July 02, 2009

"Walking the Aisle" (Part 1)

I'm away taking a seminary class this week, and I've spent my evenings preparing to take over leading First Hattiesburg's First Family 101 class. If you grew up going to a church in the South, you will immediately notice that we don't do a "walk the aisle/come forward" invitation at the end of our services. First Family 101 sort of takes the place of that invitation.

One of the questions I'm most often asked about our church is why we don't use this method in our services. In honor of that, I decided to post (in several parts) a paper I once wrote called "The Invitation: A History of the Altar Call". Not a lot has been written about it, so if you're into that sort of thing, I hope you enjoy it. Here is the brief introduction:

Every Sunday morning, in churches across the world, pastors bring their sermon to a close and begin a common ritual. After sharing the gospel, an appeal is made to those in the congregation who wish to give their life to Christ, and they are asked to “come forward” in order to receive salvation. The public invitation, or the “altar call”, is a regular occurrence that can be found in evangelical churches, youth services, revivals, crusades and camp meetings.[1] For some, it is a test of true evangelicalism, while others view it as an outdated practice, or one that has no basis in Scripture. Many churches only hire pastors who end their sermons with this “appeal”, and some families use this as a litmus test for which church they will attend. Critics accuse those who use it as an emotional or manipulative tool that leaves many people confused. Since no explicit instance of this practice is found in the Bible, what are its origins and how has use of the public invitation become so widespread? This paper seeks to show how and where the altar call originated, a history of its use in the church and revival meetings, and what its lasting effects are today.

Click here for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, or Part 8.

[1] The terms “altar call” and “public invitation” in this paper are used synonymously unless otherwise noted. The definition of these terms comes from David Bennett’s book, The Altar CallLanham, MD: University Press of America, 2000), xvi. ( It is, in part, “a method of evangelism, within which a…planned invitation is given to ‘unbelievers’ to respond to Jesus Christ publicly…in such ways as: calling out a response, raising a hand, standing, or walking to a designated spot…”. It should also be noted that the “inquiry room”, “anxious seat” or “bench” and the “mourner’s bench” are essentially the same forms of public invitation.


James & Kristie Roberts said...

Answer the most important question for us: What was your grade?

humanivy said...

95. Points counted off for not referencing, "Just As I Am" nor referencing how many verses a hymn can be sung before you wrap the whole altar call up.

Joey said...

Sounds interesting. I've always been curious as how the "altar call" started.

Dane Conrad said...

come on, come on, gimme part two - or better yet, just email me the paper.

good stuff.