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How to Botch an Altar Call

Many churches use what’s commonly called an “altar call” at the end of their services, where the pastor will typically call people to the front of the church to repeat a “sinner’s prayer.” For those who have altar calls in their services, here are some thoughts put in a fresh way that perhaps you could share with your pastor.

A few keys for those who don’t want people saved in their altar calls

  1. Present an unbalanced message. Let them see only the heart-warming part of God’s character. Preach God’s love but leave out His holiness and justice. That way they’ll think He’ll let them into Heaven no matter what.
  2. Skim over the gospel and push the prayer. Pretend the lost naturally understand what Christ has done for them. Don’t mention repentance until they’re repeating a “sinner’s prayer.” Just get them to say, “I repent” while they’re echoing you. They won’t know what they’re saying and they won’t count the cost as Jesus tells us to (Luke 14:26–33).
  3. Present the truth as though it isn’t. Be emotionally unattached and just go through your end-of-service routine. Avoid being fresh and thinking of the individuals in the pews. Don’t get heart to heart with the people, or they would get something out of what you said (2 Corinthians 5:20).
  4. Preach Jesus as a life enhancer and not a life rescuer. Tell them how Jesus can improve their life but don’t show them Jesus as the only one who can save them from Hell. Present Him as a waiter offering a free refill, not as a judge offering a pardon to guilty criminals. People will think if they reject Him they’re only losing out on a spiritual high.
  5. Compromise the message to speed up the process. The church members who have heard the gospel a hundred times before will be pleased with that. The quicker they get out, the quicker they can get to the restaurant.
  6. Try to please the people instead of convert them. Give the impression that a good God won’t send anyone to Hell. Don’t present the whole counsel of God or they might realize He is so good that He’ll ensure justice is served and that all unrepentant sinners will be punished in the fire that is not quenched (2 Thessalonians 1:7–8; Revelation 21:8).
  7. Tell the lost not to feel bad about their sins. That way you will work against the Holy Spirit who’s convicting them, and whatever you do, never mention Judgment Day (John 16:8). Your audience might take spiritual matters seriously.
  8. Say that Jesus is the only way to Heaven but don’t explain why. People may think it’s nothing more than fear tactics, or is narrow-minded and intolerant, and will leave offended instead of enlightened.
  9. Preach forgiveness without repentance. Give people only half the story. Tell them Jesus died to forgive sinners but overlook the fact that they must personally repent and trust in Him to receive that forgiveness. That way no one will know how to be forgiven. Be unbiblical by presenting repentance and faith as an offer, instead of how God does: as a command (Acts 17:30).
  10. Let them think next Sunday is the day of salvation. Don’t make them feel it’s urgent to respond today (2 Corinthians 6:2). Tell them what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.
  11. Never warn of Hell. Dangle Heaven in front of their nose but rarely mention Hell, certainly not as much as Jesus did. Don’t mention sin or man’s guilt. Resist the urge to explain what Christ came to deliver us from. Don’t show them their desperate need for the Savior. Otherwise, it may all make sense.
  12. Use churchy terms. Use words like “saved,” “repent,” and “born again,” without any explanation. That way your hearers won’t comprehend what you’re saying. If they can’t understand it, it’s probable they won’t be changed by it.
  13. Give false assurance of salvation to the unsaved. Assure church folk that they are saved even if they bear no fruit. So that you don’t offend the unsaved pew warmers, never quote Matthew 7:21–23 or 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.” You could lose some financial supporters and have to depend on God.
  14. Put the emphasis on a “sinner’s prayer” rather than on repentance and faith. Satan will smile over your departure from biblical instruction. Avoid what Scripture commands us to preach as the only saving response to the gospel—exercising genuine repentance and faith in Christ—and instead replace them with an invitation for people to recite a scripted prayer, which is never taught or modeled throughout the entire Bible. Then people who didn’t understand (or exercise) the required response will think they’re saved because they “said the prayer.” (While a “sinner’s prayer” isn’t unbiblical, it’s not biblical either, it’s just not shown in Scripture; it’s a modern method that gained popularity in the last century. It can be used to complement the clear biblical preaching of faith and repentance, but it should never, ever replace them, as so often happens.)
  15. Don’t study how the apostles preached, just look to popular pastors. Don’t explain why Jesus suffered on the cross on sinners’ behalf. Otherwise, people may think of running to Him for forgiveness. Don’t speak of His resurrection or the hundreds of eyewitnesses who saw Jesus after He rose from the dead, so they can go on thinking He’s a fairy tale instead of a historical Person—God in the flesh. Avoid mentioning all the messianic prophecies Jesus fulfilled, or they might realize that the Bible proves itself to be true and we can know He is the only way to eternal life. And whatever you do, avoid what the apostles did when it came time to respond. Don’t call people to obey the gospel, to trust in Christ alone and live for Him. That is too accurate. If they know how to get saved, your altar call will be a success.
  16. Never mention the wrath of God. If you mention it, people might be awakened to flee to Jesus who “saves us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Don’t let those who are lost, and without hope, know they are. Disregard subjects like Judgment Day, God’s holiness, man’s sinfulness, and justice. That way the lost can continue to think they’re “good enough” to earn their way into Heaven.
  17. Let your congregation think only you can share the gospel correctly. Always leave the impression that they should only invite their lost friends to a church service and never actually witness themselves. That will keep you popular and your church members happy.
  18. Make sure you’re the main attraction. Remember, the goal in botching an altar call is for people to leave saying, “What a wonderful preacher,” instead of, “What a wonderful Savior!” Draw all possible attention to how great you are as a speaker and person. Otherwise, people might see Christ in your preaching and get saved.

Sometimes the best way to get a point across is to put it in a different light. If you’re in a church that uses altar calls, now you know a few ways to botch them. Please do not employ these; do the opposite. You may already do some of these. If so, don’t let pride keep you from changing and doing things in a biblical fashion. The bottom line is how true we are to Christ and His Word. Effectively reaching the lost is our primary purpose. Let nothing hold you back from that sacred agenda. May God bless you as you seek to win people to Christ in Bible clubs, churches, conferences, on-the-street witnessing encounters, at your school, at your workplace—wherever the lost can be found.

Allen Atzbi

Allen Atzbi is the General Manager at Living Waters as well as the Director of the Ambassadors’ Academy. He holds a Master of Theology degree from International Seminary and served as a youth pastor for a decade. Allen has trained churches in evangelism and led weekly street witnessing teams for years. He has written four books. His parents are both Jewish: one from Israel and one from the other holy land, Brooklyn. Allen is not married, but graciously says he is still accepting applications.

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