Monday, August 4, 2014

No invitation? No problem.

The church I have been attending lately does not give a traditional invitation. More accurately, they do not issue any altar call for congregants to come forward at the close of the service to acknowledge or indicate a desire to make some spiritual decision.'s that working for the church?

Evidently, it's working well. The church is baptizing folks often and is a leader in the association in such things. To be clear about this, the church has a method by which individuals can indicate a decision. Each Sunday the pastor directs people to a card in the bulletin that is used for this purpose. Nothing new about that. We might oxymoronically label it a "new tradition."

My Traditionalist friends tout the altar call as Biblical and traditional in SBC churches. I will not argue but would caution them not to declaim that a church cannot be Biblical yet never use one in a service.

About one quarter of SBC churches baptized no one in the last reported year. That would be about 12,000 congregations. Let's assume that they all met every single Sunday of the year, had a single service each week, and always issued an altar call. That means that for 624,000 services no one responded for baptism (there are other assumptions here, I realize).

On the one hand no one is harmed by so many responseless worship services but on the other hand it is discouraging and depressing to a pastor to rely on the same routine with predictable non-results.

Here's my hacker and plodder question: If one preaches to pretty much the same crowd week after week, and that's describes most SBC congregations, how much sense does it make to issue an altar call for salvation each and every service? I suppose it makes plenty of sense if that is all the congregation has ever experienced and they would be critical if a new pastor proposed dropping it in favor of other methods of response.

BU, if we are attempting to reach a crowd that is not familiar with this routine (and it is a routine, sometimes a mindless routine) must we convey to them the expectation that if they wish to join us then they are to first learn our routines and traditions?

Sounds like an unnecessary step to me.

I've heard some pastors be quite insistent about how every service...every preaching service, every cantata, every cute kid service, every Uncle Sam-centered patriotic service, every syrupy-sentimental Mother's Day service...must end with an invitation to be saved. It's unbecoming to criticize such. After all, who wants to be seen as not wanting people to be saved? Not me, brethren.

But it looks to me like a methodology that is flawed in many cases. Is it proper to append a salvation invitation to a service that has nothing to do with the Gospel? Do we presume the understanding of the Gospel and go forward from there? Do we acknowledge the lack of explanation of the Gospel and modify our altar call accordingly?

Of course, we've long since made adjustments to the reality that in a given worship service there will be no salvation decisions. We just add a panoply of other options to be sure someone feels like they can come forward for some vague reason...and we all feel better about the service. Some pastors and especially evangelists are experts at this.


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