In recent years some pastors have abandoned the invitation at the conclusion of the sermon. I’m sure they have various reasons for this; however, the primary reason seems to be equating invitations with “easy believism.” I realize that invitations have been abused and misused over the years; but so have sermons, and we still preach sermons. Properly done, invitations are still necessary and helpful. Why do I still believe in and extend invitations when I preach?
Invitations Are Biblical
The Apostle Peter gave an invitation on the day of Pentecost: “And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, ‘Save yourselves from this crooked generation.’ So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:40-41 ESV).
Invitations Are Historical
In the practice of evangelism in the early 1800s evangelist Charles G. Finney invited people concerned about their souls to come forward and sit on the “anxious bench” at the front of the hall. Later in that century Dwight L. Moody encouraged those under the conviction of the Holy Spirit to go to the “inquirers’ room,” where counselors awaited them. Billy Sunday exhorted his listeners to “hit the sawdust trail” to demonstrate their commitment to Christ.
Billy Graham refined the invitation for use in his evangelistic crusades. He challenged his audiences to come forward to the platform. There, he would pray for them, and then trained counselors would speak with each person individually.
In his book, The Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren tells about the first invitation he gave at Saddleback. He held his first public worship in a movie theater. At the end of the sermon he intended to invite inquirers to come forward and speak with him, but he realized he was up on the stage. He couldn’t jump down to the floor level, so he had to improvise. He remembered that he had placed response cards in each chair, so he asked the people to write their decision on that card. Later, he visited each person to counsel and pray with them. This method worked so well that he continued to use it.
Invitations Can Vary
I know some preachers invite inquirers to come forward after the service to speak with the preacher, another pastor, or trained counselor. Others encourage inquirers to make their way to a counseling room. Still others use a card, as Rick Warren does. And, of course, some still have an invitation hymn or song and invite people to “walk the aisle.” I do that myself. I like what Bellevue Baptist Church (Memphis) does. They have a walk the aisle invitation, but those who respond are escorted to the counseling room, where trained counselors speak and pray with them. At the end of the service, the associate pastor encourages people who did not respond to the invitation to come forward and speak with a pastor. Usually, several people do so.
Invitations Are Important
It is important to give the attenders an opportunity to respond in some way. You may have heard the story from the life of Dwight L. Moody. One night he preached an evangelistic message at his church in Chicago. At the conclusion of the service he told the people, “Tomorrow night I’ll tell you what do in response to the gospel.” That night the Great Chicago Fire destroyed much of the city, and many of his listeners died in the fire. Moody vowed never to preach again without extending an invitation.
Concerns about easy believism can be allayed by insuring that everyone who responds speaks with a trained counselor, who reads the Scriptures and prays with the person. Of course, careful and thorough discipling follows that conversation. Let’s invite people to believe in Christ.
For further study see: Alan Streett’s book, The Effective Invitation, and my book, Evangelism: A Concise History.