The Evolution of the Evangelical Altar.

I always feel bad when I am at a church, and I am the only one not up at the altar.

It isn’t that I don’t love “altar calls.” But most of the times when I don’t go up front (follow the double negative), it isn’t because what the pastor says doesn’t apply to my life. It does apply to my life. The problem when it comes to altar calls is usually the call to come up front deals with something that every one can relate to.

It is an emotional appeal aimed at solely one thing – to get a large response.

I think it is okay to find something that all people can work on. It is part of the human condition. But it is entirely different when the altar call is practically, “Come up front if you aren’t perfect.” Most of the time in these situations the intention of the altar call isn’t about changing the hearts of the people, but it is geared towards getting a response from the pulpit. It is an emotionally induced application that leaves people feeling satisfied with walking out the door.

This is a typical monologue:

“I feel bad about [insert relevant sin].”

“I’m going to walk up front and stand and pray and cry for a few minutes at the altar.”

“Okay, now I am going to walk out the door and continue on with my life without actually making any changes to my lifestyle.”

So let’s get some facts straight:

First off, “altar calls” (as far as we know) were not a part of the early church. There isn’t any mention of altar calls in a service or in service order in any New Testament text. The altar in the Old Testament was the place where a myriad of different sacrifices were made to God. Along the way and as of recently, it was decided that it would be a place of spiritual sacrifice – offering oneself as a living sacrifice to God (Rom 12:1). Though this might be indirectly applying biblical truths, altar calls themselves are not biblical. Yet there are churches embracing altar calls and shunning moves of the Spirit, because moves of the Spirit are “unbiblical.”

Talk about your double standard.

There is a practical place for an “altar call.” We can embrace it as a tradition as long as we don’t try to defend it as doctrine. The altar is a place where one can receive prayer. It is a marvelous place for intercession. Sometimes it is even a wonderful place of proclamation and acclamation! The altar is a place where one’s life can be altered.

But the altar is NOT a place of application.

You can only apply the teaching of Christ or the Bible away from the altar. Application means that there is an action, and while the altar might help you take that first step, it can’t do anything after the steps are taken. That is just direct obedience.

If you go to the altar, make sure you walk your decisions out of the door. Intentions without actions are inanimate.

Live a life of animation.

Live a life of application.

Press on past the altar.


Author: BobertHill

My name is Bobby. I have just finished my undergraduate at Central Bible College. I am passionate about the Lord, and knowing Him in truth. I am dry and sarcastic, and hopefully that can be fleshed out in a mostly humane way through my writings.

7 thoughts on “The Evolution of the Evangelical Altar.”

  1. Thank you for writing about this topic. It always amazed me the amount of pressure that is placed on us to go to the alter either by others or ourselves. It is nice to have an apology to defend my belief that a spiritual experience doesn’t have to be held at the alter alone.

  2. The altar calls that amused me came from evangelist who asked, ” Do you need to be forgiven for something in your life? Come forward.” Then they would lead everyone in a sinner’s prayer and claim the whole crowd as new converts and add the notches to their belt.

    There is, however, a benefit beyond large responses to making altar calls general. It allows people to respond without being publically pin-pointed over a certain sin or problem. Even those who have already accepted Christ can and should be made to feel comfortable and appropriate responding to the maturing work of the Holy Spirit.

    My goal for “altar calls” is simply to facilitate a way for people to respond to God’s Word after the message. If people acknowledge God voice during a message, they may be more likely to follow up on obeying his voice. If people verbalize a response to God, they may take more ownership for the new insight gained. It is part of the spiritual nurturing process.

    My favorite kind of altar call is when I ask people to simply talk with someone around them about how the message spoke to their heart before they leave the sanctuary. I also ask them pray for each other as they feel so led. It is great to see everyone talking, listening, relating and praying. People may relate on any level they feel comfortable. A large majority responds. People don’t feel “gawked at” from the crowd who all seem to be wondering what dark sin they are struggling with. And, many times people want to talk and pray about how the Spirit is impressing their heart but they feel awkward initiating conversation or prayer on their own. Now they do it simply because I ask them to.

    1. Pastor Scott,

      You have wisdom beyond your years. After posting this, I got a lot of encouragement, especially from millennials, who have felt the same thing that my focus was on. I also got some responses of warning from more seasoned pastors. Your response has been the most fruitful.

      I tend to forget that maybe the pastor is being positively intentional and not wanting to have individuals feel singled-out. I wrote the blog in a fit of rambling and venting. I realize now that some of my points may be rash, or at least dismissive or unthoughtful of the intent of some pastors, and the value of a time of response.

      Thank you for your response. It was truly one of encouragement. I still have a lot to learn. I hope all is going well with you and the Mrs. in Michigan. And thank you again for taking the time to read this, and taking the time to respond.

  3. There seems to be a weird situation in our churches… some churches use the hyper-emotional (or overly broad) appeal to pump up altar response… but the larger trend seems to be eliminating the opportunity for response at all. I’ve been in churches all over the country and pastors seem very uncomfortable with anything in services that isn’t totally programmed or totally controlled… or maybe they are afraid that no one will respond? That mindset seems profoundly out of place in a church, especially a Pentecostal church. Some have moved “response time” to during congregational worship, which seems a little odd to me (no offense to anyone intended).
    I absolutely agree with you Bobby… altar calls aren’t doctrine. If they are done, they should be done for more than tradition’s sake. They can be a point of response, they can be a point of decision… yes, of course the real value is in the life lived after the altar experience. It just seems to me that we shouldn’t be afraid to bring people to a point of decision.

    1. I agree.

      Most of this post was writing as I thought. It was slight venting and just writing about something that I felt a lot of people in our generation were feeling – that there are some leaders in the church that try to take emotional advantage of their followers.

      I think some of my thoughts were a little too forward. I also think I left much out of my post, seeing as I want to keep it as more of a blog post rather than an article.

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