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Altar calls, when properly handled, are certainly effective. First of all, they remind the listeners that the gospel demands a response.

As Billy Graham has said, "You cannot give God a definite maybe. It has to be a definite yes or a definite no." When the altar call is properly handled, lost people are asked to trust Christ as the only way to heaven. The issue is responding to Christ, not to you. The person, therefore, knows that to trust Him is to receive His free offer of eternal life, and to reject Christ is to reject that free offer.

In addition, when a person responds to an altar call, he or she is right there in front of you. Of all the invitation methods, this is the easiest way to get with the person one-on-one. You have not asked them to meet you in another room after the service, which they may not find, nor have you asked them to meet you at another time, allowing them to forget when. Instead, you have said, "Come see me, and come see me now." With them right before you, you can speak to them one-on-one, either immediately or after they are escorted to a side room.

A third advantage is what an altar call says to other listeners. As a lost person sees another walk forward indicating a need of Christ, he/she is tempted to think, "If that person is unashamed to admit his need, what's wrong with me?" The one responding encourages others to respond.

That said, there are situations and reasons where giving an altar call is not only wrong, it is dishonoring to God:

When it is made a condition of salvation

This first reason is the absolute worst. A television evangelist once proclaimed, "There are two conditions for salvation—one is to come to Christ, the other is to come forward." He continued to make it clear that, in his opinion, if one does not come forward, he/she cannot come to Christ.

May God have mercy on such a person—he has changed the terms of the gospel. Jesus so simply said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life." (John 6:47) Not one word was said about walking forward through an altar call. Furthermore, if an altar call were essential to salvation, we would be confronted with two huge problems: For one, it means the thief on the cross, contrary to Christ's declaration, went to hell. The man did not and could not "go forward"; there on the cross, though, he acknowledged Christ to be the One He said He was. Jesus so lovingly assured him, "Today you will be with Me in paradise." (Luke 23:43)

A second problem comes up in John 12:42, where we are told, "Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue." "Believed in Him" is the Johannine phrase for "salvation" used throughout the Gospel of John. It's the same phrase used in John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." Other verses where this same phrase is used include John 3:18, 3:36, 5:24, 6:35, 6:40, and 6:47. Here were Jewish leaders who had sincerely trusted Christ, but they were afraid to confess Him lest they should be excommunicated from the synagogue. Such a verse makes it clear that trusting Christ, "believing in Him," is a separate issue from confessing Him publicly.

One might ask, "But what about Romans 10:9-10?" There we read, "…that if you confess with your month the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." Space will not permit me to develop Paul's argument throughout Romans, but the context clarifies the issue. The "saved" Paul speaks of here is not salvation from damnation, but salvation from the damages of sin in present-day living. How does one escape these damaging consequences? Paul's answer is, "For with the heart one believes unto righteousness." The words "believes unto righteousness" are a translation of the Greek word for "justified" – the same word used in Romans 5:1. There we read, "Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God." Paul continues in Romans 9:10, "And with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."

The point is powerful. One becomes a Christian by simply trusting Christ, but to experience victory over sin, one must be willing to confess Him publicly. Confession is important not for justification, but instead for living a victorious Christian life. Need help making such a confession? Paul exhorts them to "Call upon the name of the Lord" (Romans 10:13), a phrase that has the idea of worshipping God and invoking His assistance (cf. Acts 9:13-14, 1 Timothy 2:22).

It is therefore not surprising that Paul continues in Romans 10:14-15 by saying, "How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!'" Note the clear distinction made between a public profession of Christ and believing in His name.

In Scripture, a public confession of Christ is never made a requirement of salvation. It is indeed a requirement for victorious Christian living, as made clear in Romans 10:9-10.

When it becomes a basis for dishonesty and manipulation

For example, a preacher exhorts his audience by stating, "We will sing two more verses of ‘Just as I Am' (or another invitational hymn)." In reality, though, five more stanzas are sung. Or a preacher says, "If today, you want to trust Christ, just raise your hand. That's all I am going to ask you to do." Then those who raise their hands are exhorted, "Now I am going to ask you to step out into the aisle and come forward. I'll be waiting here for you." Wait a minute, didn't the preacher say a raised hand was all he was going to ask for? The altar call given in the above ways becomes an occasion for dishonesty and manipulation.

James 5:12 exhorts us, "But let your ‘yes' be ‘yes,' and your ‘no,' ‘no,' lest you fall into judgment." That is, say what you mean, and mean what you say. Don't let something as potentially effective as an altar call become a place where the truth is not spoken. If you've stated, "We'll sing one more stanza," only sing one. If you are going to ask one thing of the people, don't ask two.

When it is presented as the only way

The altar call is one way of finding out who is interested in trusting Christ; it is by no means the only way, however. A church that does not use variety in the way it invites people to express their desire for Christ is a church too deeply steeped in tradition.

As an evangelist, I've spoken in more than 1,000 outreach events over the last 36 years. I've used altar calls, but I've also used a host of other methods. A communication card with a check in the right-hand corner if a person has trusted Christ has been a highly effective method. I've also asked interested people to meet me and other leaders in an adjoining room as soon as the service is dismissed. I've invited people to trust Christ in their seats, and then come forward after the service for information on how to grow. What encourages a variety of methods? The fact that the altar call is not a biblical issue. Whether or not people trust Christ alone for salvation is the issue, but how we determine who those people are is not.

The altar call does not have its roots in Scripture but instead in church practice. Prior to the nineteenth century, it was never heard of. The altar call was started by Charles Finney and popularized under D.L. Moody. In fact, when it was first used, it was highly criticized. It was viewed as man-made and manipulative. Since then, though, it has become most common and widely used, largely due to the well-known and respected Billy Graham crusades. But since it's not a biblical issue, we are free to use whatever methods we deem ethical and effective in encouraging the lost to respond to the gospel.

When it is used for self-promotion

All preachers like to see results from their preaching, but our calling is to be faithful (1 Corinthians 4:2). Only God can make us fruitful. That's why, as we preach an evangelistic message, we want every lost person to come to Christ. Who does and who does not is in God's hands. Our job is to bring Christ to the lost—only God can bring the lost to Christ.

I've often said, "The acid test of an evangelistic speaker is not what happens when a multitude responds; it is what happens when nobody responds."

If one gives an altar call, it dare not be done to flaunt the effectiveness of our own preaching and impress people or other preachers. If self-esteem and self-glory enter the picture, God has been dishonored. Methods used properly are used with right motives.

There is a place for a properly given altar call, but we must maintain a correct understanding of how, when, and where to use one. Altar calls properly handled don't confuse the gospel, are not the basis for dishonesty and manipulation, are not viewed as the "only way," and are not used for self-promotion. Instead, altar calls properly done say in a warm and caring way to non-Christians, "If you'd like to come to Christ, we'd love the opportunity to talk to you about that right now." Let's honor God by presenting the gospel clearly. Let's also honor Him in the way we give an altar call. 



Dr. R. Larry Moyer is a veteran evangelist and a frequent speaker in evangelistic outreaches, training seminars, churches and universities around the world. Born with an inherited speech defect, Larry vowed to God as a teenager that if He would allow him to gain control of his speech he would always use his voice to declare the gospel. In 1973, Larry founded EvanTell, where he now serves as President and CEO. He has written several books on evangelism and frequently contributes articles to ministry publications.

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Jim Needham

commented on Nov 9, 2011

Hummm... While would agree that faith is the only condition of salvation, And certainly responding to an alter call is not necessary, you may be splitting hairs where scripture does not split them. The question really is "can one have faith and not confess it?". That is, is faith by definition, something that must be expressed? It seems to me that although there may be many ways to express faith, the answer is that faith is, by definition, something expressed, not just a rational process. The normative way this was done in the early church was baptism WITH the confession "Jesus is Lord". They certainly thought this important enough that, at times, it meant breaking the law... Even with capital consequences. Yes, there is a danger of turning the alter call into some type of magic. But there is an equal danger... Of further moving towards an easy belivism that produces a sense of safety that Jesus, the apostles and faithful Christians throughout the world would not even recognize as containing faith. Like marriage, people do not need an aisle to say that they belong to one another BUT they DO need a public commitment ... The style and degree may differ but not saying "I Do " in some way means only that they haven't and are only fooling themselves.

Chaplain Shawn Kennedy

commented on Nov 9, 2011

Brilliantly written Larry. I've long felt the modern altar call as manipulative. However, I have attended services where the minister has responded to the spirit and issued a call which was a definite audible from the planned service. I think we've done the same thing with baptism. In scripture, people got saved and baptised then and there. Now, in may churches people get saved, (many times as children) and don't get baptised until finishing calsses and they're older. Kinda makes baptism more important than salvation.

Jeff Strite

commented on Nov 9, 2011

I like Mr. Moyer's thoughts as well... but there is one significant issue I have with his reasoning... he fails to understand that the salvation Christ offered came AFTER the cross, not before it. My salvation comes by the death, burial and resurrection of Christ - and that was something neither the thief on the cross, nor the people in John 12:42 had access to. Since Jesus hadn't died for their sins yet, they couldn't have the salvation a Christian would enjoy.

Jeff Strite

commented on Nov 9, 2011

If one does not have the Spirit of God they cannot be saved (Romans 8:9), but before Christ died: John 7:39 "By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified." Also, this defies the importance of Pentecost which was the "feast of the first fruits". If people had been "saved" by Jesus before the resurrection then Pentecost wouldn't have the "first fruits" of Christ's sacrifice. Third, Hebrews 9:17 teaches "a will is in force only when somebody has died; it NEVER takes effect while the one who made it is living."

Dr. Luke Kauffman

commented on Nov 9, 2011

Good prohibitions! What I would like to see discussed is "Why has the alter call in many to most evangelical churches been entirely teminated?"

Andrew Shields

commented on Nov 9, 2011

Thank you Jim Needham for you comment. Baptism his important to this discussuion. A bad altar call is bad, but not preaching salvation with confession is slowing down a discipleship process that should eventually lead to a public declaration that you are a christiian. What percentage of christians have never publically stood up and said I was a sinner and I was saved by God's Grace.

Donald Rapp

commented on Nov 9, 2011

Dr. Luke, The reason why the "alter call" has fallen to disuse in many churches is because it really doesn't find its roots in the Bible. It was created in the 19th century by the likes of Charles Phinney and other evangelists of that day who actually did use it as a means of manipulation to get more "converts". There is nothing wrong with having an alter call or an invitation but it isn't a biblical mandate. At our church when we give an invitation which doesn't necessarily occur each week we ask people to come see me or go to a room we have designated for the purpose of praying and counseling.

Rod Moerer

commented on Nov 9, 2011

Hey guys here is a question. How does Matthew 10: fit into all of this. I kept waiting for Larry to bring up these verses and address it and he didn't. Matt 10:32-33 32 "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. 33 "But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. NASU

John Rajendra

commented on Nov 9, 2011

I think Larry has written an excellent article. It underlies the importance of Spirit-led, Bible based responses. The only thing I would question is: 'Or a preacher says, "If today, you want to trust Christ, just raise your hand. ' - There's nothing wrong with following up with a open invitation for those who raised their hand to come up. However, if the speaker says, "I'm not going to ask you to do anything else, just raise your hand." - Then any request to come to the front following that seems to be problematic.

Derrick Tuper

commented on Nov 9, 2011

We have James' words in 2:17-19. If one has genuine, saving faith it will be evident by what they do. It will manifest itself by good works. Simple belief ie: easy believism" is not enough. And what about Jesus' words in Mark 16:16 where he says that those who believe and are baptized will be saved? Read Acts 2:38, 22:16, Romans 6:3-7, 1st Peter 3:21, to name a few, to understand the importance of baptism in the role of salvation. Faith, repentance, baptism, confession.

Dav Ross

commented on Nov 9, 2011

Great insights, thanks very much Larry.

Danny Loesch

commented on Nov 9, 2011

There is no alter in the N T church to come to. We are called to come to Jesus on His terms. We must stop seperating things God has joined together. When an action "work of faith" is linked by the Spirit with faith, the action is many times said to be the means of God's saving grace. This is consistent throughout the Bible.

Joshua Akins

commented on Nov 10, 2011

What a great article. I am a student Pastor and have seen way to many bad alter calls at youth camps and events. I total agree that there is a place of an alter call. My question is in Acts when it says 3000 was added to the church and in other places it gives #s. How did they count or how did Peter and the other disciples ask for a response?

Joshua Akins

commented on Nov 10, 2011

What a great article. I am a student Pastor and have seen way to many bad alter calls at youth camps and events. I total agree that there is a place of an alter call. My question is in Acts when it says 3000 was added to the church and in other places it gives #s. How did they count or how did Peter and the other disciples ask for a response?

Dr. Luke Kauffman

commented on Nov 10, 2011

Yes, Finney is given credit for the "Alter Call," only because he was originally an attorney who was trained to call the jury to give a verdict (In his many biographys.) As a result, all evangelists, many by name, including Billy and Franklin Graham have followed Finney's format in calling for a verdict from the audience which is the jury. Crusades at home and abroad would be difficult to conduct without a mass way of singling out the seekers from the others, saved or lost. This past Sunday, while visiting a great church, the Pastor gave no closure to his text by not calling for changed lives. Calling for changed lives is more important than the style we use to give the call.

Carl Kadolph

commented on Nov 10, 2011

Great article Larry and all I can say is wow!!! As I read the comments above and have to assume that many of those who commented are Pastors I am amazed. How quickly we forget that salvation doesn't come from walking forward during a moving altar call, raising our hand, Baptism, or even if you "say this prayer after me" but is a totally free gift that has been paid for in full. In order to receive a gift that was prepaid all we have to do is accept delivery and it is ours. We Pastors need to quit adding requirements for salvation and allow people to accept their free gift in any way God decides to deliver it. We should be equipping the delivery people in our church so when God says Go they are ready instead of putting non biblical requirements on people to receive.

Carl Kadolph

commented on Nov 10, 2011

Great article Larry and all I can say is wow!!! As I read the comments above and have to assume that many of those who commented are Pastors I am amazed. How quickly we forget that salvation doesn't come from walking forward during a moving altar call, raising our hand, Baptism, or even if you "say this prayer after me" but is a totally free gift that has been paid for in full. In order to receive a gift that was prepaid all we have to do is accept delivery and it is ours. We Pastors need to quit adding requirements for salvation and allow people to accept their free gift in any way God decides to deliver it. We should be equipping the delivery people in our church so when God says Go they are ready instead of putting non biblical requirements on people to receive.

R.l. Wilson

commented on Nov 10, 2011

Larry, very well written and insightful article. You're absolutely right when you said as preachers we shouldn't do altar calls out of tradition and then feel we failed as a preacher when no one comes forward. Our job is to deliver what God intended for His people to have that day. I've seen good and bad altar calls ranging from come and talk after the service to holding the congregation hostage until someone comes forward. Thank you for this and may our God richly bless you!

Carl Kadolph

commented on Nov 10, 2011

Great article Larry and all I can say is wow!!! As I read the comments above and have to assume that many of those who commented are Pastors I am amazed. How quickly we forget that salvation doesn't come from walking forward during a moving altar call, raising our hand, Baptism, or even if you "say this prayer after me" but is a totally free gift that has been paid for in full. In order to receive a gift that was prepaid all we have to do is accept delivery and it is ours. We Pastors need to quit adding requirements for salvation and allow people to accept their free gift in any way God decides to deliver it. We should be equipping the delivery people in our church so when God says Go they are ready instead of putting non biblical requirements on people to receive.

Jeff Strite

commented on Nov 10, 2011

There are 4 conceivable answers to your question Joshua. 1. They had turnstiles down by the water. When a person went down to the pool, they went through them like you would at an amusement park. (No, I'm not serious). 2. They had an official "bean counter' like we do at church to count the heads of the people they baptized. (Only half serious on this one) 3. Each of the disciples counted the ones they personally baptized and they added them up afterwards (a possibility) 4. The BEST answer is - God did the counting. And there is a really cool reason why God would have done so: this was Pentecost - the last one recorded in Scripture. Pentecost was so-named because it took place 50 days (the "Pente" in Pentecost) after the Passover. So the first Pentecost would have taken place after the first Passover in Egypt. Where were the Israelites 50 days after that first Passover? They were at the Mountain of God receiving the 10 Commandments. When Moses came down from the Mountain the people were sinning against God - which caused both Moses and God to become angry. Moses broke the tablets of stone, ground up their golden idol to dust and poured in the water supply and commanded the people to drink. Apparently some refused to repent, so Moses gathered men with swords and went through the camp killing everyone who refused. Guess how many people died after the first Pentecost? 3000. Three thousand were killed after the first Pentecost, 3000 were saved at the last one. Or, as 2 Corinthians 3:6 says it: "He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant- not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."

Dwight Hunt

commented on Nov 14, 2011

Great insights Larry! I am reminded that passages like Matthew 10:32-33 were used as a proof-text by preachers in the churches that I attended as a child and teenager. The statement was always made in different ways that the unbeliever must both believe and confess Jesus before he or she could be saved. Of course if these statements in 10:32-33 are taken in their context, Jesus is not talking to unbelievers; instead, He is speaking to believers who don't confess Him before others that He Himself will deny them of their reward before God the Father (cf. Matthew 10:34-42, esp. 41-42).

Dr. Luke Kauffman

commented on Nov 15, 2011

# 21 - - Have you overlooked the Apostle Paul's words to the church in Rome, "That if you shall confess with your mouth, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."?

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