The invitation given at the end of modern American services, is not a practice found in the New Testament. Research shows the invitation is inherited from the denominational altar call created during the Second Great Awakening. The altar call was a technique utilized to bypass the mind into the heart to create an instant decision. It is not a fit practice to make diciples, but it can get someone to come down an isle.
The one usually given the most credit for the practice is Charles Finney. The modern church views him as the father of evangelism. I do not consider this a title of distinction but rather ignominy as it has lead to the emotion based seeker sensitive practices of the modern church.
The modern invitation is rooted in revivalism. The creation of worship bands, asking Jesus into the heart, tongue speaking and dispensationalism all came into the church about 150 years ago. If you except the invitation you should be consistent and accept these other non-biblical practices as well. They all work hand in hand to bypass conviction to manipulate emotions instead of reaching the mind.
You've seen it done: "One more verse! Please come forward! Jesus always called his disciples publicly! Step out into that isle! You may never get this chance again!"
The great irony is that there was never an invitation given in the New Testament! For example, the first gospel message preached at the beginning of the church, was interrupted by the crowd who asked "What must we do?" (Acts 2:37). In Acts 10, the Holy Spirit fell mid message, and then immediately the hearers were baptized. Even in the context of Sunday morning worship we never read of an invitation. In I Cor 14:25, a visitor in the middle of the service exclaims unprompted to all "Surely God is with you!" Each time the recipients cry out on their own, they are never prompted to come forward or down an isle at the end of a service.
We must ask ourselves, do we really want to baptize a person we just met, after preaching on tithing, with very little time to ascertain this persons needs, before the music stops playing? Please look at all the converts in the book of Acts, none of them were done this fast. Instant conversions are a myth. We are to make disciples, not fulfill our baptism quota.
If you read the calling narratives of the disciples closely, you will notice that they did not follow Jesus without knowing anything about him. John's family had a relationship with Jesus family, and John's disciples would have been learning about Jesus for about a couple years, al least. They just didn't hear Jesus say "Come follow Me" and leave everything behind instantly. Relationships take time and becoming a Christian is no exception.
I have talked to lots of fellow preachers and it seems when someone comes forward it is never a surprise. The person has been talking to the preacher for weeks or even months. Sure, they may not know which particular week, but they have already been talking. Frankly the Sunday morning part is just a show for the congregation at that point.
Personally, I don’t want to baptize anyone I haven’t spoken too beforehand. I don’t want instant decisions based upon my trembling voice, repetitive music, or sad pictures from my Keynote Presentation. I want a person to really understand who Jesus is and to be prepared to follow Christ in a world that rejects Him more and more. Charles Finney would have broken your heart and made you an emotional wreck. I would rather engage your mind and you know peace.
The bar has been set too low. There was a time the early church kicked visitors out of services as it was time for The Lord's Supper. Now we change everything we do based upon what the nonbeliever prefers. The modern church has changed its music, dress, speaking style, and order of service upon what we think a non believer wants. The church is suppose to fixate on what God wants.
The nonbeliever does not like anything Christian, he is at war with God (James 4:4). When we bring revival techniques into the service we loose the sense of community that was originally intended by the apostles (Heb 10:25). Someone once said, "What we win them with is what we win them too." That guy is right!
So we might as well worship God in spirit and truth and if the non-believer is convicted he will cry out and say, “Surely God is with you." Jesus is our guest, not the visitor.
There is never a need for an altar call or its anemic little brother, the invitation. Instead let's be inviting. Reserve a spot to actually share the gospel instead of tacking it on the end of the sermon. You can even begin the service with it. Let people rotate and tell their stories every week. Announce how best for visitors to get their questions answered and schedule times to discuss the fullness fo the gospel . There are lots of ways to handle visitors, so let's quit playing a song and hoping someone comes down the isle. This is so foreign to our postmodern generation, most visitors don't even understand what is going on unless you really sell it, and then you are doing the Charles Finney altar call.
Let’s talk to people, and when they are ready they will ask us “What must I do?” because the only invitations in the New Testament are the ones when people invited themselves. They never waited till the last song.
Known as an expert in all he surveys, he freely shares his opinions on politics, science & theology using diatribes based upon careless research from tertiary sources that presupposed what he thought in the first place.