The results of an altar call are generally more stable if the basic doctrines as well as the principles of conversion are covered during the meetings before the altar call is made. In the typical three-week effort the altar call is usually made successfully after about two weeeks of nightly meetings.
The comments that are made leading up to and during the call are important. It should be made clear that it is a call to full surrender. Mention should be made during the call that an opportunity will be given for further study until everything is clear. This will accomplish two things. It will include in the invitation those who still have questions but who do want to surrender on the points that are already clear. It will indicate that this is not just a revival-type call where people come to the altar and perhaps never again return to the meetings. They are tactfully made to understand that there is a follow-up program for those who come forward.
Decision Card Should Be Used
The remarks made by the evangelist at the close of the call to those who have come forward are vitally important. His attitude should be positive. He should take for granted that each one who has come forward will follow on in preparation for baptism. Some type of decision card should be used which will give the one who comes forward an opportunity to further seal his decision by checking a request to unite with God's commandment-keeping people. Besides getting the name and address, this card should also secure the following information: Is there a smoking problem or a Sabbath work problem? What time is the person usually home (morning, afternoon, or evening)? Also be sure to get the age of the school-age young people who come forward.
Preparation Rapid but Thorough
This brief aftermeeting should take place after the main congregation has been dismissed. It should not take long if things are well organized. Before dismissing those who have come forward, announce that this group will meet each evening for five consecutive nights. The more rapidly these people are prepared for baptism following their decision, the less opportunity the devil will have to hold them back. The preparation can be rapid and yet thorough. The group can be challenged to make this a wonderful week of victory. We like to use Philippians 4:13 as a key text each evening. We say it together at the close of each class. Those who have smoking problems should be encouraged to claim the victory through Christ right now. In most instances, these five nights will do more for those with smoking problems than the regular stop smoking clinic, because these people have the incentive of church membership and they are putting something positive in place of their smoking habit.
Salvation Not by Works
It is well to mention that if we were depending upon salvation by works, it would take a lifetime and still we would not be ready; but since we are depending upon Jesus we can get ready as soon as we are willing to surrender. The faster we get ready the more the glory goes to Christ and not to man.
In a three-week effort the first baptismal class will be conducted at the close of the regular meeting during the third week of the effort. Some features of the meeting may be left out or shortened so that the class will not run too late. The second baptismal class made up of those who respond to the altar calls on the final weekend of the meetings will meet on the five consecutive evenings immediately following the close of the effort. This class will have the advantage of a longer class period since there will be no meeting preceding it, but the first class has the advantage of the inspiration of the public meetings still in progress. Some men open the class the second week to the church members and to the public.
Visit Absent Members Immediately
It should be made clear that those who miss a class will receive a visit the next day for the purpose of making up the lesson that they have missed. This encourages good attendance and keeps the entire class moving forward together. The importance of this feature cannot be overemphasized. A class record is made from the decision cards filled out by those who have responded to the altar call. Each night in the class a record is taken of those in attendance. We do this by passing around a clip board with a plain sheet of paper for the signatures of those present. Each class member who is absent receives a visit before the class meets again the next night. The printed materials used in the class are delivered and the substance of the class material is presented in a brief study by one of the workers.
The visiting of these absent members takes priority over all other visiting once the class is organized. It is absolutely essential that a lesson missed by one of the class members be made up by a visit from one of the workers before the next class period. This impresses them with the importance of the class and does more to encourage regular attendance than anything else. Usually it is only in case of illness or evening work that we have to make up any lessons. If this plan is followed faithfully, it is impossible that anybody will be baptized without having had the study on every distinctive doctrine, such as the Spirit of Prophecy.
Positive Approach Best
We spend one whole class period on the Spirit of Prophecy. We present it in a positive way as one of the great gifts that God has provided for His people. Another evening is spent on Christian standards of dress, entertainment, and eating. This also demands a positive approach. Dwell upon the benefits derived rather than upon the restrictions imposed. In addition to a general doctrinal review, other subjects that need to be covered in the baptismal class are: how to keep the Sabbath, the significance of baptism and the Lord's Supper, and the ordinance of foot washing. We also provide some supplementary material on the privileges and duties of church membership, explaining denominational organization, terminology, publications, et cetera.
Various booklets are available from some of our evangelists who have prepared material for use in teaching the baptismal class. We have our material in mimeographed form so that it can be included in the loose-leaf notebook containing our evangelistic sermons.
On the third night of our baptismal class—which, by the way, we designate as a special Bible class rather than a baptismal class—we hand out an identification label to be attached to the bag containing the underclothing and other items for the candidate's baptism. One side of the label gives a list of what to bring for the baptism. The other side is for the name, address, and approximate height of the candidate (for use in selecting baptismal robes). The card is of good quality stock, punched at both ends for tying around the bundle. The class members are encouraged to bring their baptismal clothing to class the following night. Some will forget. By supplying the cards on the third night they will still have another chance to bring their things to the last class. Having the clothing in early is a further means of sealing the decision. It also avoids last-minute confusion and enables everything to be well organized on Sabbath morning for the baptism. We are indebted to Fordyce Detamore for this excellent label idea.
At the same time that we hand out the labels, we also hand out a membership information blank that we have prepared. This, too, is to be filled out and returned with the bag of clothing. Such information serves many purposes: it enables us to evaluate our various methods of advertising. It enables us to let the publishers of our missionary journals, our Bible schools, and our radio and TV broadcasters know when we have baptized someone as a result of these agencies. It helps us to give credit to laymen and colporteurs who have had a part in leading a soul to Christ. It provides a basis for various statistical studies. It enables us to give a brief story of the candidate's conversion at the time of his baptism. It leaves a valuable permanent record for the pastor's files.
Our experience has been that regardless of the length of the effort or the number who have come forward, we get the best results by beginning the baptismal class immediately and conducting it on a nightly basis. In some cases where either distance or a small number of candidates seemed to indicate that they could better be prepared by studies in their homes rather than by a group meeting, we have deviated from the above plan. In each case the result has been disappointing. We believe in preparing the candidates as a group and without delay.
Baptism Deferred Privately
Most problems standing in the way of baptism can be worked out in a week's time if there is a determined will and a full surrender. Those who are not ready by the final class period when the baptismal vow is reviewed with the candidates will be invited to repeat the class again the following week in preparation for the next baptism. Arrangements for deferring baptism should be made individually and not in front of the class, lest others who are ready for baptism should tend to delay.
The use of the foregoing methods, for which we are indebted to many of our fellow laborers, has enabled us to realize this goal in most cases. We share these methods with the prayer that they will be the blessing to others that they have been to us.