Chapter 8 of The Effective Invitation: A Practical Guide To The Pastor by R. Alan Streett is called “How to Prepare and Deliver a Public Invitation.” Street states that the ideal conclusion serves three primary purposes: it serves as an effective closing, it applies the truths spelled out in the sermon to the lives of the listeners (What does the sermon mean to me?), it calls upon the listeners to take immediate action in response to what they have heard. Streett quotes L.R. Scarbourough: “The invitation is the logical climax of the evangelistic sermon. Without it the message is incomplete and its effects unknown.” As the conclusion is the most important part of the sermon, the invitation is the most important part of the evangelistic sermon. But it is here that most ministers fail. Reasons vary as to why most fail, but one major reason is that most do not know how to give a good invitation. Relying on the Spirit’s power, one must learn to prepare and plan the invitation with the same care as the rest of the sermon. Prayer is the key. Communion with Christ gives us Christ’s own burden for souls (Rom. 9: 1-3). After reaching this point, much of the battle will have been won. We must rely on the Spirit as we prepare and deliver an effective invitation. How does one transition from the message to the conclusion? One way, utilized by Billy Graham, is to ask an appropriate question, such as “What are you going to do about it?” You can ask scriptural questions (Mt. 22:42, 1Kings 18:21, Acts 16:30). Or you can close with a statement of promise (2Cor. 5:17, Jn. 3:3, Col. 3:10, Ezk. 36:26). Then the evangelist must give theological instructions; Peter did not allow the question “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) to go unanswered. People must be called to repent, believe, and follow Christ openly, unashamedly. These terms must be clearly defined and given scriptural support. The proper use of persuasion must be present. Streett quotes Dr. Robert Dale: “To leave the truth to do its work, and to trust the hearts and consciences of our hearers to apply it, is a great and fatal mistake.” Streett also quotes J.I. Packer: “[ Evangelism is] is communication with a view to conversion.” (See Lk: 14:23, Acts 17:4, 18:4, 19:8,26, 28: 23,24). To persuade successfully, one must be persuaded one’s self that Christ is the only path to salvation, make the appeal personal (with plenty of personal pronouns), use appropriate scriptures (see Heb. 4:12, Ps. 119:30, Rom. 10:17, 2Tim. 3: 15), if your invitation moves the will of your hearer and brings it into submission to the person of Jesus Christ. There are two avenues of approach to the will: the intellect and the emotions. A man can be motivated to specific action if his mind is convinced it is reasonable and his heart is convinced it is necessary. Use of a motivational theme is a highly effective method of reaching the will through the intellect and emotions. A topic of interest, interspersed with appropriate scriptures and exhortations, will lead to appropriate responses. One set of scriptures and exhortations should reach the mind, the second set the heart, all with the goal of moving the will. But the conclusion does not end here. There must be a call to public commitment, a response to what one has heard. Says Streett: “Emotions can be roused and the intellect stirred, but unless the sinner is challenged to exercise his will and given the opportunity to do so, it is unlikely he will do it on his own. This is why the public invitation is the hub of the evangelistic sermon.” One must choose one’s method of public invitation. It should be simple and personal. People are ready to act; keep it short. Memorize the appeal so as to maintain eye contact. Have a conversational tone, you are speaking to individuals here. Be serious, showing the depth of your concern. Don’t rush, weigh your words carefully. Don’t engage in distracting mannerisms or behavior that attracts attention away from the message. Introduce no new material. Wait for the Holy Spirit to produce results; pray after the message as Satan will be actively trying to prevent people from responding (Eph. 6:12, 2Cor. 10:4). After prayer, one must be ready to accept the results. Wait until the people have stopped responding. If there is little, or no response, wait a few minutes before closing.
Chapter 9 is entitled “Invitational Models.” Invitational models fall into two categories: those that call for an immediate response and those for a delayed response. All have a record of success, all have drawbacks. Through trial and error, the pastor/evangelist must learn which one suits his personality and theological interests as well as his church setting (ex.- is the church large or small?)
THE DELAYED RESONSE:
The After Meeting- It eliminates the pressure to make an immediate decision, eliminates the embarrassment of coming forward, it eliminates the dramatic element and circus atmosphere of a public invitation, it separates the sincere seekers from the curiousity seekers, it gives a quiet place for the pastor to speak to enquirers.
Special Appointments- Allows the pastor and seeker a mutually convenient meeting time, it shows the pastors concern for the individual, and provides privacy in dealing with the seekers spiritual needs.
The Signing of Cards- It allows the pastor to meet with the seeker in the seeker’s own home, eliminating the distractions of an altar call or a noisy room, allowing both to be more open with each other.
Special Classes- Allows time for a relationship to build between pastor and seeker, guarantees that the instruction will be thorough.
The Delayed Altar Call- The Holy Spirit is given time to work without the pressure of time, the people will know what to expect, they will not be caught off guard.
The Dangers of the Delayed Response- God calls sinners to be saved immediately (2Cor. 6:2, Mt. 4:17, Mk. 1: 16-20, Mt. 8: 21-22), allows the convicted person to quench the workings of the Spirit to get their minds off the issues at hand on onto the things of the world, it gives Satan an opportunity to snatch away the word placed in the sinner’s heart, the Holy Spirit may not draw that person in the future.
THE IMMEDIATE RESPONSE:
The Altar Call- Calls for an immediate decision, motivates the new believer to confess Christ to others in the future, eliminating fear of public testimony, his open confession places his lifestyle in public view.
The raising of hands and standing at the seat- Allows for a immediate, public response when coming forward is impractical.
The Act of Public Confession- No one knows who has made a decision until they have publicly responded, eliminating pressure.
The Progressive Invitation (The weakest model)- It calls upon responders to take steps they never intended to take. Some would not raise their hands for prayer if they knew they would be called forward. They feel trapped and embarrassed.
Baptism- Many churches consider baptism to be the initial act of public confession after conversion. Many pastors testify to successful responses to public invitations when the service is opened with baptism. Baptism is a picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and it reinforces the gospel message preached immediately afterward. Many unsaved relatives are present that would not normally attend church.
The Private Decision- Instead of calling responders forward, the pastor asks that people let him know of their decision before they leave the building. It is immediate, but eliminates pressure. Informing the pastor is an indicator of sincerity.
The Dangers of the Immediate Response- It is susceptible to gimmickry, the tendency to number all inquirers as converts, lack of follow-through counseling. Counselors should have the gift of exhortation.