No one has asked me why I don’t do altar calls. However, my step-grandmother (for a few months) several years back, did say she wanted me to speak at her funeral and “do an altar call.” I can’t remember how I responded, and I’m not sure that she has even remembered that request. But I think that we should at least have a robust reason why we do or don’t do them.
I grew up in an evangelical P.C.U.S.A. church which has a tradition of not doing altar calls. Yet I came forward to trust Christ at a revival-although I think they called it a “renewal” we had at that church. I think it was at this time when I was truly “born again.” But uncertain of my salvation, I came forward another time at a Methodist church altar call during a youth day camp. These are the first, but not last, “altar call” moments I can remember.
I’ve also “come forward” for different times of “re-dedication” or commitment to do certain things like commit to missions. I’ve never noticed any difference in my life after these times.
Ironically-or maybe not ironically-I felt guilty for not raising my hand “to be counted” among those who made decisions at a college retreat. Yet that was the time when my life most changed.
At the Gospel Coalition, they welcome folks to ask them all kinds of questions. This altar call question came up, and here is their response. All I’ve written is from an experiential perspective, and perhaps from a pragmatic perspective-(it doesn’t seem to “work”). There are other reasons why I feel uncomfortable with doing an altar call. But these folks say it just about as well as I could myself. So check it out here.
It’s a gracious response (a lot of Christians can be jerks when they disagree), not attacking those who do altar calls, but simply why it can be good or better NOT to do them, and what we can do in their place. Certainly when we preach or teach at any level, we have to continually call people to respond to the gospel, whether it be for the first time or the thousandth. I don’t do a very good job at calling people to respond for the first time-to become as a Christians-as well as I do calling Christians to come back to the gospel. Articles like these challenge me to not just say No to the practical application (altar call), but to recognize the correct heart behind it (to call non-Christians to repent and believe). Even though I disagree with this 18th-19th century invention, I am still challenged to intentionally and deliberately call unbelievers to repentance and faith.
Here’s on of the articles practical applications from a Baptistic point of view I think is worth thinking about.
Invite people throughout your sermon to “repent and be baptized” like Peter did in Jerusalem (Acts 2:38). But when you do, don’t just stand there waiting with emotionally charged music playing, staring them down until they relent. Rather, make several suggestions about how and where to discuss the matter further.