Altar calls sit controversially in the history of the American church. Some churches practically do them every week, while other churches do not believe that altar calls are biblical. Even if altar calls aren’t your thing, the gospel still demands a response. It is entirely appropriate for preachers to call for one, namely, repentance and faith (Acts 20:21).
So what does calling for a response look like in practice if you aren’t doing an altar call? Theologian Michael Green provides a helpful method in his book, Evangelism Through the Local Church.
How to Call for a Response
Calling for a response must not be just tacked onto the end of the sermon to fulfill an obligation. It is a vital aspect of preaching the gospel because God demands that people “confess with [their] mouth…and believe in [their] heart that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Romans 10:9). The time of response must have thoughtful flow and space for people to process the message.
As the sermon winds to a close, the preacher must give a “clear and reasonably rounded presentation of the gospel” (252). Otherwise, preachers become salesmen. First, it must be clear: what are we actually calling people to? New life in Christ. Second, it must be well-rounded. We must not shave off the hard edges of God’s wrath and human sinfulness.
After clearly presenting the truths of the gospel, it is appropriate to urge unbelievers to come to Christ. Such is Paul’s heart in 2 Corinthians 5:20: “We urge you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
Time for Silence
Green then suggests giving a time of silence, perhaps one or two minutes. During this time, you may want to review a prominent verse of Scripture that has been presented in the sermon (254). The silence allows for the people to reflect on the gospel message and make an informed decision on whether to follow Christ.
Prayer of Commitment
After the time of silence, he suggests giving a prayer of commitment for “those who want to use it, and only for them” (254). Green’s example explanation and prayer goes something like this:
“If you feel you don’t know how to put it, why not use something very simple like this? You could say it after me under your breath if you like. ‘Lord, please forgive me, and come take up residence in my life. Amen'” (254).
Green goes on to bless the congregation, speaking about God’s promises and how He will never leave or forsake the people who put their trust in Christ.
Opportunity for Follow Up
After the blessing, he provides two opportunities for follow up. The first is for new Christians, or those interested in learning more, to sign up for a Discovery Group (254). It is a specifically designed small group study, usually about eight-weeks long. It provides space for people to ask questions, and learn more about the faith. Green makes sure to stress the importance of joining a group because it is how someone can “be serious with Christ” (254).
Another way to draw people to you after the service is to offer people a book on basic Christian living. Green writes, “If at the end of your talk you mention that you have such material, it gives them something to come and ask for and therefore minimizes the embarrassment of going to talk to a minister about God at the end of a service.” (254).
Begging to Be Saved
The joy of preaching is the ability to be a beggar, just like the apostle Paul. He implored (begged!) unbelievers to “be reconciled to Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Let’s follow in his footsteps by preaching the truths of the gospel with all our might and by also calling for a response to it!
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