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Why I Prefer an Invitation (Altar Call) to Close a Worship Service

by Bob Russell

(Reprint from www.bobrussell.org)


     Over the Thanksgiving holidays, I watched Ken Burns’ excellent documentary on the history of Country Music. I was captivated by the American filmmaker’s accounts of numerous celebrities who rose to fame in the music industry. I was particularly interested in the spiritual conversion of Kris Kristofferson, a well-known songwriter, and singer. 

      Kristofferson confessed he hadn’t been inside a church for over two decades. But country singer Connie Smith and some other Nashville friends kept inviting him to attend church with them. Finally, Kristofferson relented and went. He sat in the back of the sanctuary, feeling very much out of place. After sharing the gospel, Jimmy Snow, the local preacher, closed his message by offering an invitation. “If you want to give your life to Christ, just walk forward and join me down here in front as we sing this closing song.”

     Kris Kristofferson said he mumbled to himself, “Fat chance of that happening!” Then he related that something strange came over him, and he found himself weeping over his sins and walking forward to give his life to Christ. He confessed he’d never experienced anything like that before, but that day dramatically changed his life. He said, “I felt such release; I found myself weeping in public. I felt a forgiveness I didn’t even know I needed until then.”

      Later that Sunday night, Kris Kristofferson wrote the words to the song, “Why Me, Lord?” a song that has been used by God to soften many hearts. 

   Why me, Lord? What have I ever done to deserve even one of the pleasures I’ve known?

 Tell me, Lord, what did I ever do that was worth loving you or the kindness you’ve shown?

 Lord, help me. Jesus, I’ve wasted it so.
Help me, Jesus. I know what I am.
Now that I know that I’ve needed you so,
help me, Jesus. My soul’s in your hand.

Tell me, Lord, if you think there’s a way. I can try to repay all I’ve taken from you.
Maybe, Lord, I can show someone else what I’ve been through myself on my way back to you.”

     I don’t know how Kris Kristofferson has done with his walk with the Lord since that day. I pray he’s growing in his faith and being steadfast. I’m confident he would admit he had a long way to grow, and he’s imperfect, like the rest of us. But I praise God for his conversion experience.  

     After hearing that testimony, I was convicted again about the wisdom of having an invitation or “altar call” at the conclusion of most worship services. As I travel around the country preaching for a variety of churches, I’ve noticed that it’s becoming increasingly common to eliminate the traditional altar call at the end. Services conclude abruptly with a prayer or “Have a good day,” and often there is no invitation to respond by accepting Christ as Savior.

     I can understand why. There’s nothing in the Bible commanding us to close every sermon with an invitation. In many smaller churches, the “Billy Graham Crusade style invitation” is just a formality because everyone in attendance is already a believer. And it can be a “downer” to close week after week with no one responding to an invitation. 

     Many churches now wisely open other, less intimidating doors for people to accept Christ. “If you’re interested in membership, we’ve got a class we’d like for you to attend.” Or, “Indicate on the visitor card if you’d like to talk about your relationship to Christ, and we’ll set up a time to discuss it with you.”

     While it’s good to provide as many opportunities for people to follow Christ as possible, it still seems prudent to me to offer an invitation right after the gospel is preached. Maybe the Holy Spirit is stirring in someone’s heart at that very moment, and that experience will not be repeated. The Bible says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you. I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

     While I’m in favor of churches offering a variety of opportunities to accept Jesus, I fear the elimination of a regular invitation may signal a de-emphasis on evangelism, and that’s very concerning. John Stott wrote that evangelism is “prickly” at times because it calls people to repentance. Admitting we are sinners in need of repentance is not a popular theme in this era of building up self-esteem and abandoning absolute truths. In fact, it may offend some. Social justice is en vogue. Evangelism…not so much. But God requires all men everywhere to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. (See Acts 2:38)

     By not offering an invitation, we may miss those who, like Kris Kristofferson, experience a special tug from the Holy Spirit at that very moment. Why not continue to keep that open that door also? If just one person a year responds, it’s worth it.

“Much of the social history of the Western world over the past three decades has been a history of replacing what worked with what sounded good.” – Thomas Sowell 


         Bob Russell is retired Senior Minister of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.


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Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

2 corinthians 1:3-4