At one of the churches I serve, we receive Holy Communion every week. So in a sense, people respond to the invitation every week. This is different than a traditional "Altar Call" that usually invites people to "give their life to Christ." My sense is that we need to give people ways to respond to God during our time of worship. Some people have gotten very creative with this. I've seen prayer stations with different activities and opportunities to engage what you've heard and experienced during the worship service. But still, there's something important to the altar call that I think we've lost, and it connects directly to the mission Jesus gave us to "make disciples".
The altar call was a clear place for people to begin their faith journey. It was a starting point. I think too many have tossed it aside saying something like "We make disciples, not decisions." Ok, that's great. I'm with you on that. But, people still need a place to start and make that decision to go and take their first step, and their next step. Many of the churches I've been around have no such clear beginning point for people. We are not intentional about making disciples. We just keep doing what we've done and expect it to happen. So many of the churches I've been around continue to get smaller. People come and go, and we wonder why they didn't stay and get a deeper connection. Maybe it's because we didn't really have a good, easy to follow path for them to connect. You can't ever begin as a disciple if you don't have a clear place to start. The altar call at least served that purpose of saying "START HERE."
What I see in churches that are making disciples is they have moved the "altar call" outside of the worship service. They have a clear "START HERE" place. Many call it "Coffee with the Pastor," or one of my friends has "Open Mike Night." It is a "START HERE" place that people can get more information about how your church makes disciples. It's a place to start people on the path of discipleship. Once you have a place to start, then you can show them the options of "next steps." You can connect them with deeper relationships and help them identify their God-given gifts and passion. You can help them learn and grow. Help them follow Jesus. But first, you have to point them to the starting line.
What does your church do to have a clear "START HERE" for people in your church? (Or it could be a "START OVER HERE" for people who want to give discipleship another go and re-dedicate their lives to following Jesus.)