You Asked: Should Churches Perform Altar Calls?

Editors’ Note: Send your theological, biblical, and practical ministry questions to along with your full name, city, and state. We’ll pass them along to The Gospel Coalition’s Council members and other friends for an answer we can share.

Dustin B. from Fort Worth, Texas, asks:

Coming from a tradition revivalistic background, I am often weary of the extended altar calls and manipulating invitations I have so often witnessed. However, my desire is not to leave the churches steeped in this tradition but rather to continue to minister with a stronger theology of conversion.

As a seminary student, I have opportunities to preach in churches where it is customary to give an invitation at the conclusion of the message. I am often unsure and uneasy about how to conclude a message, not wanting to commit the errors common to revivalism and without giving unnecessary offense at the same time.

Could TGC offer any principles for retaining a strong theology of conversion when concluding services in churches accustomed to public invitations?

We asked for a response from Jonathan Leeman, editorial director at 9Marks and a PhD candidate researching ecclesiology.


Before I had arrived, the previous pastors had always given altar calls. I was now one month into an interim pastorate, and people were beginning to ask whether I would ever give them. I remember a long, meandering car ride with one sweet brother—a good friend to this day—devoted to the question.

I told this brother and the rest of the elders that I wouldn’t do an altar call. Why not?

Because I think altar calls are wrong? No, I think a pastor is free to give one. It’s not a sin.

Because I don’t believe that people must make a decision for Christ? No, I think people must decide to repent and believe in order to be saved.

Because I don’t think Jesus calls us to make a public profession? No, people must publicly profess their faith, which is why Jesus instituted baptism.

Because I think inviting sinners to repent is inherently manipulative? No, I believe preachers should invite non-Christians to repent and believe throughout their sermons. I did this during the interim pastorate, and I did it just last Sunday when guest preaching at another church. I very clearly invited non-Christians to repent and believe in the middle of my sermon, and then told them to speak with me afterwards, or the pastor, or the Christian friend who brought them.

So why wouldn’t I give an altar call? In short, I believe that this particular man-made practice, this 19th-century innovation, has produced more bad than good for Christian churches in the West. The altar call relies on the powers of emotion, rhetorical persuasion, and social pressure to induce people to make a hasty and premature decision. And producing professions is not the same thing as making disciples. Surely a number of factors are responsible for the many nominal Christians that typify Christianity in the West, but I believe that the altar call is one of them.

How many people in the last century walked an aisle, and spent the rest of their days convinced that they were a Christian, never considering how they lived!

The alternative to giving altar calls is sticking with the practices we see modeled in Scripture:

  • Invite people throughout your sermon to “repent and be baptized” like Peter did in Jerusalem (Acts 2:38). But when you do, don’t just stand there waiting with emotionally charged music playing, staring them down until they relent. Rather, make several suggestions about how and where to discuss the matter further.
  • Ask people what they believe when they present themselves for baptism, just like Jesus made sure the disciples knew who he was (Matt. 16:13-17; also, 1 John 4:1-3).
  • Make sure they understand what following Jesus entails (Matt. 16:24f; John 6:53-60).
  • Explain that the fruit of their lives and persevering to the end will indicate whether or not they really believe (Matt. 7:24f; 10:22).
  • You might even explain that Jesus has commanded your church to remove them from its fellowship if their life moving forward does not match their profession (Matt. 18:15-17).

Yes, let’s pray hard for conversions. But then let’s do everything that Scripture requires of us in the long work of making disciples—a work that generally requires lots of teaching, lots of time, lots of invitations, lots of meals together, and finally the commitment of an entire church body.

  • jeremiah

    Just make sure that you are consistent and abandon any other man-made spiritual practice/tradition that is not explicitly taught in scripture but could be supported from some verses. The fencing in of the Lord’s table, only ‘ministers’ giving the sacraments, church membership, ect. ect. ect.

    • Steve Doyle

      I would argue that church membership does not fit into that category.

      • Matt Svoboda

        Church Membership definitely does not fit into that category.

    • Chris

      Because one says that they find one man-made spiritual practice/tradition unhelpful, it does not mean they are inconsistent if they do not abandon every other man-made spiritual practice/tradition. They would be inconsistent if they did not abandon other such practices/traditions that they also labeled as unhelpful.

      • Steve Doyle

        Well said!

      • Laura

        Ding ding ding!

        • 365 Acts of Love

          Good call!

      • jeremiah

        I agree Chris, there are various degrees or levels of healthy/unhealthy things that happen in church that are extra-biblical.

    • Tony P.

      I think it would be helpful if “man-made” were defined. Some things that are classified as “man-made” are driven by Biblical principles. It may be a practice that Scripture does not prescribe explicitly but very strongly implies. You will not see the label “church membership” in the Bible. But, you will see a strong case for mutual accountability among a local, regularly gathering assemply of believers. Fencing the table may not be “explicit.” But, I think there is ample evidence from the OT Passover (i.e. being circumcised) that strongly indicates that not just anybody should participate in the feast. The NT Passover (i.e. the Lord’s Supper) is for those whose hearts have been circumcised by Christ, owning Him as their passover lamb. Therefore, I would argue that these practices are not man-made in principle. One could argue that the “altar call” falls into this same category. Scripture calls upon people to repent and believe; it is the command/call of the gospel. An invitation may be a means of facilitating that principle. It is not the only way, however. It may not even be the best way. What is important is not to keep doing it simply because “that’s what we’ve always done.” The way we’ve always done it may not be helpful and may be driven more by an unhealthy desire for “numbers” and “results.” Pragmatism is not wrong, but it should never be void of serious theological reflection.

    • Matt

      You should also not take part in Easter or Christmas. Both were created by the Pagans. Also, please learn more about what an altar is used for other than for what you are professing and agreeing with.

  • Holl

    I see both sides of this …. I believe there is a time and a place for an altar call it’s the dragging out of it that can be an issue or if the preacher is only doing it cause he “should” rather than at the spirits leading

    • Laura

      Define “altar call.” If you mean a simple invitation or call for response to the word preached, that should probably happen frequently. But when most people say “altar call” they MEAN that dragged out, “I see that hand,” walk-the-aisle, sign-the-card nonsense.

    • Scott Jensen

      So true, any alter call must be a direct leading by the Spirit, and never “planned” by the preacher either out of tradition or emotional manipulation from his message. I do believe people do receive Christ through alter calls so God can most certainly use them

  • Chris

    I’ve come to dislike the phrase “altar call.” I think it gives the wrong impression because we tie the word together with a holy object. There isn’t any altar in any church today. The only altar of any Biblical significance is in Heaven. There are only stages and podiums in buildings. But I guess that’s besides the point.

    I’ve gone to a church where invitation is the focus of everything they do. It is overemphasized and after paying attention to many sermons, I believe the wrong impression can be given, that the altar call saves a person. If an invitation is given it must be made clear that “going forward” doesn’t save and that if you don’t go forward, you’re not rejecting Jesus. I believe there have been many that went forward due to emotional experiences, or because of some peer pressure, but no real change of heart, yet it’s dangerous because it can give false assurance.

    I’m not against invitations. I think sometimes we must encourage those we preach to, but I think it must be clear that repentance and faith are not the same as going to the front of some church or before some pastor.

  • Don Sartain

    I think there’s nothing wrong with the Pastor inviting people to the front (or back, or another room) to pray and to confess Christ, but the dragging it out and emotionally manipulating music is where I think the real problem lies.

    To be sure, I agree with your bullet points about the “long work.”

    • Mrs. Late Bloomer


      • Steve, Winnipeg, Canada

        Agreed and Agreed.

        I suspect that when we dislike altar calls, we can have in our minds the worst exampes of the custom.

    • 365 Acts of Love


  • PixelPusher

    A few issues I have with this article
    – Repentance and baptism is not required for salvation. Peter was given the task to reach the Jews, he was calling them to repent from relying on the law. note in vs 36 he says let the house of Israel. True salvation is belief that Jesus died, was buried and rose again personally..for you. Repentance is impossible apart from Christ. Repentance comes after salvation.
    – I agree, altar calls are man made. there is nothing at all to indicate that anyone needs to go forward, raise their hand or say a little prayer to be saved. that is all false and leads people to believe they are saved because they did something. Do I personally think its wrong to tell people to come forward, yes I do.
    – the section regarding alternatives to giving altar calls says nothing about what is really modeled in scripture regarding true salvation. none of the references go beyond the gospels and do not present the true “requirements” for salvation, just what “we” do to get saved, which itself is a falsehood.

    Altar call for me is on the same level as the phrase “love offering” call it what it is. We are taking donations. Altar call is another way of saying, lets see how effective my preaching is.

    • Andrew

      PixelPusher, how would you explain Acts 17:30-31; 26:19-20?
      My understanding is that the ‘repentance’ word group simply refers to a change of mind regarding God. It is an action that applies equally to Jews and to Gentiles and appears in concurrence with an accepting understanding of God’s work in Christ Jesus.
      In this sense, calling upon your listeners to “repent and be baptized” LIKE Peter does in Acts 2 is not in any way offensive. I don’t believe that Jonathan is suggesting that doing so is equal to ‘being saved’. In fact he says several times that it is necessary to “repent and believe”. Further, he suggests that this is best done through investigation and discussion at a later time than the public meeting.
      Perhaps I misunderstand your position?

  • Daniel Walton

    If we believe that it is the Holy Spirit who draws and regenerates the heart, then we should not have to play all that emotionally charged music to draw people down to the front. We should preach the Word and call people to repentance and faith and when the Lord is at work they will ask, what must I do to be saved. I agree with this article.

    • Galven

      There may be excesses. But cannot the Spirit work through music as well? Otherwise, we will have to abandon a lot of other things just so the Spirit can ‘work in a vacuum’.

  • DrLizW

    I do think it is helpful, at least in a medium sized to large church, to at least indicate that there are people who are willing/able to hang around and talk after the service – this can be done any time in the sermon/service of course. This kind of invitation and encouragement takes away some of the intimidation that some have about asking for information (for every extroverted pushy newcomer who demands information and a personal meeting with the pastor, there are many quiet introverted newcomers who hang back and are afraid to ask questions!)

  • Dale Williams

    As a Christian sitting in the congregation, the “invitation” time adds another crucial element to the worship experience. There has been times for prayer, singing, the message – now the invitation. It’s not an invitation to “come forward”. It’s not a reflection of how well the message was given. It’s not a measure of how well the service was that day. But it IS a time that allows communion with the Holy Spirit. God may speak to us in a special way during the invitation song. We may be moved to “go foward” – or maybe not. I think this time is a part of the worship experience and should NOT be simply deleted. This time is just another opportunity for worship. And it serves as a nice way to conclude a wonderful worship experience.

    It seems that a lot of people want to change things just for change sake. Moving toward the future will definitely evoke changing things. But not EVERYTHING needs to be changed. Change seems to be a hot topic these days. Be careful about the reason for change.

    • Marc Mullins

      I would argue Charles Finney and others changed things for the sake of change when they invented these methods in the time surrounding the second awakening. So would it be wrong to see the error in that change and revert back to what was traditionally considered a part of evangelizing By preaching the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit and letting God do His saving work? I certainly think “invitation” or songs of response are glorifying to God (which also should be theologically related to the passage and theologically sound) as an act of worship in response to the glory of our God as revealed in His word.

    • Jack Brooks

      Altar calls were the reckless change. They amount to a third ordinance. The only “coming-forward” you see in the NT were people coming forward to be baptized.

  • JG

    Just to add to the anecdotal side of things:

    We recently moved to a new area and have been looking for a church home. Out of all of the churches we’ve visited, all but one have eschewed alter calls. I wasn’t able to put my finger on just why this disturbed me for a few weeks. Then I realized it was because those churches, otherwise preaching sounding teaching and meeting the needs of the community, never once mentioned the need for salvation during the service. It’s like it was assumed that everyone who was there was a born-again believer, so why even mention someone in that room might still need to be regenerated? They were very committed to making disciples, with lots of emphasis on Bible study and “relevant to your life” sermon series like money management and marriage, but the foundation of coming to Jesus as Lord was never laid, and we visited several of the churches multiple times.

    I agree with the points you made, that what we consider the “alter call” or the call to repentance shouldn’t be tacked on at the end and manipulative. But I’ve also now seen what happens when the pendulum swings the other direction, and I believe there’s an equal danger of simply forgetting to mention it at all.

    Thanks for allowing me to contribute. :)

  • Dean P

    I always hated it when I would go to Baptist churches and the preacher would preach on something as far away from evangelistic as you could get, like tithing or who knows what else, but then in the last five minutes he would have to contrive or tack on the obligatory section of his sermon for an altar call without any context at all. To me that came across as just as manipulative as the sappy sentimental music and repeated choruses. This kind of thing is like Kryptonite to many cynical non-Christian Gen Xer’s, millennial, and Mosaics. They can smell it a mile away.

  • Charlie Wallace

    The altar call is not the problem. The followup and discipleship is the problem. The problem of churches seeped in nominal Christians is not the altar call. The problem is weak discipleship. Discipleship does not come through programs (like Sunday School) it comes through relationships. Churches and pastors must be diligent to see that discipleship happens.

    • Taylor Holiday

      I think you’re right Charlie. The real issue is the depth of the message and the clear call to a life of commitment not a moment. I whole heartedly agree that from the pulpit should come the message of salvation through Christ and that people should be invited to come and receive that salvation. However, that should clearly mark the starting point of the churches roles not the end.

    • L McIntosh

      I agree with both Charlie and Taylor. Just as physical life has a moment of beginnng so does the spiritual life. As someone who tends to procrastinate and avoid decision making I totally appreciate the fact that someone lead by the Spirit of God did prompt me to make that decision which was only a beginning. I feel personally responsible that I have not always responded to God’s leading to prompt someone else for a decision. Especially since I know that there are many like me who procrastinate on all decision making. Unfortunately, no decision in this case is a decision that affects eternity for that person.

  • Sam Y

    I personally refuse to support or attend a church that does altar calls, if there are Gospel alternatives available. Why? Because we don’t really “make a decision” for Christ, do we? We receive salvation; we don’t earn it or decide to be saved ourselves. I understand that non-churched people may not understand the doctrines of grace, but we shouldn’t present the Gospel in a fashion that is contrary to what is actually taking place. We have a public profession of faith for new believers in Baptism– a pastor at the front of the church does not dispense grace. We should be welcoming and invite non-churched people to private discussion, and not present a “decision,” emotional, merit based theology in our liturgy.

    • david bartosik

      I make real choices everyday sam and I made a real choice to follow Christ, and I do not think that in any way diminishes the power of Christ’s call or the power of God’s sovereignty in saving me. At the end of the day I believe God saves but I live in the tension of recognizing the real choice that I made. It doesn’t take away from the understanding we cannot earn salvation, but the scriptures seem to say making a real choice is important(mark 1:15; acts 3:19, 26:20).

      I did make a choice-and to the extent that “altar calls” provide that possibility there could be a case made for those altar calls, but as many other people have said, along with the article writer, there are many other issues that come into play that cause me to see altar calls as an inconsistent means of creating a place for that choice to happen.

      • Sam Y

        My point is, it’s a false sense of dispensing grace, no matter how well intentioned it is on the surface. The “decision” to follow Christ is inward, not an outward act of walking down some aisle. Regeneration does not occur in “one brave moment.” There may be a climax in the form of an outward profession, but that doesn’t merit altar calls in every Sunday liturgy. If the majority of the evangelical world had a grasp of the Gospel, I would have less of a problem with it.

  • Steve, Winnipeg, Canada

    What about altar calls for non-conversion related prayers? In charismatic circles (a camp in which I keep one stubborn foot) there are ‘calls to the front’ for reasons other than to ‘make a decision’.

    What about calls forward for ‘hands on’ prayer about any number of personal issues? What about for the healing of the body? What about for those who would like a certain blessing? What about if I preach a sermon and then offer to pray for those who would like to receive that which I have just spoken? In my church, we call people forward for prayer or blessing almost every week. This is pastoral prayer in our view.

    I know this widens the question but I think it is worth noting. I’m not big on the make-a-decision calls but if we unduly harden ourselves against altar calls we can miss out on opportunities to minister

    • Charlie Wallace

      This is a great point by Steve. Pretty much every week I give an invitation to receive Jesus and something else related to the message. Sometimes prayers for healing, prayers for families, etc. Most weeks someone comes down front and prays. It is a time of sanctification, repentance (publicly) and renewal.

      Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater on this issue.

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  • Esther

    Somewhat disagree. I think first someone should define “altar call” in a way that clarifies what is being discussed. I agree that there really is no such thing as an “altar call” these days, because there is no real “altar”.

    However, for a pastor/elder to allow for or incorporate a time for commitment and prayer, and even to call for repentance and commitment, is neither unbiblical or unwise.

    Do I think it needs to happen every time the doors of the church building are open? No.

    When the sermon calls for a particularly challenging commitment to the application, when the church body is going through difficulties or rejoicing, when special liturgical seasons commence or end; these are all good and wise times for such to be incorporated into the service. If, during that time, someone does realize that God has effectually called them to salvation, there’s nothing wrong with the pastor giving instruction that they may come forward to ask questions/receive prayer concerning that change in their lives.

    I also believe prayer for healing according to scriptural principles should be offered publicly on occasion during church meetings. A call by the pastor for those who desire such to come forward is not out of line, either.

  • Dean P

    Agree Sam Y.

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  • Chad

    Who actually calls it an “Altar Call” anymore?

    • Charlie Wallace


  • archie norman

    While I am against the abuse of altar calls it would seem Acts 2:40 involved urgency and maybe a bit of emotion. Without question the appeal was longer.

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  • Howard

    I disagree with the article’s take on the Acts 2 sermon. Peter did not preach “repent and be baptized” throughout the sermon. The sermon was a logical, systematic description of the sin problem and the lordship of Christ and “repent and be baptized” was in response to the people wanting to know what to do, or how to respond to the message. Guess what? Every Sunday in my church (can’t speak for others) I see men and women who need to know how to respond to the gospel. If the message is gospel centered (and every message should be), it is never contrived to issue an invitation.

    Personally, I believe the issue may have a little bit to do with pride. Peter pleaded with the people to be saved. I don’t see many folks (particularly in the reform camp) who are willing to beg. They understand that salvation is totally the work of God, and therefore avoid gimmicky methods to “produce…decisions for Christ.” That is good. But they forget that God also uses the means as well as the end, and the means include begging. For any pastor reading this, I would encourage you to ask yourself some questions: “If Peter wasn’t too proud to beg people to be saved, why am I?” Or, “If Peter didn’t see begging as a gimmick, why should I?” Or, “When was the last time I actually begged people to be saved?”

  • John S

    ok I agree with the premise of this article. But I didn’t read anything in it or the comments about the question that it begs.

    Has anyone who has come forward ever been genuinely saved at an altar call? I think all would agree yes, some have been saved probably many. So why advocate completely abandoning a means of God’s grace through which some if not many have entered the kingdom?

    Also: What’s so evil about emotions, aren’t they part of humaness and isn’t an emotion, love, at the core of salvation, a glorious loving of Jesus? Must you accept Christ (repent and believe) dispassionately for it to ‘count’?

    What’s the difference with music affecting the believer during corporate worship, and music affecting the unbeleiver when the Word of God sits on his soul?

    How about an invitation, with music, but without manipulative, rhetorical persuasion? Is that ok?

    Isn’t it easier to discount an invitation in the middle of the sermon than at the end?

    What about the parable of the banquet ‘compel’ them to come, I submit that rhetorical persuasion = compel, which could be argued from the original greek too.

    Just being devils advocate, but still asking.

    • Laura

      1. Yes, people have been genuinely saved at altar calls. People have been genuinely saved in strip clubs and face-down in their own vomit too ;) but that doesn’t mean we normalize it. We eliminate a practice if it does more harm than good, or if the good it does is only incidental, which I think it is. I.e., the “altar call” part isn’t necessary.

      2. The problem is the use of music, not the music itself. Music stirs the soul, which I believe is part of God’s design for worship. But you never see music used as a tool to break people’s defenses down to “convince” them to make a “decision” for Christ. That’s Finney and the New Measures.

      3. An invitation/call is a necessary part of the preaching of the Gospel. Emotional manipulation is not.

      4. Using strong, persuasive rhetoric is, again, not the same as manipulation. But playing five more choruses of Softly and Tenderly with every head bowed and every eye closed assuring people that all they have to do is walk up the aisle to show that they’re not ashamed to identify with Jesus? That is straight-up manipulative, as well as unbiblical.

  • Karl Dahlfred

    Good post. I’ve done a lot of reading and thinking on this topic, and have just finished a Th.M thesis comparing Finney’s theology and methods of conversion with that of John Nevin. Despite many arguments marshaled in favor of them, I just escape the conclusion that altar calls only make sense within a Pelagian understanding of the Scriptures. I’m not accusing everyone who uses the altar call of being a Pelagian, but if you really dig into what kind of theology is communicated by the altar call, it is all about human decision, and doesn’t really do justice to what the Scriptures say about human depravity or the sovereignty of God.

    For those who want to learn more about the altar call, I highly recommend “The Altar Call – Its Origins and Present Usage” by David Bennett. I’ve done a book review of it here:

  • Dave Dunbar

    An “altar” is where an animal is sacrificed. Why would you have one in a church’s building?

    Growing up in a church that had one, the shy folks would never go, and sometimes feel “left out”. The bolder ones would go up regularly. One result is that the ones that go up give the appearance of spirituality, when that was not the case at all.

    Leave the “altar” in the Old Testament, where it belongs. Call people to repentance and faith, and then chat afterwards, or the next day, or whatever, but leave the gimmicks behind.

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  • Jones Lee

    Few thoughts about “altar call”

    “The altar call relies on the powers of emotion, rhetorical persuasion, and social pressure to induce people to make a hasty and premature decision. ” The altar call relies on the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of men. I realize that some people will dim the light, play some soft / touching music to do altar call. If so, the problem is not the altar call, it is that person who try to manipulate others. Sometime I hope more people will make pre-mature decide when I do altar call, unfortunately, I got no pre-mature case in alter call in last 10 years. the one that come out / rise hand are very few, but they are solid. Furthermore, we have followup counsel right after to “make sure”.

    “People that rise hand but did not have a transformational life after” – that is not the problem of altar call or the person rise the hand. More importantly, do the preacher preach the whole gospel or a fragmented gospel? (that is the preacher’s problem). Do the church have discipleship training after alter call? If not, then it is the church leadership problem, not altar call.

    “Man-made event” – be careful of this term. I think you want to highlight that altar call have low / no biblical base. But generalize it as “man-made event” are dangerous and have not adequately indicate the point. I was thinking, if we don’t do altar call due to no biblical background, shoudl I call people to get baptized after evangelistic meeting?

    I want to point out there are many factors involve altar call and ministry philosophy are inter-related. Few weak argument and generalize obersvation cannot justify the “bad” of altar call. God Bless.

  • Church Chair Guy

    Great discussion! I have been desiring to see a post on altar calls and the following discussion. Very helpful!

  • Lev

    A bullet point I would add to the list of altar call alternatives:

    * Explain to them that, even after forgiveness through faith, “You are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness.” (Romans 6)

  • PR

    Acts 10:44-46: when Peter “began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them.”) Peter laid down the major points, mentioned some outstanding facts, and was interrupted by a special working of the Holy Spirit! Cornelius and his household heard that “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins,” and they responded in faith.

    No altar call! No invitation! They simply believed and were born again on the spot!

  • Mark Elmendorp

    Interesting Article…I find it interesting that the article essentiallly disrespects altar calls as being manipulative but the article begins with the words “tradition revivalistic” “often weary” “Extended Alter Calls”(thats how Alter is spelled in the artcle) and “manipulating Invitations”
    I think the article is trying to manipulate me.
    I so do not understand the need for one churchs way of doing things to be criticised by another church or church people. Rememebr when we get to heaven all of us will find out we were wrong somewhere, no-one has the exclusive on truth. Lets do what we feel God may want US to do and celebrate that at least there IS another church at least doing something.
    I don’t criticise others in how they run their family even though I think it may be crazy. So why criticise the wya someone runs their church.
    Personally I think Altar cals are like a first kiss, it doesn’t mean the couple are getting married but certainly some committment has been made.
    Altar calls probably have as much affect as in the parable of the Sower.
    Lets celebrate each other people, rather than tear down. Some of the emotion expressed is not that grace filled and loving.

    Just saying…

    • Lev

      If you can’t accept constructive criticism, then you’ll never get anywhere in life. Criticism of weak points is part of “building one another up.” Granted it isn’t the only part, but it is part of it. I think this article constructively criticized in a good way, offering reasonable explanations for his point of view and biblical ways to do altar calls better, if they’re done at all.

      If you never criticize others, that’s a problem. Scripture says “a friend wounds, but an enemy only multiplies kisses.” Believe it.

  • sean carlson

    I think one’s thots on the subject are closely tied to one’s understanding of why we gather together. Is it primarily worship/edification, with occasional evangelistic impact or is it, whatever else is going on, an evangelistic service? Time for true confessions – I don’t like them. I think it’s the underlying sense of “we have to do this” or “we’re suppose to do this” that I find so distasteful

  • D. Wade

    I agree with Jonathan Leeman, and I think his biblical points are well made. Thank you TGC for providing his input on this topic.

  • Myles Hyson

    I hear a lot of comments about “emotionally manipulating people”. What exactly is that? Does any human pastor really have the power and authority to “manipulate” someone into saving faith? Doesn’t that take away God’s role in the matter? It seems as if people are concentrating a lot on the pastors role here and leaving the Holy Spirit in the background. Ok, so a pastor has music playing and waits for people to come up front to repent and start following Christ…so what? People are coming to know Jesus, and that is SOLELY of the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives already. And some may say “oh well you do you know they actually made a decision?”. Well, none of us know a person’s heart, I guess you can ask them when you die whether they really meant it or not.
    Ultimately, in all things, do what the Spirit is leading you to do.

    • Lev

      Yes, many charismatic (and I’m using that word to describe a personality, not theology) pastors have the ability to manipulate people, especially high school and college aged people, into walking an isle to start their journey of “faith”. And the problem is it often is not saving faith since many such “converts” often don’t remain believers.

      • Myles Hyson

        That’s the problem though, you don’t know that, only God does. There’s many people that who come to Jesus in I guess “more feasible” context that fall out of the faith as well. Like I said, we play no role in the Spirit saving someone, and our pride would like to tell us we can, but even then if we are prideful about it, let’s be like Paul and continue to rejoice because the gospel is being preached. Mark Driscoll put it well in his discussion in the Elephant Room saying “Two guys see thousands of people come to know Christ, and one doesn’t like how the other one did it? That’s like a firefighter rescuing someone from a burning building and you’re criticizing his running form”. It’s not about you, or that so called “charismatic pastor”. Its about Jesus, and heck, Paul was probably pretty “charismatic” himself, having as Acts describes “persuading” people into coming to know Jesus. I’d rather that then people not sharing the gospel at all.

        • Lev

          How can you tell me I don’t know they stopped believing? Many people that have made such professions were personal friends of mine. God isn’t the only one who knows what they believe. They know also, and they tell me. The largest numbers of them would “come to faith” when the most charismatic and (seemingly) manipulative evangelists would come to town. It was typically the kids that believed after those sorts of “altar calls” who later stopped believing. This is my experience; you can’t tell me I didn’t experience it. And friends of mine that came to Christ in presentations of the gospel that followed the biblical examples more closely are still believers.

          Of course we should rejoice when the gospel is preached. However, that doesn’t mean we should not also see that it is preached in a way that creates genuine, lasting disciples of Christ. Why don’t you ask Mark this question: “Two guys see two thousand young people come to Christ. The second guy sees 1,800 of them reject Christ the very next month. Then both of them see the preacher “boasting in Christ” that God used him to saved two thousand people. Should the second guy speak up and let the pastor know that 1,800 no longer believe?

          Of course we should rejoice that 200 were saved. However, if we can get that number higher by following the biblical examples more closely, then we should.

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  • Paul Goeke

    Thanks for the article! I really appreciate it. This is a bit of a side-bar from the main issue, but it relates to a question that I’ve had lately: You mentioned that the Lord instituted Baptism for people to publicly profess their faith. What are some of the main Scripture passages that have led you to view baptism as a public profession of faith?

    Again, thanks for your helpful article…and for bearing with a bit of a tangential question!

    • Lev

      What passages led him to think baptism is a profession of faith I cannot tell you. However, I can tell you some that didn’t. Acts 11:14, Acts 16:15, Acts 16:33, Acts 18:8, and I Corinthians 1:16 did not lead him to that conclusion.

      Those passages record the baptisms of the household of Cornelius: the household of Lydia, the household of the Philippian Jailor, the household of Crispus, and the household of Stephanas. When individuals were baptized in Scripture, after coming to faith, it seems their entire household was baptized also (if we have reason to think they had one). This was apparently regardless of the age and belief; at least no mention of age nor of belief is ever made.

      We could assume ages and a level of belief for each person in each case, but then we’d be basing our entire practice and understanding of baptism on quite a few complete assumptions. Unfortunately, many churches not only have no problem doing that, they even prohibit membership from anyone who doesn’t make their assumptions along with them!

    • Jonathan Leeman

      Thanks for the question, Paul. I take it from Matthew 28, and the idea of being “baptized in to the NAME of the Father, Son, and Spirit.” A name, among other things, is a public identifier. It’s how a person is known. Through out Scripture, therefore, you see a heavy emphasis on God identifying his name with his people, and vice-versa.

      When a person is baptized, they are proclaiming to the nations, “You know that guy Jesus? I’m with him–utterly and completely!”

      I think there’s a similar idea in Romans 6 where Paul talks about being baptized into his death and resurrection. Nothing mystical happens at that moment. Rather, we’re signifying our covenantal union with these marvelous events and their fruit.

      Hope this is helpful. Blessings.

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  • Mark La Roi

    Thanks for such a reasonable answer to a question that usually gets handle with a series of sentences all ending in exclamation points. I had a trouble for a long time seeing through the reactionary statements and understanding why so many people were so violently against altar calls, but your answer to the question makes it clear in a way more should emulate.

  • Ashok Isaac

    As a christian from India I am astounded by this statement: “..this 19th-century innovation, has produced more bad than good for Christian churches in the West”. Surely someone who is pursuing their PhD, researching ecclesiology has data to backup a broad generalization like this. I would love to see any studies that point in this direction. Also, a practice is to be avoided simply because it is not mentioned in the Bible. Surely this is not the same as being contrary to the teachings of the Bible? The author uses this “straw man” definition: “The altar call relies on the powers of emotion, rhetorical persuasion, and social pressure to induce people to make a hasty and premature decision.” Well, duh! And what about preaching that relies on the same ugly elements? What about churches in other countries (not “in the West”) where the (so called) “manipulative” altar calls are commonplace and the churches are growing incredibly fast, in the midst of persecution? Not the kind of article I expect from the GC website.

    • Karl Dahlfred

      Dear Brother Ashok Issac,

      You asked for data to back up this sweeping generalization about the negative impact of the altar call. Here it is:

      Charles Finney himself testified to the high number of false converts produced by his methods:
      “I was often instrumental in bringing Christians under great conviction, and into a state of temporary repentance and faith . . . . [But] falling short of urging them up to a point, where they would become so acquainted with Christ as to abide in Him, they would of course soon relapse into their former state.” (Quoted in B. B. Warfield, Studies in Perfectionism, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford, 1932), 2:24:

      “The Altar Call – It’s Origins and Present Usage” by David Bennett. The author looks at theology but also examines claimed numbers of converts for D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, and Bill Bright, and finds the numbers vastly exaggerated. This book is based on Bennett’s M.Th dissertation.

      “The Graham Formula” by Patrick McIntyre. The author provides statistics about the low percentage of altar call converts who go on in the Christian faith. He is actually in favor of the altar call, but thinks that it has been done in the wrong way, and has thus produced more false converts than genuine ones.

      “The Sinner’s Prayer: An Historical and Theological Analysis”, Chitwood, Paul Harrison, Ph.D The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 2001, 153p. ISBN 0493559191

      “The Sinner’s Prayer – Its Origins and Dangers” by David Malcom Bennett.

      “Revival and Revivalism” by Iain Murray also gives a good overview of the larger issues involved in the development of the altar call and its place in the religious change of 19th century America.

      Also, if we want to look at non-Western examples, the Billy Graham organization conducted an evangelistic campaign (My Hope) in a particular Southeast Asian country in 2009, in cooperation with local churches, and reported 10,000+ decisions for Christ. In church membership statistics for the following year, there was no discernible percentage increase over the previous year. That means that the church continued to grow at the same rate, and the of the 10,000+ people who made decisions, very few of them made it into the church. Why is this? Do a google search for “Animism and the Sinner’s Prayer” and click on my article at I believe that many of the factors that contribute to false conversion in the animistic context of Thailand likely are true of India, and other places in Asia, and Africa as well. If the church is growing incredibly fast in places where the altar call is commonplace, as you said, I suspect that the reason for its growth is not the altar call, but other factors (such as persecution, which you mentioned).

      The altar call promotes nominalism in America, and the problem is worse, not better, in other parts of the world.

  • Joe

    I agree with much of the sentiment behind this article. However I have also seen that some of the folks that strongly dislike the alter call, do so because they are afraid no one will be saved, want to reaffirm the reality of romans 12 or respond in any way when they preach, I know I used to be in that crowd. I think context is also very important. I’ve been in both churches where calling people to respond immediately after hearing the word of God would be sniffed out and seem like manipulation and the long work and journey we are all on is important to emphasis, and in other churches where not moving directly from public ministry to personal ministry immediately in the service would be unloving and out of touch with the needs of the people who are facing fierce temptations towards self destruction that very day.

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  • Paul Loyless

    Wow. It looks like this post has struck a nerve. I think this post is well written and represents my thoughts at this time. Thank you for taking the time to collect your thoughts and communicate them so well. Great word.

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  • MHG

    Wariness of altar calls is a very rare concern, and a valid one. The preachers of old considered maneuvers like altar calls to be a usurpation of the Holy Spirit’s province. What does the blogger think about the emotional, seductive music that is typically given at the end of Christian radio broadcasts? This is the same kind of sin, right?

  • Paul

    Great article, very interesting. I, like many others here, feel that there can be a balance between what we currently think of as the ‘altar call’ and the complete avoidance of it.

    May I just add a huge thank you to everyone for their comments on this topic. I’m currently writing my dissertation about the altar call and its use in British churches. The thoughts expressed have been extremely insightful. Thank you!

  • Katie

    No, never the altar call. Too much groupthink effect.

  • Eunice

    When the spirit tugs at your heart to humbly surrender to God by bravely walking to the altar (a very hunblying action) the flesh immediately tugs at your pride and makes for oneself all kinds of reasons for not walking there,this public action says “I was wrong” and is needed for some of us. many preachers who have done and do such altar calls don’t do it because of manipulation but because they understand the internal struggle with flesh one is having. Lets not judge the intentions of all preachers as manipulative when in reality only some are.
    Hopefully if the preacher is prompted by the Holy Spirit to do an altar call, because the h.s. Knows who is in the audience the preacher would be obedient and do so and do it only then.

  • MHG

    Altar calls like the ones Billy Graham used to make have made many hypocrites, and no converts. Converts are converted by the Holy Ghost. To do an altar call is good for optics and advertising, but bad theology. We should not step into the province of the Holy Ghost. Let him do the converting, and conversions will be real. I recommend Lloyd-Jones’ ‘Preaching and Preachers.’

  • Eunice

    I understand your point MHG, however everyone I know personally that responded to an altar call at church have become very strong Christians and I know many that grew up in the church that are hypocrites and don’t convert because are too self righteous. Unfortunatelly the people taking their friends to conventions such as Mr. Graham’s fail to disciple and follow-up the friends they take, dicipling is not just going to a sunday school class, but it is walking along side someone.

    I have a friend, a girl who walked into church who I never knew who is a brand new christian whom I disciple at the Gym while we walk, I have taught her about prayer, repentance, about enjoying God, about how to have a devotions, I encourage her, build her up, teach her, etc. all while walking, she is growing. When you disciple some one you can sence if they are trully converted or not and can guide them accordingly. We need to take seriously our mandate to disciple.

    Are there manipulators that use altar calls, yes. That doesn’t mean that all preachers are.

  • MHG

    I never said that all preachers manipulate in the use of altar calls. Most preachers have good intentions in the use of altar calls. But my point is that the pressure applied on the will, which is usually done by emotional means like music and peer pressure, without sufficient knowledge being first given, is likely to give us sham converts. ‘Faith cometh by hearing’ and ‘God grants the increase.’ Knowedge must be given, and we should rely on the Holy Ghost to apply it.

    When altar calls are given, some do get saved (by the Holy Ghost, regardless of the altar call.) I agree that we must watch for these genuine converts, and then disciple faithfully and zealously. Thank you for applying yourself to this very personal, spiritual work.

  • Eunice

    Jesus said “I stand at the door and knock if anyone opens the door, I will come in…” No time is this more palpable than during an altar call, as the Holy Spirit is tugging at your heart to surrender and open that door, the flesh is appealing at your pride not to do so. The Holy Spirit in more times than not works in this part of the service and many genuine converts come to know the Lord. Many hear the msg and believe but strugle to surrender. The struggle that ones goes through takes some time as one is wretling with the flesh. (that is why the music is played)

    Should altar calls happen every Sunday, NO!!! but neither should we abolish them completely.

    Many shy and introvert people would not go talk to the preacher in a million years. But if they go to the altar then it is eisier for the preacher to talk to them. Most churches are not big venues like Billy Graham’s and they would only have a few respond so then someone can follow up.

  • MHG

    Eunice, if the Holy Spirit is at work, there is no need for emotional music. The Holy Spirit is powerful enough without it. It is a distrust in the omnipotence of God that makes men rely on music for conversions.

  • Eunice

    The point is the time not the music. It is the time given for the internal strugle that one goes through when deciding do I follow Christ or not? do I surrender or not? do I humble myself or not? weather one thinks through this in silence or with music. Even though God draws us to him, He wants us to open the door, He is knocking and wants us to say “come in” and that is not distrusting his omnipotence, His omnipotence draws us there, brought the person to teach you, gave you the heart to believe, but God doesn’t force anyone to choose him.

  • jeremiah

    I agree with the sentiments of what Eunice is saying, we need to be sensitive to the work of the Lord in someone’s life. However when Jesus says “I stand at the door and knock if anyone opens the door, I will come in…” He is speaking to Christians who have neglected fellowship with Christ and not unbelievers.
    That said God uses music, prayer, testimonies, His word being read and many other things in the drawing of people to Himself.

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