I wrote this post in October of 2012, after attending a feats of strength-type evangelism service. I would love to hear your thoughts!
I grew up in a small town Baptist church. I have experienced my fair share of altar calls. In fact, when I was a small child my pastor gave some of the most awe-inspiring altar calls I’ve ever seen. The sincerity, the honest pleas with the lost to repent. His voice still rings clear in my head.
I’ve always been a fan of altar calls. I think that they give real opportunity to some people to make a move toward Christ. But, the older I get, and maybe the more times change, the less effective I think they really are in bringing lost people to Jesus. I know that God uses many means to bring us to Him, and the altar call is one way that many people I know took their first step toward God. But, I have begun to notice a certain irresponsibility in the use of this mode of evangelism.
Tonight I had an interesting experience with an altar call at a revival-type service. Chad stayed home with the baby and I took the kids to a local church for the program. The service was filled with entertaining acts and heartfelt stories of encouragement, ending with a mini-sermon during which the speaker offered several anecdotes which were designed to point to the hope that Jesus Christ offers. Then he asked everyone to bow their heads and close their eyes, and he talked for a while longer before asking anyone who wants the hope of Jesus in their lives to raise their hands. Then he asked everyone in the room to repeat a prayer. He prayed, asking for forgiveness and telling God that he was giving his life over to let God be in charge. I listened as the many children in the room, including my own seven year old daughter, sweetly repeated the prayer, obviously just doing what the nice man told them to do.
When the prayer was over, he congratulated them on having made the biggest decision of their lives. Then he invited everyone who had prayed the prayer to come to the platform and stand there to watch the final act, which was going to be performed “in honor” of the little ones standing on the stage. Music started, and slowly the children made their way to the stage, more and more coming with his encouragement in the microphone. He said that he was willing to bet that no one would want to stay in their seat.
My sweet daughter, having no idea that the man believed he was leading her to say anything other than a regular prayer, looked at me expectantly, and I told her she could go to the stage to watch the final act up close, which she was obviously dying to do. The kids were so thrilled to be close to the stage and you could tell they were super excited to see this final act in living color, only a few feet away from them.
At the end, the pastor of the church took the microphone and asked for a round of applause for the children on the stage. Then he told the kids that they should head to the back of the room to pick up a booklet the church was providing to help them grow in their “new faith.” My daughter didn’t bother to head back there. She came and sat down again, excited to have been allowed to get so close to the stars of the program, and raring to come home and tell Daddy all about it.
Will she be counted as one of the many who accepted Christ tonight? Were any of those children coming forward for any reason other than: 1. They were told to. 2. They really wanted to see the stage without obstruction? Maybe. God can use any means to save us. But, the revival team and the church will never know because they offered no counseling or questioning of any kind. And, tomorrow night when the revival continues, how many will they claim came to know the Lord tonight? To claim even one would probably be dishonest.
And in ten years, when those children are really being dealt with by God, will some well-meaning pastor assure them that because of tonight’s altar call, they must be Christians, and they should stop worrying about it?
I know that many Christians have emotional attachments to altar calls. I am probably one of them. But, what I witnessed tonight makes me more convinced than ever that unless reasonable counseling is available, the altar call should probably be nothing more than an invitation to meet with the pastors after the service to seriously sit and talk about what’s going on in the heart and soul. An altar call should never be flippant or manipulative. While I’m sure their hearts were in the right place, tonight’s team seemed to care little for the genuine conversion of those sweet souls. True evangelism is more than collecting clueless prayer repeaters. I pray these children have someone in their lives who will sincerely counsel them.
My daughter seemed totally unphased by the whole experience. In fact, both kids are begging to go back tomorrow night. I’m willing to bet that if we did go back, words would once again be put in their little mouths all in the name of getting kids to say a prayer and checking them off the list as headed for Heaven. This type of altar call looks nothing like the ones I remember from my childhood. And, I honestly believe that this type of irresponsibility, no matter how well intended, is a bad practice that leads to confusion and empty assurances.
I really like your perspective! I am a Christian and such an altar call sounds nothing like the way Christ taught us to make disciples.
Thank you for the perspective. Although to some it sounds heretical, I agree with you that it is much too important in a person’s life to be “orchestrated” to look successful. Even we as parents of young children can “strongly encourage” our impressionable little ones to “ask Jesus into their hearts” when Christ hasn’t yet done the work in their hearts. Pain and confusion result. Thank you for your writing.
Thanks for your comment, Darla!!
“Empty Assurances” I am stealing that! You nailed it on the head.
I totally agree, Mrs. Edgington! More often than not altar calls just provide individuals with a false assurance of salvation. I really enjoyed your anecdote about your daughter 🙂 Thanks for sharing!
Thank you, Benjamin!
Your conclusion is absolutely correct. What you experienced cannot be supported in the Word, it was pure fleshly manipulation.
Thank you for writing about this.
Thank you, Robert!
So-what does your daughter think 2 years later?
Not only do I agree that it is manipulative, I would go as far as saying it is unbiblical. Not necessarily anti biblical (like against the Bible) but unbiblical, like not in the Bible. The closest thing to any kind of alter call I can see would be in Acts 2:38 but even in that case, it seems very different than what you have describe. It appears to be primarily if not all adults, it doesn’t appear to be Peter’s agenda to get the people to respond, but rather a genuine response, and they all responded in repentance and baptism. He did not ask them to repeat him in prayer.
In any case, what made you motivated to repost?
Hi, Amy! My daughter became a Christian sometime in the next year, but not because of that crusade. 🙂 I am doing “Flashback Fridays” to repost some things I wrote back when only my mom was reading my blog. ha! So, no particular situation prompted the repost, other than my curiosity as to how others feel about these types of altar calls. Thanks so much for your comment!
🙂 Well you’ve got a lot more readers than your mom now!
I have thought these same thoughts many times. It’s like the evangelist is making hash marks on a chalk board. And I have counseled people who questioned their salvation due to circumstances like this when they believed they were saved but years later, started to have doubts. Thank you for bringing the subject up for discussion. It’s one we need to look at in our churches. I really enjoy your blog btw.
Thanks so much, Jeanine! I’m glad you’re here! 🙂
I agree with your perspective. As a child who was raised in a denomination where public confession was a standard of practice, this was common place. There should be appropriate prayer and follow-up counseling. My current worship center does not do public confessions, they invite you to the altar after service for prayer and counseling – the confession is personal just as your relationship with Christ should be. Public confessions are only done after you have granted permission. In this way everyone is comfortable.
Thanks for your comment and for sharing some of your experience!
Parley with Kori
I it excites me and moves my spirit to read of your passion about this matter. Very en lightening and honest. I have talks with my 7 yr old often about Christ, and while ugh of the time she’s a little unpaved also, I also can tell when she’s had a true encounter. Loved this post.
I completely agree with your perspective and appreciate this post very much. I too, was raised Baptist and have a heartfelt love for alter calls, but as I have grown in my walk with Jesus, I have come to the same perspective. Thank you for sharing. 🙂 I have chatted with you a little bit before, but I’ve changed the name and address of my blog from the Fitness Crazed Home School Paparazzi Mom to Nurturing the Heart. Please feel free to pop in for a visit sometime. I think we have a lot in common. You can find me at: http://www.nurturingtheheart.wordpress.com/ I would love to hear from you! 🙂 Blessings to you and thanks so much for sharing your heart on this subject. 🙂
OH YES, I BELIEVE in true altar calls! Humans can make false gods, fake religions and, yes, imitation altar calls, thus reporting fake totals of those who were saved. There needs to be a sincerety in the one inviting the people to come to the altar; this is not a game, and in order to be saved, there has to be Holy Ghost conviction on the person who comes to the altar, causing them to feel godly sorrow, then repenting of their sins. We’re told in –II Corinthians 7:10, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation…” There is to be a feeling in the person who comes, not just responding to the person up front, then repeating some words that they don’t even mean. That doesn’t save a person. –Acts 3:19 “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;” –Acts 2:38-42 “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” God can save anywhere he chooses but it looks like these were given the opportunity and they were saved in a public place, and then they continued in what they had accepted.