Monday, April 11, 2005

Ineffective Invitation

Is it possible that our methodology for invitations/alter calls has become antiquated and quaint at best and irrelevant and ineffective at worst? It seems to me that the way that we do this was formulated for modern thinkers, and even they have become bored and unmoved by it. Now, I don't believe that the idea of giving people a chance to respond to the message is necessarily bad idea. As a matter of fact I think it's quite a good one. I just think that asking them to simply come down front and talk to someone while everyone else sings and looks on seems kind of stupid to everyone now. What if we gave them symbolic things to physically do and participate in instead. Now, we've been doing this in youth ministry for years (or at least I have) with incredible results. Could it work for churches as well. We tried it at Palo Alto this past Sunday. We had a huge wooden cross at the front of the auditorium (sanctuary). Beside it was a small table with hammers and nails on it. They were asked to respond (to the lesson) by writing down things in their lives that needed to die so that they might live on slips of paper that were provided for them. During the singing of several songs, they were asked to come up and physically nail those things to the cross. All I can say is, it works.


CL said...


Yes amen and yes. I think we are starting to see even in our traditional thinkers that experiences like that help them to more fully "rid themselves of the issues" they are dealing with or excercise guilt or whatever the case may be. Stuff like this can only be a blessing to us. I too have struggled with the relevancy of "the invitation" a traditional rite that we didn't even come up with. It has great intentions, but I believe it has lost it's ability to stimulate - great thoughts brother!

The Metzes said...

Interesting post. I have been questioning the effectiveness, and even the biblical basis for the "invitation." I seldom offer an invitation when I preach. If there is a fitting call at the end of what I preach on, then I would, but what ends up happening in most cases is that the preacher has a sermon (the message) and an addendum sermonette (the invitation). They have become rote, ritualized, and pointless. If we choose to offer an invitation, symbolically asking for participation is an wonderful idea. The key, for me, is that we need to seek ways to incorporate individuals into the community of faith. Someone coming forward in front of the crowd and confessing to a bunch of strangers sin or even belief in God, for me, doesn't designate participation in the community. The bigger our churches get, the smaller they must get.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I followed you here from JP's site. I am from Panama City, FL. My dad pastored Callaway Assembly of God for years. I only moved away about three years ago. Let me ask you something: Panama City is such a conservative area (especially in the church) - how do you approach youth ministry in such a conservative setting? Or do you have to keep your mouth shut a lot?

Larry said...

The invitation, with the song of invitation, has become etched in granite in many churches.

I know of One dear lady who wore a trail in the carpet between her pew seat and the front of the building heeding the call to repent. What ever happened to going into your closet and in secret praying to God!

The invitation call is one of those unwritten laws that traditionalists will fight to protect.

Your idea with the cross and nails, while acceptable to me, would cause an unroar where I meet.

biblemike said...

Your use of the cross and the nails reminds me of a similar thing we did at Sylvan Oaks Christian Church in Citrus Heights, CA. We had a large cross mounted on the fron of the platform and everyone was invited to nail the things they had not forgiven to that cross. In doing so they were to extend their forgivenes toward the one they felt had offended them. This was of course after a sermon on the nature of forgiveness and how unforgiveness impedes our relationship with God. It was astoundingly effective in this conservative venue. Nearly all came forward to rid themselves of their own unforgiveness so that they could freely enjoy the beauty of their relationship in Christ.

We also did a lesson on the things we are ashamed to take to God. Those sins we try not to mention, even to God. We just kind of hope they will be lumped in with the ones we mention and all are forgiven together. It may be that is so, but the guilt of not releasing that sin to God will still burden us. We put up a large pond in the auditorium and people took stones and wrote on them the sin they could not confess or words that reflected that sin in their own mind. They then would drop their stone or stones in the pond. The ink would erase in the water and disappear just as our sins disappear when Christ absolves them.

At both of these events tears flowed for a time but were replaced by great rejoicing. No one else saw what anyone had written. Even the cards on the cross were sympolically burned to ashes so that what was written there also disappeared. The key was that there was a purpose in coming forward and something to do when you got there that symbolized what was going on spiritually. It leads to greater understanding of what you are doing and it intensifies the experience in your memory as well.

Public displays of commitment can be a good thing when handled properly and connected to the sermon. When they are done as an afterthought they become a ritual without meaning or purpose.

We don't hold "alter calls" for the unsaved per se. We advise those who do not know Christ as their savior to please go to a certain place in the chruch and talk to the people there or to write their name on a paper form and put it in the collection plate so that someone can contact them later. We also invite them to drop in to the office during the week to speak with someone there. What we don't do is ask them to stand in front of a group of strangers and give acknowledgements they don't truly understand yet. They will make a public profession of faith at their baptism when they full understand what they are commiting to.

Creativity is not lost on a conservative congregation if it has purpose and true spiritual meaning clearly explained.

David U said...

Adam, within the last month I witnessed Chris Altrock do the same thing with the cross, pieces of paper, and nails at the Highland church in Memphis with GREAT results. He encouraged the people to come and do that for the rest of the service, so during the Supper you would hear nails being driven into the cross. It was powerful!

Thanks for thinking outside the box!


mh said...

We did the same thing at our was different and quite moving...there was a tremendous response to it.

Keith Green made this point years ago. He said that Jesus did't give an "altar call"...nor did he run after those who had responded to give them an "extra parable or two, in follow-up"...

Be Blessed,

Anonymous said...

So, we now have a better way to demonstrate we have escaped our sins than by a heart-felt observance of the Lord's Supper!? Amazing how childish and infantile we have become that we think, in our beclouded minds, that we can come up with a better way to get people to recognize their sins are forgiven than the way Jesus said to do it--by a regular and heart-searching time of remembering His death in the only way He said to do it. Dedicated Christians are reminded of their redemption through the blood of Christ every time they properly respond to the Lord's appeal by observing the Lord's Supper. What else could better proclaim we believe He died for us, He lives now, and is coming again? No substitute should ever take the place of the simple fellowshp "meal" we call the Communion, Lord's Supper (and even the "Eucharist" by those who take introductory action of "giving thanks" as a term to describe it)--together in common by drawing near to our Lord. Surely He is with us in spirit as we do what he commanded. He now partakes of it with us "in a new way" in the Kingdom/Church(Matt. 26:29). The difference is that He is not physically present with us as He was then. Why do we even want to try to improve on it? The answer: we have become so dull of heart ourselves that what was once exciting has become commonplace. How sad! Martel Pace

Adam said...

Ummm...hi, nice to meet you too. I'm a little confused. Nowhere did I say anything about communion. Read it again. It's simply not there, so I am unclear on your criticism. What I am critiquing is our practice of offering obligitory "invitations" at the end of our sermons. (which can be found nowhere in the Bible in the form it is commonly practiced). I'm actually a huge proponent of the Biblical practice of the Lord's Supper. It's drenched with meaning and relevance. No offense, but you seem to be arguing against something I didn't say.