We do not use an altar call model simply because we believe that the process can unintentionally communicate that response to the preached Word of God is for those who are unconverted or unconnected (church membership) only.
It is our belief and practice that all people—those yet to respond to the Gospel of the glory of Christ as well as those who have—must respond to the grace of God. In the lives of those who have been converted, there are many ways in which the truth of the Gospel has yet to penetrate deeply. Marital difficulties, anger, lust, envy, bitterness, love of money—all manner of struggles find their common ground in a refusal to believe the Gospel in the depths of our lives.
That said, the model that we use differs little from an altar call model. We do give an invitation. It is an invitation to all present to respond to the Word of God that has been preached. Some need to respond to the Gospel for the first time—proclaiming Jesus Christ as the Son of God, confessing their sin, repenting and receiving the grace of God in Christ. Others who have already publicly professed faith in Christ need to be called back, to remember. They need to be reminded of the grace of God given to them in Christ. They need to confess sin, repent and praise God for the grace shown to them.
Still others may need to utilize this time of invitation to respond in praise and adoration to the God Who has shown them such grace. Whether in prayer, reading of Scripture, singing or even in talking about the greatness of God with those around them in the service—people must respond to God. Though we may not call people to the front, it is always communicated that the elders are available if people want to discuss what God is doing in their life or have questions about the Word that has been shared. Just as often, they are encouraged to talk to trusted friends who are followers of Christ—usually the ones who brought them to church in the first place.
Certainly, there is more than one “system” for effectively and consistently calling people to respond to the preached Word. We believe and have seen that placing the invitation and NEED to respond before everyone present that the “end-of-service” moment is consistent with both Scripture as well as with the sanctifying process in the lives of believers. There are more than a few ways to respond to the Gospel, and our approach to the invitation is an opportunity for them to respond accordingly.
Jay Sampson is pastor of Shawnee, Heritage.