The call of God on a person’s life is an invitation to follow Him to salvation, to a deeper relationship with him, to church membership, or to vocational ministry. Because I believe that God is always calling people, I am unapologetic about boldly giving invitations at the conclusions of my sermons. I want to share with you some principles to giving a good invitation.
Sometimes invitations are given a bad reputation because they have been misused, they are manipulative, or preachers are just flat-out bad at giving them. Therefore, I want to encourage you—in your preaching don’t misuse, manipulate, or give bad invitations.
Additionally, do not let the bad reputation of invitations keep you from offering people the opportunity to respond to the call of God on their lives. Here are a few principles I use in giving invitations: be clear, be concise, be confident, and be compelling.
After you have delivered a Word from God based soundly on Scripture it is appropriate to conclude the sermon with an invitation to people to follow God. There are dozens of useful methods of invitations from response cards to altar calls and everything in between. These principles apply to every method of invitation.
When giving an invitation, it is important to be immensely clear. Be clear in what you are asking a person to respond to (the Gospel) and how you are asking a person to respond (the method of invitation). In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul wrote to the church at Corinth to bring clarity to the Gospel message: “I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel I preached to you…by which you are being saved.” The invitation is the preacher’s opportunity to reemphasize the Gospel in the clearest manner possible.
The invitation is an opportunity for a preacher to communicate to those under conviction how they might make their response to God known. Preachers should aim to clearly explain the steps a person must take to make a decision for the Lord and the steps a person must take to make that decision known for follow-up. When I extend invitations, I often use if – then – so statements. “If today you made the decision to trust Jesus as your Lord, then when the music starts walk down here and meet me at the front so I can celebrate your decision.”
A few years ago, I was working in the “decision room” for an outreach ministry. People would come through the room in groups after viewing a Gospel presentation and my role was to extend an invitation for people to trust Jesus. There was a boy in there whose family helped organize the outreach. He stayed in the room with me all night and watched at least a dozen groups come through. He heard me offer the same invitation each time, “If tonight you made the decision to put your faith in Jesus, then at the conclusion of this prayer look up at me so I can connect you to a decision team member who would love to talk to you about your new relationship with Jesus.” The last couple times, this boy looked up at me and then scanned the room. I was convinced he just wanted to see what God was doing as others in the room responded. As I asked each person who looked at me if they had made the decision to trust Jesus, I passed over this boy in two back-to-back sessions. At the end of the night, he went up to his family and said, “I kept looking at Ryan, but he didn’t see me…I want to put my faith in Jesus.” I’m glad God worked despite my mistake. I had clearly instructed this kid what to do and in faith he was trying his best to communicate his decision to me. Don’t be surprised when people follow clear instructions to trust Jesus.
By the time of the invitation, you have already preached a full message. Throughout the message, tell people they will have an opportunity to respond at the end. The invitation is not a time to rehash your entire sermon, it is a time to plea for people to respond to God, to direct them to follow the prompting that God laid on their heart throughout the message. In your invitation, be as concise as possible while offering clear and compelling instructions for response. If your invitation is too brief, it has probably not been clear. If your invitation is too long, you probably preached a bad sermon and are trying to make up for it at the end.
There is no room for ego in an invitation. A preacher does not extend an invitation with any confidence in his own ability to elicit any response from people to God. However, a preacher who has preached a sermon from the Word of God can stand before an audience and give a confident invitation knowing a few things. First, God desires for people to respond to his work in their lives. Second, God’s Word is a seed sown that produces fruit in God’s timing. Third, people are not responding to you they are responding to God.
When a person responds to God, it changes their life, their family, and their eternity. A preacher should do everything within his God-given power to compel people to respond to God. During the moment of invitation preachers have a God-given privilege that no other member of the church has. All are responsible for evangelism, discipleship, and teaching but no other member of the church has the incredible opportunity to extend a plea for people to respond to God just moments after having heard the proclamation of God’s Word like the preacher does. Extend an invitation with conviction, with compassion, and with consequence. Compel the people to respond to God.