The 3 Parts of the Altar Call - Leaders.Church

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The 3 Parts of an Altar Call

Video Transcript Below

Dick Hardy 0:00
It’s great to be with you here on this Leaders.Church video. Today, I’m with my good friend Scotty Gibbons from the great state of Oklahoma.

Dick Hardy 0:20
Scotty and I have been good friends for, can you believe this, 20 years, Scotty.

Scotty Gibbons 0:25
It’s impossible!

Dick Hardy 0:26
Unbelievable what the Lord has done in our lives and directed our steps. We worked together at James River Church back in the early 2000s. I’ve watched Scotty’s ministry career be able to touch thousands of people around the nation and around the world.

Dick Hardy 0:43
So, it’s great to be with you, my friend. You know, you’ve been so kind to offer to talk with us today about how to do an altar call. We’re in a focus here at Leaders.Church on preaching. So, we want to talk about when you’re preaching, what are the things you need to be thinking about as you’re preparing to bring people into the altar call.

Dick Hardy 1:05
Now, I need to say something about you first, Scotty, on a little bit of a lighter note before you get going pontificating on all these things. We had a mutual friend who was on staff with us at the time, Chris Lewis. He made a comment about Scotty. The Lord has gifted Scotty to be able to do altar calls in ways that really have the Lord’s hand clearly on it.

Dick Hardy 1:30
But Chris said that Scotty could read from the phone book and things would happen. I still have a phone book and should have had it here with me. But, honestly, Scotty could read from the phone book and do an altar call and people would get saved. I don’t know if it’s quite that crazy. Scotty would wave it off. But really, it’s been a joy to watch this thing happen with Scotty.

Dick Hardy 1:49
Now after I’ve totally lost the seriousness of the moment, I want you to jump in, Scotty and talk to pastors about what do you do to get that altar call? Because it’s a spiritual thing. Yet it’s a human endeavor as preachers. So, there you go.

Scotty Gibbons 2:08
Well, I think that it is a very spiritual thing. I would say this as it relates to giving an altar call and wanting to see people say yes to Jesus and follow God. Man, that’s what we’re all about as preachers, right? I mean, we are doing the thing because we want more people to go to heaven and fewer people to go to hell.

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Scotty Gibbons 2:29
We just have to be careful to not fall into the trap of getting our identity with that, or seeing success or failure based off of if somebody responds or how many would say yes. I think that there are some people, God uses more along the lines of leading people to worship. Some people more along the lines of just discipleship-oriented and really challenging people to go deeper. Some people God uses in a more evangelistic type of ministry.

Scotty Gibbons 2:56
So, I know for me, I’ve got to be very careful about comparing just how God is using me to how he’s using someone else. But that being said, I think there are things all of us can do, just to say, I want to take the best swing I can to make sure that as I’m preaching the gospel, I’ve done everything I can to prepare my heart and the heart of the people to say yes to Jesus.

Scotty Gibbons 3:19
(1)So, there are a couple of things that come to my mind. The first would be on the spiritual preparation side. Way before the altar call is ever given and you say, “Bow your heads and close your eyes,” you’re about to give people a chance to respond and say yes to Jesus, there is work that hopefully has been going on a long time before that time.

Scotty Gibbons 3:40
I would just say that the importance of intercessory prayer cannot be overstated. Our outlines are not going to save anybody. It’s not going to deliver anybody. The stuff that people are carrying into that service like addictions is huge. Those who aren’t saved, living in darkness need the truth. To think that I’m going to come up with an outline that’s going to talk them out of that, that’s going to convince them that they don’t need to stay hooked on those drugs, that outline is not going to do it. It’s going to be the power of the Holy Spirit working in their lives.

Scotty Gibbons 4:10
As I say that, as I’m about to say this next thought that just popped in my head, I promise, I’m not trying to sound like an Old Testament prophet who’s ticked off right now. But I do think that unfortunately, a lot of times, especially in our culture today, we spend a lot more time crafting a tweetable point than we do really fighting through for a breakthrough. And there’s just no shortcut. There just isn’t.

Scotty Gibbons 4:35
So, to my preacher friends, I would just say we know this. The question is, do we do this? So, that would be the first part. I would just say when we get to that moment of when we’re about to give people a chance to say, “I’m ready to just sell out and give God my everything. I’m going to turn my life over to him.” Long before that, hopefully our whole message was written with that in mind. In our prayers, the breakthrough, the intercession has taken place long before we get to that.

Dick Hardy 5:04
Yeah, that’s good. So, thinking through that spiritual component is critical. I want to just put a note here, pastors, do not blow past that point. If you do, you’ll do it to your own peril. You’ve got to be focused on that spiritual component, because at the end, it is a spiritual act the Lord is doing. So, that’s the spiritual component. What’s the next component, Scotty, you think a pastor needs to be thinking through as he’s in the body of their message?

Scotty Gibbons 5:37
So, I think on the spiritual side, I’m preparing my heart and I’m praying for the hearts of the hearers, that they’d be open and receptive, they’d received the word of truth. Then I’d say, as we’re presenting the truth, while you’re in the middle of the talk, I think that a lot of times we fail to really process the gravity of what the doctor out there, the lawyer, the football coach or the stay-at-home mom, what’s happening in their mind. So, we’re talking about spiritual preparation, but now it’s just the mental preparation.

Scotty Gibbons 6:07
When you think about the leap that we’re hoping they’re going to make in a 30-minute talk, when we’ve opened with whatever, we’re talking about an illustration, we give them a text, and then get down to the end and go, “By the way, have you thought about where you’re going to spend eternity? You know, do you want to burn forever in hell?” And they’re like, “Can you give me a minute?”

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Scotty Gibbons 6:24
(2)So, after the spiritual preparation, second, I would say, there are some practical things to think through just on the mental side of it. Prepare the people’s minds throughout the message before you get to that ending point.

Scotty Gibbons 6:35
Let me give a couple of specific examples, something I say almost every time in my message, usually towards the beginning, if possible. I’ll just say something fun like, “I can’t wait to go to heaven. Anybody else excited about going to heaven?” Well, that’s just a question kind of fun, but there are people in there saying things like, “Wait a minute? What? Go where? I’m not so sure that I am going.”

Scotty Gibbons 6:57
So, that is a very subtle way maybe or not a confrontational way to say, “As we’re about to get into stuff that I’m talking about, let’s view the message right now through this lens of really what we’re thinking about it, with the thought of man, there’s something even after this life.”

Scotty Gibbons 7:16
Boom! Time out. I have heard you do that. And you’re telling me, that was intentional? That was very intentional? It’s not just a throwaway line? As the hearer, I didn’t hear that as an intentional question, I heard a speaker drawing me in. I’m going to heaven and I’m fine. But I would say to those watching this video, pay attention to this piece, because that’s a very simple thing on the front end that begins to get people’s mental faculties moving to ultimately the altar call.

Scotty Gibbons 7:53
I think it is, and hopefully everything we’re saying is extremely intentional because we have limited time and limited words. So, it certainly could be to engage the audience. But when we’re thinking specifically about drawing people to a place of yes or no, to surrendering to Christ, I think there are things we can say like that just begin to get the wheels turning. So, we don’t wait until the end to go, “Have you thought about your soul? And where it’s going to spend forever.”

Scotty Gibbons 8:20
Just another practical example, because I do think this is an important part is, even if you’re speaking on fear saying, “We’re living in a day and time where there are so many fears. You’re worried about this and worried about that. Hey, there’s coming a day when all of this is going to be over and we don’t have to worry about fear any longer. We’ll be together with God in His presence. As followers of Jesus, there’s coming a day when this is all over. But until that point, I want to talk about how we handle fear in the right here, in the right now.”

Scotty Gibbons 8:50
So, I am getting to my message but again, for those who don’t have the witness of the Spirit, or God’s Spirit in them going, “Yes, you’re a child of God. Yes, you’re going to heaven”, you’re helping to set the stage for them. What I just said right there, the Holy Spirit is already using that saying, “You’re going to be living with fear for a long time because you have no peace here and you won’t for forever.

Scotty Gibbons 9:08
So, I would just say that mental side of it, just giving thought to, “What can I do to help them mentally get ready for that response time?”

Dick Hardy 9:17
That’s good. So, let’s talk a little bit about the practical things that you would do when you’re bringing that thing in for a landing, you’re going to go to the altar call. What are some nuts and bolts practical things you’d suggest to pastors?

Scotty Gibbons 9:32
(3) After preparing first for the spiritual and then second, the mental preparation, here is the third component of doing altar calls and that is the practical. Let’s make it as simple and clear as possible. Let’s make sure that we’re remembering that the Holy Spirit is doing the work, that God’s Word is doing the heavy lifting, then we’re not doing anyone any favors if we’re not true to the simple story of the gospel.

Scotty Gibbons 9:50
Give a clear gospel. We don’t get down to the end and say to something like, “Who wishes you felt better about yourself? Raise your hand, if you want to feel better about yourself. Let me let me just pray over you?” Or, “Who wants a get-out-of-hell-free card? Who’s looking for that?” They may just say, “Sure. I’ll take one of those.”

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Scotty Gibbons 10:11
But instead, if there’s going to be true conversion, heart change and regeneration, you’ve got to give the story of the gospel. You can’t give the story of the gospel, we can’t get the plan of salvation without talking about the man of salvation, Jesus. We’ve got to tell the story of Jesus.

Scotty Gibbons 10:29
So, I would just say giving that clear presentation and then guiding them through those moments that lead up to the decision. I’ll be specific on what I mean by that. You’re saying, “In just a moment, I’m going to give those of you are like, Scotty, I don’t know where I’m going to spend eternity.” Or, “Hey, when I close in just a few minutes, some of you right now, you’re thinking, man, I guess I haven’t been truly committed to God, it’s just been religion for me.”

Scotty Gibbons 10:58
So, you’re speaking to some things, that you’re preparing them for that moment of not religion, not feeling better about myself, but yes to Jesus and here’s what that means.

Scotty Gibbons 11:11
Then also try to speak to some of the objections in their mind. We know what’s going on in that moment. You don’t have to be the prophet nor the son of a prophet or have any type of spiritual gift flowing to say, “Some of you right now are feeling (fill-in-the-blank).” You know what some of them are feeling because we’ve felt it before ourselves?

Scotty Gibbons 11:27
People tell us after service, “I just felt like my heart was beating so fast.” So, when you’re up there as a communicator say, “Right now, some of you, your heart is beating really fast, because you’re thinking about where you’re going to spend eternity.” They’re just going, “Oh, dear Jesus, he’s reading my mail.” They are thinking about eternity. But what I say in those moments is, “Here’s what that means. God is knocking on the door of your heart. That’s God dialing up your number saying this is for you.

Scotty Gibbons 11:53
So, you’re speaking to those things, that they’re feeling with questions they’re asking, or maybe objections, like, “I’ve done too much.” Some of you are thinking that you’ve done too much. I want you know, here’s what the Word of God says that, “Where sin increases grace increases all the more.”

Scotty Gibbons 12:08
Some of you are thinking, “Maybe one day I can. I just don’t know if I’m ready.” Listen, don’t wait until you think one day everything’s all lined up. Come to Him just as you are. So, stating their objections, and then responding to it.

Scotty Gibbons 12:21
Then I would just quickly on this last part say there are some practical things you can do, just from a distraction standpoint. The devil is going to be all up in their head. “Think about what you’ve got to do after this. Think about what people may think of you. Think about what your husband at home is going to say if he hears that you got religion. Think about this.”

Scotty Gibbons 12:39
The devil is doing enough distractions. As pastors, let’s not make the devil’s job any easier by creating distractions. Let’s train our volunteers, “Hey, when the altar call is happening, let’s not get up and have movement.” “Well, I’ve got to go get to my post. I’m a greeter.” Okay, let’s come up with a plan to where you’re not making that move in the middle of the altar time.

Scotty Gibbons 12:58
For your worship team, when do they come up? What do you want them to be doing? If they’re coming up and plugging in and you’re having pops in the sound system, that’s just not good. Train the sound technician, don’t practice your EQ skills during the altar call. I mean, just some things that just say, “Hey, let’s be practical on minimizing the distractions.”

Dick Hardy 13:21
That is so good, Scotty. You know, when you think through the spiritual, the mental and the practical, on one hand, a pastor can be saying, “Oh, my goodness, I’ve got to keep all this straight.” On the other hand, just systematically walk through these things, and think through them in a way that you put yourself in the minds of that hearer that doesn’t know all this stuff that we know but they’re trying to respond to these feelings. I think what you’ve just talked about really helps a pastor be able to navigate and prepare for that altar call like never before.

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Dick Hardy 14:02
Give us a parting shot, Scotty. You’ve got a pastor watching this right now a guy or gal saying, “I really want to do this, right? I want to get better at this because I want to be used of the Lord.” What would you say to your fellow pastor right now?

Scotty Gibbons 14:18
Just know that the Holy Spirit was working on the hearer’s heart long before they showed up to your message. Hopefully, you’ve been praying for that and preparing for it. You’ve got to remember that some plant, some water and God is the one, the only one, who can save a soul, who could change a life. So, don’t carry the pressure of the conversion, but battle in prayer.

Scotty Gibbons 14:41
Give a clear gospel. Bring them to that point of decision. Just let God do what God does. But be clear in that point of decision, “Today, if you’re ready to say yes to Jesus, today, if you say, Scotty, I’m ready to turn from my sin and surrender my life to Christ, I want to spend eternity in heaven instead of hell, if that’s where you are and that’s what you want, here’s what your next step is. Pray this prayer with me.”

Scotty Gibbons 15:15
My Bible college professor back in the day, Dr. David Watson, had an incredible impact on my life. He said, “You’ve heard the saying, ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.’ Our job or our goal as pastors, is to make people thirsty for Jesus.” I’d say let your messages do that and offer them a cup of cold water in Jesus name and watch people be changed.

Dick Hardy 15:41
That is so good. Scotty, I can’t thank you enough for spending time with us here on this video. Scotty and I both would pray for you as a pastor, that you would get better at preparing for the altar call, that you’d allow the Lord to spiritually move within you and then within the body. You take people through the mental aspects as you’re preaching and then ultimately take the very practical tips that Scotty gave and lay it out there because the Lord is the one who brings the increase.

Dick Hardy 16:13
Scotty, thank you very much. I really appreciate it

Dick Hardy 16:15
Thank you, Dick. It was an honor.

Dick Hardy 16:17
Thanks, friend for hanging out with us on this video. Make it a great one today and be blessed.

Have you ever sat down to write your message for the weekend and realized you don’t know where to start? Take a look at the Sermon Starters PDF for a multitude of effective strategies to get you started.

Check out these blogs on preaching, as well.

It Takes a Team to Create Sermons
Why Should You Ask for Help with Preaching?
How to Preach Online and In Person
The Top 5 Preaching Questions Asked
Sermon Illustrations: Finding the “Just Right One”
Emotionally Healthy Preaching
Doug Clay on Preaching Sermons Online
Practical Tips on How To Do Sermon Prep
5 Ways to Get That Sermon Started
Fighting the “Last Minute” Fatigue
2 Preaching Lessons Learned from COVID-19


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