“The invitation time at my new church is just bad.” This is how my younger brother, began his conversation when he called to discuss his transition to a new church. My brother and I are preacher’s kids and our father is a very gifted communicator. He is particularly effective during the closing portion of the service, which we commonly referred to as the “altar call.” As my grandmother would say, “Your dad really knows how to draw the net!” We had altars or prayer benches at the front of the sanctuary when we were kids, and I can recall them being filled at the end of nearly every service. Dad would always say, “You don’t have to join the church to come down here. This is just a place to get on your knees before God and talk to Him, and let Him talk to you.”
Over the years, we watched with our young eyes as people surrendered to the love of Christ. We saw the Holy Spirit break them, melt them, mold them, and transform them. My brothers and I saw marriages healed, abuses ended, guilt released, friendships restored, commitments made, and lives completely surrendered to God. It was rare to leave a worship service and not be changed.
Over the past 15 years as I’ve served as an interim worship leader at more and more churches, I’ve become all too familiar with ineffective invitation times. Sadly, at many of the churches where I’ve visited, the end of the service is often treated as a perfunctory moment. People are invited to come to the front and talk to a pastor if they want to join the church by transfer of letter, or get baptized. Typically one verse and one chorus of a song will be sung, and then if no one comes, the service is closed. There seems to be no expectation that people will respond. We seem too eager to rush this critical moment, and thereby risk devaluing the essential burden of conviction and necessary work of the Holy Spirit. This is a transformational moment, and not one to be taken lightly.
What about your church? Do you create an environment where there is an expectation of response? Here are some suggestions that might help us refocus on this critical moment.
- Build extra time into the end of the service for response. Even if it means cutting a song.
- Get comfortable with quiet. It gives people the time they need to respond to the Holy Spirit’s leading.
- Don’t always make it about joining the church or baptism. Of course, it is wonderful if folks want to come forward for that reason, but it shouldn’t be the only prerequisite.
- Remember that it may take weeks or months before your congregation gets used to this change. However long it takes, demonstrate to your people that the response time is just as significant as any other moment in the worship service.
I remember watching the Billy Graham crusades on T.V. as a child and hearing “Just As I Am” sung over and over and over again as waves of people responded. Let’s not forget that lesson. Let’s not lose that passion. Let’s take the time. Let’s make the time.
Brian Brown is LifeWay Worship’s Manager of Sales, Marketing, Events & Business Development. With LifeWay for more than 21 years, Brian has a passion for worship, numbers and history. He’s well-read. He’s quick-witted. He’s worth following on Twitter @TheBrianHBrown.