HOW DO YOU GIVE AN EFFECTIVE EVANGELISTIC INVITATION?
By: Frank Crumpler
Nothing can take the place of an effective invitation in a Spirit-directed evangelistic service. The preacher has both the responsibility and privilege of “drawing the net” during the invitation. It is during the climax that every other part of the worship event reaches its focal point.
Thus, the invitation is so important that it should have the highest priority in the service. That importance demands that the invitation be well planned and effectively presented. All parts of the service of Christian worship are important-prayers, congregational singing, reading of Scripture and the preaching of the gospel-but these are not complete without the invitation. The essence of the good news is brought to fruition in the invitation.
There is an art to giving a good invitation. Some preachers get into a “rut,” giving the same invitation at the close of every sermon, so the people automatically begin to think about leaving as soon as the invitation hymn is announced. The evangelistic preacher who fails to develop his skill in giving the invitation is losing his greatest opportunity to “harvest” lost souls. Since skill in giving the invitation has to be developed and practiced, a preacher should take every precaution to plan the invitation, making sure he is living up to his highest potential as a harvester of souls.
It is helpful for you to write out in detail the words of your invitation. Doing this, as you planned your sermon, will help you set up what you are going to say. This might seem unnecessary, but it is good discipline and helps you to recall certain sentences and phrases of the invitation as they were written.
This will also help you to evaluate the content and review the arrangement of words in the invitation.
Mentally “walking through” the invitation gives emphasis to the instructions or appeal that is made at the close of the worship service. If you spend hours preparing the sermon, you should give more than a few minutes to preparing to give the invitation.
The invitation should be carefully planned with the minister of music, the organist and the pianist. It is most important that each person taking part in directing the choir or congregation, playing the instruments or greeting those who respond to the invitation, is well prepared, alert, attentive and knows exactly what to do and when to do it.
Everyone who hears the claims of Christ is an eternity-bound person. His decision and response could and ultimately will affect his eternal destiny. This should be seriously pondered by the preacher before he preaches. Many lives, to whom we make the offer of Christ, are lonely and broken. Jesus Christ can put broken pieces back together again. Peace, joy, purpose, removal of guilt and forgiveness are available to those who are willing to accept them. The first step to experiencing these benefits can be made during the public invitation.
By giving priority to the invitation, you can be used effectively by God to lead the hearer to a life-changing experience with Christ.
In Spiritual Power
The invitation, given in the power of the Holy Ghost, carries with it the authority of heaven. Allow God’s Spirit to be in complete control of the invitation. Every word should be carefully chosen and spoken with persuasion.
There should be no manipulation or coercion in a Spirit-directed appeal. When the claims of Christ are preached with conviction and compassion, the Spirit will be at work in the hearts of hearers. The preacher cannot be clever and compassionate at the same time. Depend on God’s power to move people to action. Be confident that God is at work in the invitation.
Do not threaten the hearer with the possibility that he may not have another opportunity. If you do remind him of this possibility, make sure he knows it comes from a heart of Christian love and concern.
Don’t argue your point too long. You might lose your hearer’s confidence. Learn to be forceful without being overpowering and obnoxious. You are God’s messenger and it must be His invitation. God has declared, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6). Only by the power of God’s Spirit can men be led to make deep and lasting decisions. Keep the invitation in God’s hands.
Make It Plain
Always keep the invitation simple. The importance and urgency of the invitation demands that it be made clear. Be sure the hearer knows exactly what kind of response you expect. An appeal to those who have never accepted Christ to come forward should be direct and plain, but never demanding.
Quotations from the Word of God have peculiar power to get attention and drive home divine truths. Use well-chosen Scriptures to make the invitation more forceful and gripping.
Sometimes reinforce the simplicity of the invitation by using quotations from hymns or poetry. Avoid worn-out cliches. Be natural and let your compassion for people come through.
If your appeal is intended to spur more than one type of decision, make each kind of appeal distinct so those who come forward know why they are coming.
Billy Graham is a master at extending the invitation because he begins his invitation when he begins his sermon. He weaves into every point of his message the fact that the hearer will have an opportunity to act on its truth at the close of the message. Any preacher can punctuate his sermon with a reminder that the hearer will be asked to make a life-changing commitment to Christ.
You should devote some time to prayer and preparation for the invitation just as you do to the sermon. It does help, occasionally, to write out the invitation you plan to give. Read and reread it until it becomes a part of your message.
Avoid re-preaching your sermon or using long illustrations in the invitation. If response is slow, don’t interrupt. Just have the organist and pianist ready to turn to another hymn when it is appropriate.
By all means inform the music director and instrumentalists what you plan to do if the invitation is prolonged. Alert them to watch for your signal if you want another stanza or a different hymn. Never stop or interrupt an invitation when people are coming forward.
Keep in mind that children, who might also need to make decisions, are present. If a child can understand your invitation, the adults can too. You can’t make it too simple. You’re preaching for a verdict, so expect the proper response. Make it clear to the people and trust God’s Spirit to move them to action.
When you invite people to receive the Holy Ghost encourage them to make a specific and open commitment to this invitation. For example, say something like this:
“This morning Christ invites you to turn from your sins and accept His offer of forgiveness. As an indication of your decision, I invite you to slip out from where you are standing and come forward. I will meet you here at the front to pray with you.
A sermon on prayer should be followed by an invitation of commitment to a life of prayer. The same is true of stewardship, Bible study, witnessing, faithfulness or other topics. Keep your invitation pertinent to the sermon. Of course, you will always want to invite the lost to accept Christ, but it is only reasonable that you give a sermon that can be responded to by Christians as well.
A message on the Lordship of Christ deserves an invitation for Christians to enthrone Jesus as Lord of their lives. A sermon on jealousy can be followed with an invitation to those who need to rid their hearts of jealousy. The list could go on and on. Keep the invitation in perfect harmony with the sermon. Make it pertinent to the message.
Remember to distinguish each invitation from the other so people will not be confused. You will discover a new enthusiasm and excitement in your own heart as you invite people to respond to the Holy Spirit’s leadership-and usually that enthusiasm will be caught and felt by the congregation.
Some effective and well-known preachers prefer not to conclude the sermon with a prayer. They feel this signals to the congregation that the service is over before the invitation begins. This may well be the best practice. An alternative is to pray preceding the sermon for those who need to respond. No matter where it is done in the service, the congregation should be led in prayer for those who have needs and should respond.
Prayer is one of the most essential elements in the invitation-pray for response, preach for response and expect response. The best preparation for the invitation is prayer. Ask Sunday school teachers to lead in prayer for the invitation before their classes leave. Ask the congregation to pray as you preach that the invitation will be a time of divine confrontation between God and those who need to respond.
Pray as you stand waiting to meet those who will come forward. Pray and keep on praying. Lead in prayer again before you ask the congregation to sing the final stanza of the invitation hymn. An invitation saturated with prayer is the most effective one you can give.
C.E. Autrey reminds us in his book, Basic Evangelism, that the element of prayer is of greatest importance. He said:
“Let him pray until his greatest desire is to see the lost saved. Lost men are under the wrath of God. They are not aware of their condition. The evangelist knows this and must, by his firm, tender pleas, lead the sinner to realize his guilt before God. Mere perfunctory concern in the evangelist cannot be used of God to bring a sense of dire need in the sinner’s heart.”
Real transformation of life in an invitation is not the work of human contrivance. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. God alone can convict of spiritual need. He is the only one who can perform the miracle we call “new birth.” Thus, the entire evangelistic invitation must depend on the Holy Spirit’s power. Because this is his work, we should saturate the invitation with fervent prayer.
A positive attitude is a winning attitude. Being positive encourages response, while being negative makes it difficult for people to respond to the invitation. When giving the invitation, do not ask, “Are there some present today who wants the Holy Ghost?” Make it positive by saying, “There are several (or many) here today who will receive a life changing experience.”
Never say, “Will you come?” Rather say, “While you come….” Avoid words like “if” or “perhaps.” It is better to say, “I believe you will come as we sing.”
Avoid using humor. Keep your voice low and let your compassion come through. Move toward the people, especially those who are coming forward. By moving a few steps toward them, your body language puts them at ease and encourages other reluctant ones to step out and come forward.
Give each person your attention and have counselors ready to pray with those who need prayer. Do everything you can to take the fear out of responding.
Paul said, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11). Do not be apologetic. You are appealing to your hearers to do what God desires of them. Be courageous in calling people to make right decisions. Persuasion is never to be regarded as manipulation. Too much persuasion will produce insincere profession of faith, which is worse than no profession at all.
Avoid any movement by the choir or congregation that will hinder the invitation.
It might be best for the choir to remain seated until the congregation stands. Use familiar hymns with a positive message that can be sung without hymnals and with little or no direction.
We can plant the seeds, water and cultivate them, but God Himself gives the increase for His harvest.
You should make a conscious effort to keep the closing moments of the service from becoming somber and morose. A pleasant expression on the faces of choir members and the preacher helps maintain a warm friendly atmosphere.
Keep a pleasant tone in your voice as you say something similar to the following:
“We are going to stand in a moment to sing a familiar hymn. (Organist/pianist moves to the instrument.) As we sing, Christ invites you to respond to His call. Many are here this morning who wish to come forward. We urge you to come. I will meet you here at the front and we will take time to pray with you. (Instrumentalist begins to play softly.)
“I know there are many who have felt the leadership of God to recommit your life to deeper and more serious Christian living. I’m sure you are going to come to indicate your desire for closer fellowship with Christ.” (Preacher moves down to floor level and checks to see if his counselors are in place. The congregation begins to sing as the music director leads. Cue the counselors as people come forward.)
Some hearers may be struggling with an important decision. Therefore, it is necessary to allow time for response. Give your hearers enough time to decide and respond. Never rush the invitation. Each service will determine how much time to allow for an effective invitation. Never cramp the invitation by preaching up to the end of the hour. Expanding the last point of the sermon may mean losing the harvest of souls for God. Plan for response and expect it, but more importantly,allow sufficient time for it.
Be prepared for different types of responses. When someone comes to unburden his heart with a problem, ask one of the counselors to come and take that person aside for a quiet talk and prayer. A room near the worship facility should be prepared for this purpose. This will free the preacher to greet others who are coming f forward.
Thank the congregation for their prayers, patience and understanding. You might wish to follow this simple invitation.
“We have come to the most important time of the service. Will you bow your heads, please? (Organist/pianist moves to instrument.) Some of you have burdens on your hearts today-a lost loved one, some private problem, some need in your own life. Say, Pastor, pray for me. Indicate this by lifting your hand right now. (Instrumentalist begins to play. Acknowledge those who lift their hands.) Now those of you who lifted your hands-lift your heads. I want you to come and spenda moment in prayer at the front of the altar. Lay your problem before the Lord. Come right now as the choir sings. (The choir begins to sing.)
“Now I want every person here who has needs to Lord in their life to raise your heads. (They look up-wait.) Good! We would like to talk with you and pray with and for you before you leave today. (Preacher moves to floor level.) I believe you’re going to come forward now. I’ll meet you here at the front while the choir sings.
Stand right now and begin your move forward. Those who have needs to pray about are going to come and kneel here right now-don’t hesitate-come right now!” (Choir begins to sing and altar workers are cued as people come forward.)
Here is another example of an invitation that might be helpful. The preacher may say:
“Let’s bow our heads. (Organist/pianist moves to instrument.) Many of you in the service tonight have heavy hearts. You feel the need for God to strengthen you in the Christian life, you have a problem or you need the power of God to take over in your life. We want to pray for you right now as you admit to God your need by lifting your hand. That’s right-lift them up right now. Now, lift your heads and look at me. I want you to come forward and stand in front of the pulpit facing this way for this prayer. (Instrumentalist begins to play.)
“Now, while these are coming-some of you have never received the Holy Ghost, I want to pray for you right now. By lifting your hand, you are saying, pray for me.
Lift your hand right now-that’s right. God bless you. Now everyone who lifted a hand, I want you to come here to the front-stand for a moment and I want to pray with you. That’s right-stand up and come right on.” (Instrumentalist and choir begin the song. Cue the altar workers to come while others respond.)
Prayer, study and practice are keys to improving your evangelistic invitation. Observe other preachers, study your congregation and learn from your mistakes. God’s Spirit will take your efforts and multiply your effectiveness.
Christ has promised to honor the faithful proclamation of His Word. Be a yielded and surrendered instrument in God’s hands so that it will be His invitation completely.
As God uses your gifts and abilities to preach and give an evangelistic invitation, His kingdom will be increased, and as your ministry reaps the harvest, it will bring honor and glory to God.
(The above material originally appeared in Ministries Magazine.)
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