Whoever heard of making an altar call each Sabbath in the eleven o'clock worship service? Suppose no one comes forward? Isn't that embarrassing? Isn't it easier to preach a sermon and not ask for a response? How will the congregation like being faced with the same routine of an altar call each week? Since most of the congregation is made up of regular and visiting church members, will anyone respond? Will the Sabbath morning altar calls alter anything?
I have found that altar calls alter my purpose in preaching. My sermons are entirely different since I began this method. I am no longer preaching merely to inform, but to persuade the non-Christian listener to accept Christ, and to join the church when he is fully instructed, and also to encourage members to rededicate their lives to Christian service. I am preaching for a verdict. Of course, it is less strenuous to preach a sermon and sit down with out making a specific appeal, but this is not God's plan. The following quotation has haunted me for years:
"There are souls in every congregation who are hesitating, almost persuaded to be wholly for God. The decision is being made for time and for eternity; but it is too often the case that the minister has not the spirit and power of the message of truth in his own heart, hence no direct appeals are made to those souls that are trembling in the balance. . . . They decide to wait for a more favorable opportunity but it never comes." —Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 447.
Altar calls alter me and my relationship with Jesus Christ. I have become more earnest, excited, and enthusiastic. I find myself praying that certain persons in the congregation will make a decision to accept Christ. I watch the congregation for possible "prospects." I feel a sense of urgency as I proclaim the gospel. It gives me a spirit of holy boldness. At a previous church I used to make an altar call only when I had some one primed "to lead the way" be cause I felt self-conscious if no one responded. Now I forget self and personal success and trust the Holy Spirit to bring the results. It is not embarrassing to me if no one conies forward, because it is not my responsibility to convert, but only to proclaim the good news. It is thrilling to know that Christ and I are working together for the salvation of sinners and saints. It causes me humbly to depend upon Him for what will happen in the worship service.
Altar calls alter not only me and my preaching but the attitude of the congregation, as well. The members of the church feel a sense of mission. They can bring their non- Christian friends to church and know they will be given an opportunity to decide for the Lord. The calls encourage the spirit of prayer. Recently several members mentioned that they have begun to pray for souls to respond as the altar call is being given. I find that the congregation is not bored, but inspired and elated as the door is opened for men and women to decide for Christ. Since the call takes only an extra minute and is not prolonged, the congregation is very responsive. The altar call reminds the members of their own responses to the invitation of Christ and thus revives the spirit of evangelism. I now have a more enthusiastic congregation.
Altar calls alter the church membership. In a twelve-month period thirty-two accepted Christ at the Arlington Seventh-day Adventist church and were baptized and received into fellowship. Many of these represent families that have other members, who in turn become possibilities for the kingdom of Christ.
Altar calls give me a new conclusion to my Sabbath morning service. Following the sermon I make an appeal for those who wish to accept Christ or join the church when they are ready. I announce the closing hymn and then urge all who wish to come forward to do so as the hymn is sung. There are no appeals made between the stanzas, no urging. I then step down to shake hands with those who have responded. After the hymn is sung and the benediction pronounced I signal those who came forward to follow me to the pastor's study. My associates care for the greeting at the door. In the study I give each one who has come forward a decision card, which he or she fills out and hands to me. We join hands in a prayer circle, and I pray for their specific requests. I congratulate each on his stand for Christ and make arrangements for a visit in the home for further study and preparation for baptism.
I must say I deeply regret my old face-saving approach of formal sermonizing without making altar calls. I would never go back to my former method of preaching now that I have had the gratifying experience of seeing souls won through altar calls that alter.