Let’s discuss the use of altar calls in church services. For the purpose of this blog post, an altar call is an event that takes place after preaching. It involves an invitation from the preacher to come to the front of the church in response to the message.


1) Faith demands a response. In Scripture, there are many examples of men and women who believe on the name of the Lord Jesus and respond with a decision. This urgency can be implicit in an altar call.

2) Our Protestant tradition records the use of altar calls for almost two hundred and fifty years. If you attended a service with Wesley, Whitefield, and Spurgeon, you could be comfortable with altar calls after the worship service. Public decisions in churches came before the regular use of musical instruments in English services.

3) Prayer and accountability play an important role in personal sanctification. Because Christianity makes forgiveness so accessible (1 John 1:9), it’s easy to take it for granted. The right kind of accountability helps to build consistent responses.


1) There is no explicit Scriptural reference to altar calls in the historical or modern form. The Bible doesn’t talk about coming forward to the altar or going to a decision director who assigns people to counselors.

2) Altar calls can be the result of emotion, not conviction. The Scriptures and the Holy Spirit are the means of change. Critics of the altar call will highlight the pleading of the minister over the application of the word. Mixed metaphors can also confuse the real source of change (the altar vs. the person and work of Christ).

3) The word of God changes everyone. You should be changing even if you do not make a public affirmation. By emphasising the public over the private, we can create a perception that “I don’t need to change today because I don’t feel convicted enough.”

I’ve provided three arguments for and against the use of altar calls. I would like your opinion on the use of altar calls (for or against). I’ll add my own conclusion in the comments section tonight.

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About Jeremy Kwok

Jeremy grew up in Sydney before moving to the United States for tertiary studies. Jeremy completed the BA, MA (History), and M.Div degrees before returning to Australia with his wife Debbie. He currently works for Christian Education Ministries, a company that owns and operates private schools.


  1. Alen 25 February, 2010 at 6:35 am - Reply

    I don’t think they are explicitly wrong but are they needful at every service? That is the question, I think. Like almost anything when used improperly it can be abused, and therefore ignored.

    I have gone to 2 churches, one where an altar call is given basically after every message and one where it is given, but not as often. Pragmatically speaking, the latter seems more effective.

    I think often enough if the word is preached accurately and effectively it will draw people to meditate on these truths and in turn prompt change.

    My opinion is that some truths require humble reflection and others require immediate response. When used with this in mind the altar call can be quite effective.

    If I had to choose for or against, I would probably say against as I don’t feel it is absolutely required in a church service as per the reasons you gave.

  2. robert 25 February, 2010 at 6:40 am - Reply

    they are powerful when properly used on special occasions rather than all the time. I have seen them used badly and well. I don’t regret having ‘gone forward’ myself.

    I believe some people can be helped by committing publicly to the call or exhortation of a sermon.

  3. Matt Jury 25 February, 2010 at 6:57 am - Reply

    I find this post to be interesting since I am working on one on the same topic for my blog in a week or so. Here are a few of my conclusions:

    1) Most spiritual work done in my life was done well after the final amen of the service.

    2) Building on #1, spiritual growth is usually a cumulative work rather than a situational work — i.e., spiritual growth is a process more than an event (but I don’t want to say that the moment the Holy Spirit’s illuminating authority in our lives becomes apparent cannot happen before or during an invitation).

    3) Building on #1 & #2, does the preacher really believe in the sufficiency of the Word or in his clever speech? (I know that sounds harsh, and that I’m painting with a very broad brush, but when you boil it down, this is generally the essence.)

    4) Some say that when I do not hold an invitation that I am preventing them from responding. My question is, ‘Why is the location of where you respond important?’ Isn’t the heart response what is important?

    5) Connected with #4, some call invitations altar calls. Where is the altar? We have no altars in our New Testament churches. Along this same line, I get this question most often from those who do not believe in eternal security. The illustrations I hear for the necessity of an invitation and an altar goes something like this (with variations, of course): What happens if I leave the service and get run over by a dump truck? The implication is that they did not respond at an altar, so any heart change could not have occurred.

    6) Altar calls lend themselves to abuse. This is connected with #1-3. I have stood in altar calls that were as long as the sermon. Eventually, the preacher said, ‘If you love mom and apple pie, come to the front.’ I’m being facetious, but you get the idea about how it can be manipulated.

    7) Although I have said much against it, it is JUST A METHOD, and nothing more. Because it is a method, a variety of invitations are equally valid — raising of hands, response cards, counseling after the service, etc.

    This post shows the overemphasis on the come to the front altar call. After all, the post is not titled, “Is raising the hand as an invitation a valid method?”

    Thanks for letting me vent, and thanks for provoking me to thought.

    BTW, what do I do for invitations? My invitations are simple: “In the silence of the next few moments, allow the Holy Spirit to continue to speak to your heart.” The next few minutes are absolutely silent.

  4. Jason Harris 25 February, 2010 at 9:52 am - Reply

    I think altar calls tend to result from and reinforce a decisional view of sanctification. In other words, we move from one plateau to a higher one, generally by means of a “decision.” I don’t see this as a Scriptural view.

    Also, I agree with Matt’s comment that this is a question of methodology. Methods change. Principles never do.

  5. Geoffrey Moore 1 March, 2010 at 10:06 am - Reply

    Regarding Altar Calls.
    Firstly,I agree with a poster above that we do not have an “Altar” as such, in the New Testament Churches.
    It has saddened me for some time now to see when the pastor brings a stirring message; little or NO response at the “altar” or front of the aisle in front of the pulpit area of our church.
    I know that folks can deal with their conviction following the preaching in their own pews or seats personally in prayer.
    However, do folks ever think that a response to the preaching might encourage others to also respond who may not have the confidence in dealing with their conviction in their seats and may need additional help from a counsellor or other member of the congregation ready to help.
    I realise sometimes there are those who constantly go forward to the altar at the end of the service and I wonder if, as some churches insisting on having the Lord’s Supper every single Sunday morning, (even in some “baptist” or “Bible” churches) it becomes a habit or something with no real conviction evidenced.

  6. Tracey Harris 3 March, 2010 at 3:05 pm - Reply

    Thanks for all the comments and opinions above… I appreciate them and can glean positives from them all.

    I was saved as a result of an ‘altar call’, however I didn’t go out the front, raise my hand, sign a card, or pray a prayer. I simply asked to speak with an older Christian after the service, to discuss my need of a saviour in more depth. I was taught and brought up in a Christan home, BUT up until then believed I was a Christian because my parents were. (I was 13 at the time).

    I believe the altar call was an ‘opportunity’. I was prompted by the Holy Spirit to respond, and did so. I believe the HS uses the ‘Altar Call’ as a method to lead folks to Christ. It certainly is not the only way, but in my case it certainly was effective.

    (We had altar calls in my home church about once a month while I was growing up. There were never huge groups of people responding at any one time, one or two at most. I believe they were a result of the HS’s prompting, not the pastor’s. They created an opportunity for folks to respond, and so I support them for that reason).

  7. Olga Jabil 3 March, 2010 at 3:06 pm - Reply

    I think “going forward” during an altar call can be an emotional response having known people who do it over and over again, and yet do not show any real change or spiritual growth in their lives.

    I prefer to pray silently “on the spot” when I am convicted by the preaching rather than walking up to the front. I think a sincere change of heart should manifest itself in the way we live day by day, rather than in a spur-of-the-moment altar call response.

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