The Altar Call

     In evangelical churches today, there are many practices and traditions that present themselves in church buildings. Perhaps one of the most iconic of such practices is: the altar call. The part of a service where a speaker invites the congregation members to step forward and come to the place before the speaker, pray, and get their lives right with the Lord, put their faith in Jesus, or even pray for church members/loved ones.

     However, this tradition has caused some debate among church officials, leaders, and members. Is it Biblical? Does it do more harm than good? Is it something that should be emphasized at all? I previously didn't give this subject a lot of thought due to the fact that it seemed many other topics demanded my attention, but upon observing this practice multiple times in churches I thought it would be beneficial to write my thoughts on this matter.

History of the Altar Call

     The altar call started in the early nineteenth century. One of the earliest recorded happenings of this was with the Methodist preacher Peter Cartwright. Soon after other speakers started to adopt this method. Big names such as Charles Finney, D.L. Moody, and probably the most popular and well known to this day, Billy Graham.

The altar call is not the only thing that churches today have taken on from this period of time. In fact, our entire church services mostly derive from services of the Great Awakening. Most churches today have an order of service similar to this:

1. Welcome/Opening Prayer

2. Sing a Hymn

3. Announcements/Offering

4. Sing a Chorus

5. Sing a Hymn

6. Special Music

7. Sermon

8. Altar Call

9. Closing

     This setup has become famous and considered normal in church services since the early 1800s. This model can be seen even in the most modernized churches today.

Is The Altar Call Biblical?

     The short answer to this question is: no. As I said, its beginnings are traced back to early 1800s, not traced back to the Bible. In fact, the Bible has no such practice in place. However, just because something isn’t in the Bible doesn’t make it right/wrong, but if it’s not in the Bible we must be cautious before we make it a regular part of our church services.

Support for the Altar Call

     The Bible doesn’t speak about any such call. However, this has not stopped people from using passages such as Matthew 7, 12, Acts 2:37-40, 17:4, 18:4, 19:8 and many other passages as trying to construct an argument for this in the church. For the sake of time and space I’ll give you the basic argument that is given:

     The Argument for Altar Calls: Jesus called forth His disciples openly and they immediately responded and came forward following Him to become “fishers of men.” Before entire groups of people Jesus, Paul and Peter, on many occasions, ended with a call to the people (Ex: calling for people to build their house upon a rock.) Also, Paul stated himself that the Gospel and his sermons were literally meant to persuade people’s minds so the altar call is just a final attempt to persuade men to come forward and get right with God.

2 Corinthians 5:11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.

     Some even use the following verse in support of the altar call as well, saying that you are “claiming Christ before men.” Some go as far as saying it is a requirement to become a Christian.

Matthew 10:33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

     First, I am going to point out that this is not a requirement for salvation by any stretch of the imagination. That would directly go against Ephesians 2:8-9. No physical action we do will even assist our entry into heaven. Because as the Bible states

John 6:47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. 

     Next point I would mention is that the Gospel is meant to persuade the minds/hearts of the people of this world and bring them to Christ. It is also true that Jesus called out His disciples to follow Him. Also, it’s true that we see many preachers in the Bible ending in a “call to action” or a “call to decide." However, is it necessary to have this altar call to drive it home?

     Let me emphasize the fact that I don’t believe the altar call is a sinful terrible infestation in our churches, however, over time I’ve realized the dangers of this practice. Every church I’ve attended since I was a child has practiced an altar call and this has given me time to look over and study this topic and observe it personally.

The Dangers of the Altar Call

Confusion of its Purpose

     The first one is probably the largest issue that I mentioned earlier. When a preacher asks people to come forward it can cause a certain amount of confusion. It may imply that you have to go forward to get saved. So it is important that the preacher explains how to actually get saved from the pulpit. Simply going forward and making a “statement of faith” or reciting the Sinner’s Prayer doesn’t save someone. As we saw earlier the only way someone can get saved is by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. One man stated this:

“The church today has exchanged saving faith for a statement of faith.”

     Pastors all over the world become so focused on getting people to come forward to accept Christ that they really push and pressure people to come down the aisle instead of humbling themselves before the Lord, putting their faith in Him, and getting saved in their pews. Over the last year I have talked to many people and they always say “Well I know I’m saved because I went forward and talked to someone and they showed me some verses in the Bible and then I repeated a prayer, and that’s when I got saved.” Now, I’m not saying people don’t get saved through this method, but it can cause some serious confusion. Pastors must be cautious when using this method. Also, there are people I’ve seen raise their hand that they want to know how to get to heaven, but it seems they lack the courage to step out of their seat and talk to someone. One might say “Well, they’re cowardly then. Why care about what people think when your soul is on the line?” first off, that’s an unfair question to ask someone who is not a Christian yet. Also, the same could be said about any Christian who doesn’t witness to people because they get embarrassed or afraid. “Why wouldn’t you tell the Gospel when someone’s soul is on the line?” I’ll tell you why; because we’re all human. Some people are just introverted, have anxiety issues, or just get too nervous to do this.

     Pastor, if you don’t clearly explain the way of salvation and how to get to heaven/accept Christ as your Savior in your message, you have failed to deliver the Gospel. If you’re relying on an unsaved person to humble themselves before mankind before the event of their salvation, then you have reversed the order of which God commands His people. See, this idea taken from Matthew 10:33 of claiming God before men is only after someone already accepts Christ, not before.

     I remember trying to go forward during an altar call once when I was a kid. What was my reason? Because everyone else was doing it (more on that later.) I felt that’s what good Christians did, they go forward and pray at the steps. I remember trying to force my legs to move, they felt like lead, I was nervous, scared, and I went up there and tried praying but even then I was still nervous. Then I started thinking of what others thought of me, I couldn’t even focus on my prayer! I remember standing up and returning to me seat, still shaken up. Looking back on this, I realized that many people were emphasizing going forward. For weeks I was trying to get myself to do it because I was told that’s what you do when God speaks to you. I felt God speak to me many times before but couldn’t get the courage to go forward. I now see that I shouldn’t have been worried about going forward to show everyone that I got my heart right, but instead I should’ve just got my heart right in my seat.

     One’s salvation, and one’s walk with the Lord should not be based or even emphasized around an altar calling. That’s simply foolishness and missed opportunity.

A Path for Dishonesty and Manipulation

     Your first response to this point may be: “Wait, what? Dishonesty? Manipulation? At an altar call? In church? Highly unlikely.” This was my response when this point was first brought to me as well. Until someone explained it to me.

How many services have you been to where at the end the pastor says something like this:

“With every head bowed and every eye closed, if you feel God has spoken to your heart tonight, would you raise your hand? I’m not going to call you out, I’m not going to embarrass you, but if you feel God spoke to you, would you raise your hand?” *Hands go up* “Okay, thank you, you may put your hands down. Now, if you raised your hand I’m going to ask you to come out of your pews and pray at the altar.”

     I know I’ve been at a number of services where a statement like this had been made. For those of you who didn’t catch it, this approach makes the preacher a liar at worst, and a manipulator at best. He just stated that he wouldn’t “call them out” yet a few minutes later he indeed “called them out.”

James 5:12 But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

     Also, this approach is openly trying to manipulate people into coming forward, and this should never be. A church nor pastor should ever try to manipulate the minds of the people around them into getting a response that they want. We should desire hearts humble before the Lord and lives getting right with God, however, we shouldn't try to convince people or guilt them into stepping forward. I’ve heard a lot of techniques of how preachers get people to come to the altar. Many use guilting, scaring, or manipulating people to coming forward. The scarier part of this is that most preachers aren’t even aware that they’re doing that. Most never gave a second thought to how they worded their closing statements and they just repeat what they’ve heard so many times before. 

     I’ve personally witnessed people trying to earn the respect or admiration of people around them they go forward to the altar. When in the dorms in Bible College I heard a man mention that he goes forward because he wants people around him to see his heart for the Lord. His motive was ultimately trying impress others. This is not only a form of manipulation, but is also not the purpose for a call such as this. The opinion of others should never be what dictates someone to go before God publicly. 

Disrupts the Focus

     What I mean by this point is that often times people get consumed with how many people go forward! This easily turns into a desire for numbers and public renown. How many times have you heard someone say “The meeting was great! Over a hundred people went forward!” or how many times have you heard a pastor say, “I wish more people would come to the altar.” In fact, a good pastoral friend of mine had fallen into this trap. The problem is many preachers weigh the power of their words by the number of people at the altar. This is faulty and foolish. God can work in someone’s heart in their pew just as he can at the steps of a platform. Instead, preachers should weigh the words of God on the promises of God. The Bible says that the Gospel can never be returned void. So just preach with conviction and passion and you’d be surprised how your church can grow. Your altar might be empty, but the hearts of the people may be filled. This is what’s important. Not everyone goes forward, not everyone can go forward, and not all people feel comfortable with going forward, so therefore this should not be the focus of your ministry. Not even a highlight. 

A man once said

“The acid test of an evangelistic speaker is not what happens when a multitude responds; it is what happens when nobody responds.” - R. Larry Moyer

     Another quick thought, I’ve noticed many Christians feel in order to be considered good Christians they need to go forward to the altar. This is untrue, and honestly burdens me that our churches have made the altar calling such a focus that people think in order to be a good Christian or looked upon with any form of spirituality that they have to go forward. This is sad to me. We’ve focused so much on the altar call that we’ve missed the fact that God works in the heart. Not by walking down an aisle and praying at some steps before a platform.

Altar calls are not the only way to see people come to Christ. Moyer put it best:

“The altar call is one way of finding out who is interested in trusting Christ; it is by no means the only way, however. A church that does not use variety in the way it invites people to express their desire for Christ is a church too deeply steeped in tradition.”

     Obviously every pastor wants to see the results of his labor. This is only natural. However, what is our focus supposed to be?

1 Corinthians 4:2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.

     We have to also remember that God will bring the increase in all things. You don’t know if you’re the one planting the seed, watering it, or harvesting it. However, we do know that God is the one in control and he is the one who grows the church. This is what needs to be the focus of a church and pastor. That God will give the increase as long as you stay faithful.

1 Corinthians 3:6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

Shifting the Focus and Helpful Suggestions

     Let me clarify, I am not against the altar call, only giving dangers and traps that can be harmful to a church and its people. The Altar Call isn’t a method found in the Bible, but it is a way God has used to reach people. To deny that would be foolish. My own brother in-law surrendered to be a missionary during an altar call. I’ve known many good friends of mine who got saved or called to ministry through an altar call. However, I am encouraging you preachers, pastors, church members, to shift your focus away from the altar call and analyze how you (or your church) approach this portion of your service. Remember, God will give the increase. God will reward the fruits of your labor, just remember to remain faithful. Don’t be consumed with this one method.

Here are a few ideas:

1. Clearly Explaining: When giving the altar call, clearly explain the way of salvation. For if someone is at your service and doesn’t understand how to get to heaven, then you have failed at presenting the Gospel. Make sure they know coming forward does not make them saved. Also, repeating the Sinner’s Prayer, does not save them either. Clearly explain it, then offer for them to come forward to be explained more thoroughly or have any questions answered.

2. Accepting in Their Seats: This point should probably come during the same time you’re offering the altar call. Explain this to them that they can do this method if they want.

3. Sending Someone: When people raises their hand for salvation. Make a note. If they don’t come forward to talk to someone, then send someone to them and ask them if they want someone to show them how they know they will go to heaven. This would help with the people who are too nervous to go forward, yet, offering a helping hand. Please be sure that the people you choose are strong and mature Christians who can approach people and be friendly enough to make the individual comfortable.

4. Meeting Afterwards: Ask for those who have accepted Christ or interested in accepting Christ to meet in a room after the service. This allows for a more private experience for those who are shy yet have questions.

5. Communication Card: This would allow someone to “check off” on a box, leave any personal information and drop it in a plate at the end to be gathered.

6. Social Media: Pretty much the possibilities for this are endless. Have a page for your church, have people submit their testimonies via social media. Give the Gospel online etc.


     The altar call is not a scriptural method, no. However, just because it’s not found in scripture doesn’t make it instantly sinful. The issue isn’t so much a scriptural one, but more of a presentation one. When the altar call was first introduced it received a lot of criticism. Yet, today it’s considered a normal part of many services. There’s nothing wrong with using this method, but I do believe that if churches took a second to look at their practice critically they might see that some of these issues currently exist in their church and modify it properly. I encourage all of you to observe your churches, things about your own mentality of the altar calling. How can you and your church fine tune your gospel presentation? My desire is the the Gospel is given plainly and clearly.

Isaiah 55:11 So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.


  1. Good stuff !!!! I so appreciate this. The Lord just answered so many of my questions about alter call. Thank you for allowing the Lord to speak thru you ❤

  2. We were a part of a church that told the faithful members that they should come forward every altar call regardless of whether or not anything in the message spoke to us, but just so that other people would feel comfortable coming forward. Not to mention that NOT coming forward was considered not being in tune with God, because unless you're perfect you should be at this altar every time, Bless God!! I remember feeling the pressure to go forward regardless of the message - which most times really was not even from the Bible, it was from their opinion - and yet I'd still feel this pressure like if I don't go forward they will think I'm hard hearted... even though I wasn't. Anyway... the altar call has become a tradition and a mark of spirituality even though they say it's between you and God - that's the last thing it is.