Altar calls have had a controversial place in the history of the American church. Some churches may do them practically every week, while other churches do not believe that altar calls are biblical. Even those who would resist doing a stereotypical altar calls, or “hand raise” (“…every head bowed, every eye closed…”), still believe in calling for a response to the preaching of the gospel. How can pastors call for a response to the gospel and yet not fall prey to unbiblical practices or forcing people into making hasty emotional decisions? Theologian Michael Green provides a helpful method in his book, Evangelism Through the Local Church.
First, as the sermon winds to a close, the preacher must give a “clear and reasonably rounded presentation of the gospel” (252). Otherwise, preachers become like salesmen. After clearly presenting the gospel, it is entirely 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.”
Then, Green suggests giving a time of silence for the people. He might repeat a prominent verse of Scripture that has been presented in the sermon and then provide one or two minutes of silence (254). 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:
I say: ‘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 bless the congregation, speaking about God’s promises and how He will never leave or forsake the people who put their trust in Christ. After the blessing, he says something like this for follow up:
One thing more, as you go. If you have taken that step of opening up to Christ, and if you have prayed that prayer with me just now, I would love to meet you briefly. I want to invite you into what we call a Discovery Group. It is an eight-week course on Christian foundations, and we have one or more groups starting this coming week. I think you will find it a great place to join a group like this where there is plenty of chance for questions and discussion, but where we take a major theme of the Christian life and study it each week. If you intend to be serious with Christ, come and join one of these groups. You need it, and you will benefit from it a great deal. I have the details here at the front (or the back, or wherever you think fit). Come and sign up and I’ll see you have the details about which groups you are in by tomorrow (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).