I am asked often, “Why don’t you give invitations at the end of your sermons.” I thought I would give a brief response here, mainly to those who attend Metro East, as to why I do not ask people to publicly come to the front of the church and receive Christ after my sermons. To be sure, my aim here is clarity and charity. I have no intentions to start a debate or cause any controversy in our church. The majority of people who have asked me about this issue have voiced that they fully support the church and me as their pastor. I feel I owe them a clear and gracious response as to where I stand on this particular subject. To be sure, I am not accusing anyone who uses or prefers the invitation to be in error and out of touch with the Spirit. I am simply arguing for why I do not use this method. So here goes.
When someone asks me about an invitation at the end of a sermon I assume they mean something like this:
A pastor preaches the Gospel and in some form calls non-Christians to get up from their seats, come down the aisle to the front of the church and receive Christ into their life. By physically walking down front they are publicly asserting that they want to follow Jesus.
This is what I have in mind in this post.
First, let’s clarify a few areas of agreement between me and those who desire a public invitation as I’ve just defined it.
- We both agree that the Gospel must be heard by non-Christians for them to be saved.
- We both agree that salvation is only found in Christ.
- We both agree that we must urge, call, and exhort people to come to Christ.
- We both agree that an urgency should accompany preaching and evangelism.
- We both agree that the Gospel demands a response; repentance and faith.
- We both agree that evangelism is central to the church.
Therefore it would be unfair to say that those who are for public invitations are more Gospel-centered, more evangelistic, and more concerned for lost people, than those who are not for public invitations.
So why don’t I give them?
Scripture Doesn’t Prompt Me
I see nothing in Scripture that prompts me to ask for people to walk down to the front of the church after a sermon and receive Christ. Jesus never did this. He did call people to follow Him, but following Him in the 1st century and following Him now looks quite different. Some may argue here that He said, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). This text is often used to defend a public invitation. Not coming forward is seen as denying him before men. But confessing Jesus before men is not something that makes us Christians, it is something we do because we are Christians. However, Scripture does provide us with an avenue to make a public profession of faith. When we are baptized, we are publicly identifying ourselves with Christ.
In the book of Acts we never see the Apostles preaching to non-Christians (nearly all the sermons in Acts are to non-Christians) and asking them to come forward. In fact when Peter preached at Pentecost we read, “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “’Brothers, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37). In this case the hearers gave themselves an invitation! So while I have no problems with people who use invitations, I see nothing in Scripture that requires all preachers and churches to use them.
As stated, I do believe that I should urge and exhort non-Christians to repent and believe in Christ on the spot. And I believe there should be a place for people to be ask questions, hear more about the Gospel, report that they’ve become a Christian, or pray to receive Christ with a pastor or deacon. At Metro East we ask people who want to become Christians to either come to the front after the service or visit our Connections room to meet with a pastor or elder. This way we have time to answer any questions they might have or set up a time for follow up.
In addition, the few minutes at the end of the service with music playing and everyone standing is not the place to give someone counsel into becoming a Christian.We can, and must, trust the same Holy Spirit who might be revealing Himself to someone during the sermon, to continue to do so after the sermon. While I always want to communicate urgency and immediacy to non-Christians, I don’t believe this requires a public invitation to walk forward. Furthermore, some people do not wish to walk to the front of the church due to shyness or dislike of being put on the spot. To require them to come forward adds an unnecessary element.
Some will not agree fully with me here, but I think requiring that someone walk the aisle may signal an overly simplistic view of salvation. The Gospel message is simple, but people with no church background may need more time to wrestle through their objections, ask hard questions, and understand exactly what becoming a Christian means. A balance needs to be maintained between an urgency to believe as well as room for people to wrestle with questions of faith. More might be required, for some people, than walking an aisle and praying a prayer.
Potential False Converts
I do not believe that those who use the invitation equate salvation with walking the aisle. They do not. I am not saying that if someone reading this walked the aisle years ago that their conversion wasn’t genuine. It likely was. But we cannot assume that all non-Christians understand this. The biggest criticism of using the invitation is that it has too much potential to produce false converts and give a counterfeit security. Of course false converts will be in our churches until Christ comes, but I want to avoid adding to their number as best I can.
Some people will, have, and do equate walking the aisle and praying a prayer with their salvation. Or they walk the aisle simply to create a memory. We must be clear that decisions are not conversions. In my opinion, walking the aisle puts too much emphasis on a visible response. Sermons can produce all kinds of emotions in people and they may walk the aisle for a number of reasons besides genuine desire for God and leading of the Holy Spirit.
Essential or Not?
For those who argue for a public invitation as I’ve described above, the question must be asked if it is essential or not. Is walking down an aisle after a sermon essential to salvation or not? Will more people become followers of Jesus if a public invitation is given? I can hardly imagine someone arguing for this. Baptists in the 1700′s were the first to use the public invitations during services. Before this, we have no (to my knowledge) historical references of the Church utilizing this practice. This alone causes me to question its importance and necessity.
These are the main reasons I do not give a public invitation. Hopefully what was said here was gracious and clear. I also hope that those wondering about this issue understand that I have given the invitation a lot of thought and not indifferently overlooked it. I am grateful for the questions I’ve been asked about this and the people who asked them. This post is not a response to an angry email or a disgruntled member. I simply wanted to communicate my position. I assure that I am working hard on preaching more evangelistically and being more clear on calling non-Christians to repent and believe. But I am not convinced that an invitation is the best means to do this.