Sometimes the words “altar call” trigger images of sawdust trails and endless verses of “Just as I am” with preachers prodding, pushing and persuading sinners to come forward down the aisle in front of God and everyone.
I was reached by a church that did an altar call every Sunday morning. I’ll never forget that day on June 23rd, 1974, where I walked forward and put my faith in Jesus to save me from my sins. So, be assured, that this article’s intent is not criticize or marginalize the value of a response time at the end of your church services that gives people an opportunity to put their faith in Jesus.
Rather, I want to challenge you to consider creating a new kind of response time that leads to more solidified decisions, deeper discipleship and the acceleration of your entire congregation’s involvement with evangelism. I call it the “Reverse Altar Call.”
As a current traveling evangelist and former preaching pastor of a church packed-full of new believers, I’ve seen this work again and again in a variety of different ways. It puts the responsibility for discipleship on the person who invited their friend to attend the church service. It leverages the relationship of the believing “invite-or” with the unbelieving or newly-believing “invitee.”
Here’s how it works:
1. Commit to giving a clear and compelling gospel presentation at every single one of your church services.
On March 12, 1989, as a 23-year-old church planter in the Denver area, I made a commitment to the 23 people attending that I (or whoever was preaching) would always give a clear and compelling gospel presentation. Although the majority of the service was focused on inspiring, teaching and equipping the believers, there would always be a five minute slice of the sermon designed for those in attendance who had yet to put their faith in Jesus.
During this time, the believers were trained, not to put their stuff away and get ready to exit, but to pray with their eyes open for those in the service who had not yet put their faith in Jesus. The result? Within ten years, we were over a thousand in attendance and, more importantly, over 60% of our congregation had come to Christ through our church’s efforts.
How do you do this week in and week out? Just like you find an opening and closing illustration for your sermon, identify a “salvation segue” that can turn your sermon toward the cross and the empty tomb. Then give a clear presentation of the greatest story ever told. When Spurgeon was asked about his preaching style he said, “I take my text and make a beeline for the cross.”
2. Challenge your people to invite their friends, co-workers, neighbors and family members every week.
The same day I made the commitment to give the gospel every Sunday, I challenged our couple dozen attendees to make a commitment as well. My challenge to them was to start inviting other people out to church. If they wanted someone to come to Jesus, it could start with them coming to church…where they were guaranteed to hear the gospel!
And people responded! In my ten years there, I only remember two Sundays where nobody indicated faith and trust in Jesus as their Savior during the church services. Although I am no longer the preaching pastor at this growing, thriving church (I’m a traveling evangelist with Dare 2 Share now), in just the last two weekends over 60 people put their faith in Jesus during the church services!
3. Create opportunities for unbelievers to respond to Christ during the actual church service.
“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation,” Paul said in 2 Corinthians 6:2. When is the best time to give someone a chance to respond to Jesus? NOW is always the best time! We should never coerce or shame someone into responding, but we should always give them a chance to put their faith in Jesus on the spot.
There are several ways you can do this. You can have them fill out a response card, walk forward during the final song or bow their heads, close their eyes and raise their hands if they are putting their faith in Jesus. I’ve seen effective response times even done with technology or texting.
However you choose to give people an opportunity to respond to Christ, just make sure that you are not eclipsing the need for them to put their faith in Jesus by making walking, bowing, texting or whatever the emphasis. Faith in Jesus must be the emphasis. The physical action you invite them to engage in is simply the outward response to their inward decision.
4. Call your people to take the people they invited out to lunch after the service and begin the follow-up process.
This is where the reverse altar call kicks in. This is where your people take the people they invited out to lunch and ask something like, “What did you think of what our pastor said about Jesus and His offer of eternal hope?”
This conversation gives your people a chance to follow up to make sure where their own friends are at with Jesus. Maybe they heard the words of the gospel, but didn’t understand it. If so, your people can go over the gospel with them again and make sure their friends have a firm grasp of the good news of Jesus. To do this, it is crucial that your believers know how to share the gospel in a clear and compelling way. You can use this video to train your people to share the message.
[Insert “A 4 Minute Crash Course in Sharing Your Faith” video right here. The video can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HK9lsiEcW7k]
If the people they invited to church put their faith in Jesus during the church service, then this the believer’s opening to initiate the discipleship process. They can invite them to join their own small group, a Sunday school class or a new believer course.
From my experience, the result is that the church members who do the reverse altar call grow exponentially in their faith, because they are actually doing the work of making disciples! Plus, follow up is much more effective because it is being initiated by their personal friends who are leveraging their relationship to make sure the new believer is growing strong in their newfound faith.
I challenge you to use the Reverse Altar Call strategy to accelerate your church’s outreach and discipleship effectiveness. It may take awhile to “kick in” with your people, but once it does unstoppable gospel momentum will take over and your church will never be the same!