by Dan Nelson, pastor
FBC Camarillo, Calif.
The answer to the question of a public invitation’s implementation is simple: Use the type of invitation that works the best in your situation. The needs of people in your area and the personality of the preacher have much to do with the way you give a call to commitment.
We looked at great evangelists and their invitation methods in our last post. However, most pastors do not preach to that many lost people every Sunday. Certainly, the call to come to Christ must be issued somewhere in the service. Yet, what about the other 95-to-98 percent of the people who are there? Do they have to sit this one out if you give an invitation to the small percentage of non-Christians in attendance? I think that we must earnestly survey our situations and determine what the Lord would lead us to do.
I favor the public invitation and believe there are common elements of the invitation that make good sense. We should endeavor to plan these carefully.
1. Vary the approach of the invitation from time-to-time.
When people share with me, they have had no public response to the invitation for weeks or even months, then other approaches need to be explored. I think the pastor and church need to be creative. Every pastor has a response to every message he preaches; but, he needs some public expression of what people decide to do based on what they have heard. Try to get people to share with the person next to them what they have decided to do because of what they have heard. Initially, this would seem to work in smaller groups on Sunday evenings. Offer a time to dialogue after the evening message for people to declare what they have decided in an evening service.
2. Offer an opportunity for people to make some response.
I’m not talking about cheapening the invitation to have everyone who loves their mother on Mother’s Day to come forward. I’m not really in favor of having everyone who wants to see revival in the opening service of a meeting to come forward in the invitation. Rather, challenge the people to do something in response to God. This can be done publicly or privately.
If the sermon is about mothers on Mother’s Day, then suggest a response that includes thanks to God and to mothers for the ways they have blessed others’ lives.
3. Pattern the invitation after the sermon preached.
I don’t think a person should preach on tithing and not mention something about it during the invitation. The transition to the invitation will be more natural when this way. While serving as pastor of a small rural church in Mississippi, I encountered the need to do this. The church had just completed its first Vacation Bible School in years. After my message on the home during family night, I asked families to come and pray for their family at the front with their hands on the big family Bible. It was a wonderful service. This may not work everywhere. Yet, the invitation just flowed naturally from the message.
4. Coordinate the invitation hymn with the sermon’s content.
Every hymn or chorus in the service should be centered on a certain theme. This should especially be true concerning the invitation song whether a contemporary chorus or traditional invitation hymn; it should reflect the theme of the service and sermon. Above all, there must be some coordination between preacher and music director. Vary the approach to music in the invitation. The congregation may want to sing, and then you may ask them to bow their heads and be in an attitude of prayer as the choir or praise team sings. Avoid the rut of routine.
5. Be prepared to extend an evangelistic invitation.
When the time comes to give an evangelistic invitation, do it confidently and positively. If you preach an evangelistic sermon, prepare and extend an evangelistic invitation. Don’t preach another sermon in the invitation. It has helped me to study the methods of visiting evangelists as they extend the public invitation. I believe it is good from time-to-time to ask for a show of hands, while heads are bowed, from those who know they are saved. Then issue the evangelistic invitation to those who could not raise their hand. You could lead them in a prayer of commitment right then. Explain exactly what the decision to come forward means, and inform them that spiritual counseling will be readily available. This is very important for those who may be new to your church.
6. Use trained counselors as part the public invitation.
This is a necessity. Counselors must be prepared for whatever decisions those coming forward may make whether for salvation, rededication, surrender to ministry, or other personal and/or spiritual matters and issues. There are many materials for training counselors. Every church, no matter how large or small should have trained counselors.
7. Find the best time for counselors to come forward.
Some churches have counselors come forward during a prayer before the invitation hymn. Some come forward as those who are making decisions for Christ also come forward. Others have counselors waiting in rooms adjacent to the worship center. Whatever the method, it should be employed reverently and with a minimum of distraction.
A young ministerial student told Spurgeon that he was having no response to his messages. Spurgeon asked, “Do you expect a response to them?” He said, “No not every time.” Spurgeon countered: “That’s your problem.”
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