I grew up in a church that would often manipulate people to make a “profession of faith,” that really wasn’t one. As I was reading through Andy Naselli’s blog the other day, I noticed that he posted a section of Jack Hyles book, The Hyles Church Manuel (a book that minister in my childhood church owned and gave away to young preachers). This is from chapter 27: “The Invitation Time.” This describes what I experienced growing up, and for a period of time, what I tried to do to people. I would have just directed you to read Andy’s blog, but I want to keep this little nugget on mine for future reference. Jack Hyles:
After observing for nearly twenty-two years the preaching of hundreds of preachers across America, I have come to the conclusion that many of us need intensive help in the conducting of a public invitation. Many wonderful gospel messages can be rendered ineffective by a weak invitation.
On the other hand, many average preachers can be rewarded greatly with the use of an effective, pungent, public invitation. Though in many places a public invitation is seldom used and even considered out of date, it is still true that the greatest soul-winning churches utilize an effective, spiritual, Spirit-filled, powerful invitation as their greatest means of evangelism. May we look at a few practical pointers concerning the invitation.
1. Starting the Invitation
- Do not reveal the closing of the sermon. When the sermon reaches a high point or a climax, then would be a good time to close abruptly. Even if the sermon is not completed, sometimes God may lead one to close prematurely in order to start the invitation from a high spiritual plane. This also prevents the unsaved from “digging in,” so to speak, before the invitation is given.
- Upon the completion of the sermon, ask the people to bow their heads and close their eyes. Such statements as these are sometimes effective, “Every head bowed, every eye closed, no one is leaving. No one is moving while God speaks to our hearts.”
- Now ask the congregation, “With heads bowed, how many can say under God, ‘I know that if I died momentarily I would go to Heaven’?” Such an approach may be used, “Now while every head is bowed, every eye is closed, no one is leaving, no one is moving, with God being our witness, those of you who can say, ‘If I died today, I know beyond any shadow of doubt that I would go to Heaven,’ would you raise your hand?”
- Ask lost people to raise their hands. A good way would be as follows, “Now while our heads are bowed, some of you could not raise your hands that you knew that if you died today, you would go to Heaven. You were too honest to raise your hand; you were sincere in not raising your hand, but would you say, ‘Preacher, I want to know that I am saved. I wish I could say that if I died now, I would go to Heaven. I want to know that I’m a Christian. Please pray for me.’ If you can say that while everyone is still and no one is looking, if you want me to pray that you may know that if you died you would go to Heaven, would you lift your hand?” While the hands are being lifted, you may simply acknowledge each hand raised with a “God bless you,” “I see you,” “I’ll pray for you,” or some other acknowledgment.
- While heads are still bowed, pray for them. Such a prayer as this would be fine: “Dear Lord, help the people who raised their hands to receive Christ today. May this be the biggest day in their lives and today may they have the joy of knowing that if they died they would go to Heaven. Bless the lady on the aisle near the front; bless the man in the rear of the balcony. I pray that you would save those two on my left and the one in the back at the right of the auditorium. Speak to their hearts and may today be the biggest day of their lives as they receive Jesus as their Saviour.” At the conclusion of this prayer, do not give away the closing of the prayer and do not say “Amen,” but continue speaking.
- Lead them to pray silently where they are sitting, thusly: “Now while our heads are bowed; you raised your hand, you said that you wanted to know that if you died today, you would go to Heaven. You can know. The Bible tells of a man who prayed the sinner’s prayer and put his faith in the Saviour. Would you right now simply pray this prayer silently, ‘Dear Lord, be merciful to me a sinner and save me now. I do now receive Jesus as my Saviour from sin and trust Him to take me to Heaven when I die?’” Insist that they pray this prayer silently. You may even quote the prayer again to them.
2. The Public Profession
- Lead them to a public profession in the service. Tell them exactly what they are to do. For example, “Now while every head is bowed and every eye is closed, you have raised your hand to admit your lost condition. You have said that you wanted to know that if you died you would go to Heaven. If you would make this the day of your acceptance of Christ and make this the red-letter day of your life by receiving Jesus as your Saviour I’m going to ask you to do this: We’re going to stand and sing in a minute; as we stand and sing I’m going to ask you to leave your seat, come to the nearest aisle, walk down that aisle to the altar, give me your hand, and let me tell the people that you are receiving Christ as your Saviour today. I beg you in Jesus’ name do not let Satan win the battle. Leave your seat when we sing, come to the aisle, down to the front, and let me tell the people that you are receiving Christ today.”
- Start the invitation hymn. Have the people stand. Have the choir lead the song militantly. This song should have been previously practiced by the choir. It should be rendered as a special number. It should not be dragged and it should not be whiny. It should be a very good musical presentation. At our services we always use the same song to open every invitation. “Just As I Am” is the song.
- Continue singing the same song as long as folks are coming. As long as people are walking the aisle, it is not good to change the song. If God is blessing a certain invitation song, we often sing it four or five times all the way through. As soon as people quit coming on one song, it is good to change songs.
- Let the people observe the invitation as long as folks are coming. If the invitation begins successfully and people are walking the aisle, it is good usually to let the congregation observe it. This will be a blessing to others and perhaps other lost ones can be won as they see people walking the aisle. As soon as people quit walking the aisle or if the invitation starts slowly, I would suggest an early time of asking the people to bow their heads in prayer. Once again, I would make an appeal of urgency and continue singing with heads bowed.
- The pastor should control the invitation. We have found it advantageous for the pastor to decide when the songs should be sung. For example, the pastor may stop the choir by the lifting of his hand, ask the people to bow their heads, and say words such as this: “Now while our heads are bowed would you come? God loves you. Jesus wants to save you. This could be the greatest day in your life. As the choir sings ‘Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling,’ would you leave your seat, come down the aisle and receive Christ as your Saviour? Do not linger. Today is your opportunity.” By that time the choir will have found the next song and can begin singing. Have the choir trained so that the rustling of pages will not interfere. Any moving on the part of the people or the choir can be a hindrance to an invitation. It is never good for the song leader to turn to the choir a few minutes before the end of the sermon and have them find the song as the pastor closes his message. The nearer the message gets to the end and the farther toward the invitation and into the invitation the pastor gets, the quieter the service should be. The pastor should also control the loudness or softness of the song. Our choir director is trained to have the choir sing the song loudly and at an average tempo unless otherwise directed by the pastor. The pastor may say, “While our heads are bowed, the choir will sing softly the next stanza,” or he may say, “As our heads are bowed and God is working, the choir will sing softly and slowly their next stanza.” In other words, the changes of songs, tempo, volume, etc., during the invitation, should be controlled by the pastor.
- Have soul winners at the altar to kneel with those who come forward. In many churches people often come down the aisles under conviction who never get converted. They need to be shown the Scriptures, prayed with at the altar, and led to Christ in the service. We have some people trained to do this. The pastor may simply motion for a soul winner as he sees the person coming forward. The soul winner may kneel at the altar or have a seat on the front row and deal with them. It is our opinion that it is much better to deal with people in the service than to take them out of the service. The inspiration is there, the singing is there, and we find it better to leave them in the service until its completion. After the soul winner is satisfied, he may lead the convert to a seat on the front and introduce the convert to the church clerk or secretary who in turn will take his name and give it to the pastor.
3. Make Much of Those Saved
The pastor then may read to the people the names of those coming. This is a very important time. It should not be done quickly. Each person should be presented to the people, asked to stand at the front, and the pastor should say some sweet word of encouragement and blessing to the people concerning the convert. Remember, a new name has just been written down in Heaven. Hell has been robbed! Heaven has been populated! Christ has seen the travail of His soul and been satisfied! Heaven is rejoicing, and the angels are shouting! We should also make much over people saved in our services.
4. Baptize the Converts Immediately
(See Chapter on Baptism)
This is not the only way, of course, to conduct an invitation. It may not even be the best way. To be sure, there are many other good ways. But this pastor has found through twenty-two years’ experience that this is the most profitable way for his ministry. Perhaps, some of the aforementioned suggestions will help others in inviting the unsaved to come to the Saviour. One thing is certain: We need to put more emphasis upon the public invitation in our churches.
May God help us to realize that this is a life-or-death proposition. Eternity is at stake. Eternal values rest on our efficiency and the anointing of God upon our methods and upon our message. May we spend more time than the surgeon would and be more diligent than the doctor would be as we wrestle, operate and work with the immortal souls of men, women, boys and girls.