The altar is an awesome place. As far as I can recollect, I have spent hundreds of hours in the altar, even as a child. Thinking that God lived in the altars, I would answer almost every heartfelt plea and cry that the pastor would make for those of us in the pews to respond to God. In my mind, this was the only place for God to meet with His people. Since those early years, I have been educated that God is Omnipresent, meaning we can meet with Him anytime or anywhere.
Even though God can meet us at any location, I still feel there is something special or unique about the altar in a church. This is a key place for pastors and leaders to connect through God to people, making it a monumental moment for ministry. I believe that the “Altar Call” still works. I believe that lives are still transformed at altars. I believe that altars should be up front, sending a public message of consecration unto God. I believe that the Holy Spirit is still wooing people to make decisions at the altar.
The summer of 2004, Janelle and I took a group of students to youth camp. The students were changed that summer, stemming from powerful times in the altars. I went home and began to ask God why our altar times in our weekly youth services were not that strong. And so…I began the process of focusing more on the altar time. It did not all change over night. Week by week we had to train our leaders and students how to seek the face of God. Obviously, it all starts and ends with prayer, listening to the Holy Spirit each step of the way, relying on that still, small voice to speak clear direction for the people.
Here are a few practical steps I implemented to maximize involvement and inject life into altar time:
1. Make a clear and consistent call. Don’t try to do too much at one time. Make sure students know exactly what you are asking them to do. It’s not about coming upfront for cupcake time; rather, they are signing up to meet with God, wrestle with God, or go to work with God. Take time before service to ask God for specific things for ministry in the altars. We should be modeling to our students what it looks like to hear from God. Should the call be emotional and passionate? YES! We are dealing with souls and the future of students. If you are not emotional and passionate, then check your pulse.
2. Put down the microphone. Get down off the stage and stop barking. Move out into the crowd of people that just answered your altar call and begin to pray with them. Spend time with them. Let the Spirit speak. Don’t be afraid to step out in any of the nine gifts of the Spirit. They are necessary for these moments. Sure the people need guidance from the stage. You can come back and lead at the appropriate times when necessary. The people already heard you preach, now let them see you pray.
3. Get leadership involved. I quickly realized why the camp altars were such a huge success. They were full of at least one hundred adult leaders chasing after every student. It was like watching piranhas in the Amazon devour a piece of raw meat. The leaders attacked. Even when the students started to tire or quit, the leaders would help them push in for more of God. The leadership gurus are right: everything does rise and fall on leadership. The leaders need training and your permission to go after students. Release leaders to minister, giving them time to pray and love on students.
4. Stop trying to get everyone to the front. There is nothing more obnoxious than trying to make someone do something they do not want to do. I learned a long time ago that not everyone will respond when I want them to. So, instead of begging them to come upfront, go directly to them in the chairs. Pray for them where they are, even if you have to step over chairs or crawl through people. Going to them gets their attention very quickly.
The only thing we need to get closer to God is TIME. Stop showing the stupid videos or playing the same old games. Get students in the ALTAR. Give them JESUS.