise any commitment can be made just as easily from the person's seat.

    Frankly an emotional feeling which does not last is not really the kind of commitment that God is looking for and it is not really the kind of commitment that a Pastor should be looking for.

  5. Hi to all! Before I finished theology, I preached a sermon in Valencia (East of Spain, metierranean shore). I made an alter call, and guess what... i found myself standing alone! Since then, I don't remember to have done any other one, except by rising hands or a kind of that. I agree with Ron Corson, let's be careful with cultivating emotional faith. But what I've found out is that If you really preach a good sermon, I mean, when you are a tool in God's hand, people will commit themselves, even if you don't make a "call". I know pastors that make alter calls almost every sabbath, and, believe me, the church elder told me "hey, let's help the pastor, or he will be discouraged". It is not a joke. My advise, do as the Holy Spirit talks to you. Regards.

  6. This has been an interesting discussion on altar calls. Some thoughts:

    1. I agree that follow up is the key to an effective altar call. If you just have people come forward with no decision cards or follow up, it makes no sense.

    2. Make them specific. Many times pastors will make it so general, "If you love Jesus. . .", of course everyone will come forward or stand. You can do this once and a while but not on a regular basis.

    3. Don't be ashamed if no one comes forward. It's okay for that to happen and it doesn't mean the sermon was a flop.

    4. Have more ways for making decisions than just coming foward. I like what Kendra's church does. Some people like coming forward others don't. Just make sure there are various, effective ways for people to make decisions.

    5. Our personal commitments to God should be known by the church. Isn't that what the church is for, to encourage and uplift people who want to grow closer to God? That's why I think the altar call is valuable. It tells the people in the church that they want to grow closer to God and the members now have additional responsibility to help that occur because they have seen the commitment.

    When I was in college, I preached during Student Week of Prayer and made an appeal. Two people came forward and wanted to be baptized and I went through the whole process with them. I doubt that would have happened unless I made the appeal. They probably wouldn't have gone out of their way otherwise to ask for baptismal studes.

    So appeals work, but yes, they are a bit scary.

  7. Most speakers miss-use the altar call, mixing their own half-hearted attempt with confusing instructions and then when few stand, as Ron points out (hey, it's good to agree), it becomes essentially universal and meaningless. (Did he just convert the entire congregation, or are we standing for closing prayer?)

    Like Powerpoint today, altar calls were the new tactic that fueled in part the first great awakening in the 18th century. But they reached the zenith of their popularity with Charles Finney, D.L. Moody, and Billy Sunday (the old sawdust trail) and the evangelical awakening of the 19th century. Combined with Ira Sankey's emotional hymns, they created a compelling climate for religious awakening in a much less media-ted age.

    Ellen White never recommends them, Morrie Venden eschews them, and like Kendra points out, there exist more helpful ways of connecting with those who seek a deeper relationship with God. Emotional meaning is essential to religion, and it's time for brave and bright pastors to come up with creative and non-awkward new ways of leading us to feel the Spirit move in our hearts.

  8. Did you mean 'altar' or alter? These are two different things. I just stumbled into your blog.Have a nice day.

  9. I suppose I ment "altar", but "alter" would be just as appropriate. "Altar" is kind of odd, since our church doesn't have one.

    There are much more negative comments on this blog about altar calls than on Just Pasotrs (wonder why). The problem is, I can't discount them because I've seen and felt them work. Maybe they're an outdated tool, but not all of world, or even North America, is postmodern yet.

  10. Coming a bit late the discussion because I just found your blog today, but ... I love the idea of "alter calls" versus "altar calls." In other words rather than emotional pressure to stand or come to the front (which I'm willing to guess a majority of church attendees dislike, whether they're in the category that goes up or the category that stays seated), why not a call that people can answer privately -- possibly in the form of a "decision card" or maybe just in a private moment between themselves and God in the closing prayer? As a result of today's sermon, is there something you feel the need to "alter" in your relationship with God? Take it to Him in prayer. Maybe allow a moment for silent prayer during the benediction time.

    As a lifelong SDA church attendee I have felt victimized and used by altar calls more often than I have felt blessed by them. Yet I do enjoy a sermon that ends with a point, a question for me to ponder, an opportunity for me to re-commit my life to God.

  11. I see my wife (Kendra) has already weighed in...

    After a couple of years preaching, I came under the conviction that I was actually training people to ignore God and Biblical Truth by NOT calling for commitment. Essentially, I was opening up the Word of God, preaching, applying, and then letting them leave. "Good sermon, Pastor."

    The more people hear the Word of God and DON'T make a commitment to act or change, the more we are just training them to ignore the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

    That is why I will never do another sermon without asking for some kind of commitment (even at weddings and funerals).

    The hardest sermon for me to preach with any kind of personal commitment or application is State of the Dead.: What... I will never tell a "so-and-so died-and-went-to-heaven" joke again?

    Like many others in the comments, I have a very hard time asking for people to come forward or stand up. I feel that a lot of Altar Calls are manipulative (especially as I've been trained to do them in Evangelistic Meetings).

    But I went to a church once that had the sermon first! And then participating in the rest of the service was a default response to the sermon time. The music, the prayer, the offering, the sign-up for ministry, the announcements - everything was couched as a personal response to the sermon.

    That touched me. And when I realized that it's the only church service model that takes into consideration that true worship is a response to what God has done or taught, I was hooked. It wouldn't work well at my current church, but...

  12. Jay:

    I too, feel strongly the calling for commitment is important. In one of my churches I've changed to service so the sermon is first and the rest follows as a response. It's very condusive to true worship, and I highly recommend it.