Five and a half years ago I preached my first sermon as the pastor of Rivers of Joy Baptist Church, Minford, Ohio The the deacon and music person stopped me before the service with a question. He wanted to know how I’d be making the altar call.
Having known the history of the church and the two preachers before me I knew what kind of altar calls they were giving for the last fifteen years. The church has a long history of closing the service with an appeal to walk the aisle in order to join the church, recommit one’s life to the Lord, or make a public profession of faith. In fact, many of the members had come to see the altar call as the primary means the church used to reach the lost. They saw the altar call as synonymous with evangelism.
WHY NOT GIVE AN ALTAR CALL?
I trust that many who give altar calls have the best of intentions. In my youth back in the day and even while in Seminary and even while working in churches as a Youth Pastor, the pastor ended the service by asking every person in the congregation to close their eyes and bow their head. Next he would invite anyone who wanted to receive Christ to raise their hand and look toward the pulpit. For about thirty seconds the pastor would scan around the hall, notice the raised hands, and in a calm, soothing voice say, “Yes, brother, I see you. Good, sister, amen,” and so on. I believe this pastor meant the best for these seekers. The music would play, and the song leader would lead the congregation in Just As I Am. And for the next few verses the pastor would plead for people to come to the altar. And over the years I must say there were some cases where the pastor did a good, and other cases there was a very poor presentation of the gospel.
WHY I DO NOT BELIEVE THE ALAR CALL OR INVITATION AT THE END OF THE SERVICE IS WISE TO DO
These are just a few reasons why I think it’s unwise to use the altar call for evangelism.
When I was in Seminary and was attending a church, they all had a visitation/soul winning program. We were ask to go out into the community and share the gospel and invite people to be saved and come to our church. We were to give a ten minute Romans Road presentation of the gospel and ask them to invite Jesus into there heart. And then invite them to church to make it public and get baptized and join the church, all in ten minutes. One pastor of a church said just to invite them to church and he would preach the gospel and they would get saved. And he did and he would plead for them to come forward.
So the question one might asked, "how do you believe a person becoming a Christian if you don't give an altar call?" My answer is "why do you see a person getting saved by giving an altar call?" One might say,"Well, the preachers preaches the gospel and then ask the sinner to get saved." This is the general response of many people in churches today. Even in churches where all the people are "saved" the preachers feels the obligation to give an invitation and invite sinners to be saved, join the church, be baptized.
The question is “Is the church worship service a place where sinners get saved? Is the purpose of the worship service and the preaching the means where by people are supposedly to get saved?
In our church at Rivers of Joy Baptist over the last five years, there have been some who have attended that are not Christians, but 90% of the time those who attend are saved. So should people invite sinners to come to church and hope the pastor has a great salvation sermon and they will get saved that Sunday? My answer to that is NO. Well that is what happens at a Billy Graham meeting doesn't it? Doesn't ever sermon end up with a invitation to invite sinners to get saved?
I am so convinced that the altar calls at those meetings with Billy Graham, or any other place that ask for salvation like that is really quite dangerous. Why would you say that?
While I will say there are those who do really become Christians upon their first visit to the church, there are more that do not become one. A person comes to the altar or to a prayer room after the service and upon giving them the Roman Road verses and they pray, they are announced saved and born again and can't lost their salvation. There is a danger in this process.
How often have I read where the church reports that 600 people have just been saved. (Perry Noble announces almost every week the number that was saved that Sunday) To announced at a person has been saved, after only one moment in his life is really dangerous. Why? How do you know after five minutes that the person has been saved?
The problem of granting people immediate assurance of salvation without taking the time to test the credibility of their profession seems unwise at best and harmful at best. After five minutes the pastor or anyone else cannot know sufficiently that a person has really been saved. What happens many times the person is given by the person talking to them the false confident that they are truly saved. The 600 people announced that was saved, or even the five people announced that was saved, how can you know unless there has been a time to test their credibility of their profession?
What if a person who is attending the church and is not saved how should the preacher preach?
Be clear about the gospel.
Be clear about the gospel. Preach the whole gospel, not just a few words at the end of the sermon. I preached a sermon from Romans 10:9-17 about God's plan for bringing His elect to salvation.
Call people to repent and believe.
In the sermons I preach there in is the Word of God. Every person who is present is to listen with the idea to obey what the Word of God is teaching us to apply to our lives. Every person is responsible to carefully listen and study and know the message of the sermon from the Biblical text that is been preached.
In a sense every message is a salvation sermon. How so? Salvation is not just a one time response to a call to be saved, but one that is to continue to call upon the LORD every day of our lives. Salvation is a means whereby we live a holy acceptable life that glories the LORD.
The preachers responsibility is to preach the Word of God, book by book, chapter by chapter. His sermons should be in the context of the passage of Scripture he is preaching. I don't believe you should add on an invitation to get saved when the sermon has not address how one should become a Christians.
So then how is a lost person to become a Christian if the preacher does not preach a salvation sermon and ask them to get saved and have an altar call or invitation? Good question. I preached that sermon from Romans 10:9-17 that gives that answer.
Every person who is a Christians should be in the mindset of talking to others that are not saved about their lost condition. They should be the one who gives them a clear understanding of what it means to become a Christian. And again it is not wise to announced that they are saved upon their first response. Share with them the gospel yes, ask them if they desire to be saved, give them time to understand. And if the Holy Spirit gives them the understanding to believe then that will happen. Then offer them your time to help them understand what it means to be a Christian. It is called discipleship. Then ask them to come to hear the preaching of the Word of God.
 For a detailed treatment of the dangers of the altar call read Erroll Hulse, The Great Invitation: Examining the Use of the Altar Call in Evangelism (Audoban Press, 2006) and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching & Preachers (Zondervan, 2011), chapter 14.
2] Arnold Dallimore, Spurgeon: A New Biography (Banner of Truth, 1985), 80.