Please Don't End your Outreach with an Altar Call / by John Hailes

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Easter egg hunts, Summer block parties and Fall Festivals often have one thing in common…an awkward altar call! It’s the big reveal at the end of each outreach that unveils the Churches ulterior motive for doing the event. It’s the clause in the contract that says, ‘You can have all the candy in the world but first you have to listen to our gospel presentation.’

Churches aren’t the only people who use this tactic. Have you ever received a call about a free cruise you have won? Only to find out that it means you have to sit through a day long presentation about the company’s time share options from a pushy salesman. 

It’s not uncommon for our outreaches to act like free cruises, where our altar calls tend to be the ‘hard sell’.

Why not end with an altar call?

Salvation is a process, not an event! We have boiled salvation down to a simple prayer, when really the bible tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Salvation should be a process that people take, yet we have made it into a reactionary decision. 

On my visits to Eastern Europe, I noticed that many people took their time in making a commitment to Christ. Communism destroyed people’s trust in the Church. It is not uncommon for non-believers to attend Church for months before they make a formal commitment to Christ. However, once they make their decision, there is no question in their mind of turning back.

We must continue to plant seeds and water those seeds; but we must also be content to allow God to grow those seeds. When we force the seed to grow, with altar calls, we are reinforcing a culture where everyone is a ‘Christian’ but no one goes to Church or is truly committed to Christ. We aren’t called to the world to make people declare a prayer of salvation but to make them disciples!

Lastly our reputation is on the line. People want to know that the Church cares, but they want to know that we really sincerely care. Sometimes altar calls during outreaches reinforce the stereotype that Churches have ulterior motives; they only care if it leads to new converts. Outreach should be done to lavishly express Christ’s love, not to lure people into the Church.

Alternative Ways to engage your Community after your outreach

Altar calls aren’t always bad during outreaches, but I don’t think they should be the default, there are other ways we can provide more effective discipleship pathways to the Church:

Host a follow up event: Invite people to a second event. Show people you intend on bringing positive change in the community by being an active, long term presence. 

Start a discipleship class: The alpha course or Start could be used to give people an understanding of what Christianity is all about. Helping people make informed decisions.

Launch missional small groups in the community. Invite people to become relationally connected to your church before you ask them to think about making a spiritual commitment.

Start a kids club/after school club in the community. Make a long term connection with families. Be in it for the long haul!

Altar calls during outreaches may look great on our end of year celebration Sunday, but we must ask ourselves if they actually effective in creating true, long-lasting disciples of Jesus!

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!