People often ask, “Why don’t I have an altar call at the end of the service?” There are several reasons why I don’t have a “come-forward” invitation at the end of the service after teaching a sermon.
One reason, research shows that many people who made a decision to follow Christ in a church service were making their decision during their first visit to a church. This may be surprising but it is the reality for many people. However, studies also reveal that it takes most people in a traditional church about six months to work up their courage to come forward down the aisle for any kind of decision. What this research reveals is that many people want to become a Christian before they want to walk down the aisle in a church service. I have heard many people say things like, “I would have become a Christian sooner. I was just scared to death of going forward. It wasn’t that I was ashamed of Christ. It’s just that I’m a naturally shy person.
Traditionally, churches ask people to make the most important decision of their life in front of a bunch of other people they’ve never met, and then we forget how intimidating that can be. So I felt the right approach was to make it easy to come to Christ (only ask people to do what the Bible asks), and then make it more difficult for them to join the church. In order to join our church, you have to take a four hour membership and sign a membership covenant. People have accurately said to me, it is easier to join the universal church than the local church.
Now, I know what you’re thinking – “If they’re not coming forward, where is their public profession of faith?” My answer to that is to look in the New Testament. Baptism is the public profession of faith in the New Testament. We know that they didn’t walk the aisles in the first 300 years of the church because there were no church buildings – so there were no aisles.
So for 300 years the church grew without a “come-forward” invitation. That style of invitation was a modern invention, adapted and popularized by Charles Finney. We made it a regular part of our churches and fell into the belief that it was the only way to proclaim a public commitment to Christ.
Now, I’m not against a “come-forward” invitation at all. There’s nothing wrong with them. It’s just that I believe there are many other people who will come to Christ sooner if you don’t make them walk down in front of a bunch of strangers. Their public profession will come later during baptism.
Finally, I would never invite people to come forward to receive Christ. That is an expectation Jesus never set. He never said, “You have to walk from point A to point B to become a Christian!” Even when I have given a “come-forward” invitation, I have said, “Accept Jesus Christ right there in your heart and then come forward as evidence of it.” Not, “come forward to be saved.” Because you don’t have to come forward to be saved. If we are not careful, we can add requirements to the gospel message that God never intended.
I was one of those people that wondered that about altar calls. I grew up with that tradition, and after reading your post, I can say I agree with you. Thank you for that insight. I went to the altar to accept Christ, but it was in the moments at home where I really felt I met with Him, and in the relationships with fellow Christians I grew in my faith.