What is it?
In the Christian religion, an altar call is an invitation that is offered during some church services or evangelistic events - especially evangelical Protestant ones - where the preacher or speaker invites or “calls” people to come to the front of the sanctuary, to the altar. At the altar, people confess their sins, ask forgiveness, and accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior by means of a prayer.
Altar calls are seldom found on Catholic or Orthodox churches. But within the Protestant tradition, they may be practiced by a variety of different Christian denominations, including Baptist, Methodist, and Lutheran churches. Altar calls are very common in Pentecostal churches.
Altar calls are practices in small rural churches and at massive urban crusades. They occur in churches that have a predominantly Caucasian makeup, Asian makeup, and African-American makeup. Altar calls are found in traditional liturgical congregations and modern church services.
Its purpose and meaning
Altar calls are commonly the zenith to evangelistic events, where the speaker’s message or sermon focused on why people need Christ - because they are born sinners. And what Christ has done to meet their need - he died for it on the cross.
Well known preachers and evangelists who have made altar calls a staple of their ministry include Charles Finney, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham.
The altar call originated as a method to encourage people to make a decision, as opposed to just listening to a message or sermon.
The altar call is intended to be personal – the individual is actively responding; it is also intended to be public – the individual is making known to the community that they are unashamed of making a decision for Christ.
For different reasons, not all Christian, or even evangelical churches, use altar calls. Some believe it promotes superficiality in that a person responds to the altar call thinking they have done enough for salvation yet there is no change from living for sin and for God.
Others believe that the public nature of the altar call prevents some people from responding to the message, who otherwise would have.