A sermon should usually be followed with an invitation. An invitation is a time when the hearers have an opportunity to respond to the message that has been preached. Always the preacher should expect some response to his message. This response may not always mean a public decision after the sermon. Deep, silent responses are sometimes made without a public invitation being given. But many times there are people in the audience who need to make public decisions. This means that usually the preacher needs to give an invitation for these people to openly acknowledge their decisions.
Why do some pastors not give public invitations?
1. They do not have an urgent message that calls for response.
2. They do not have an awareness of the lost condition of people.
3. They are timid, not having the boldness that comes from God, a boldness which every
messenger of God should have.
4. They are untrained in how to give an invitation.
Imagine a man with a truck full of food. He gathers a crowd of people who are starving and declares to them that he has plenty of food. He describes the food in detail; the people are licking their lips in anticipation. The man tells the people that it is free to all. He tells them in detail what they must do in order to get the food. Then as the multitude waits, the man gets into his truck and drives off. He never did say, come and eat.
This is the picture of a man who preaches about the way of eternal life and never says to the people, "Come." The “come" is the invitation. It would be cruel for that man to withhold food from the hungry. It is more cruel for the preacher to describe the new life of peace, joy, and purpose and then not give a clear invitation to the people to accept—to decide to follow Christ. God’s message always calls for a response. Sometimes that response needs to be made public.
Without apology, Jesus publicly called people to follow Him. After John had been put in prison, Jesus went to Galilee and preached the Good News from God. "The right time has come," he said, "and the Kingdom of God is near! Turn away from your sins and believe the Good News!" As Jesus walked along the shore of Lake Galilee, he saw two fishermen, Simon and his brother Andrew, catching fish with a net. Jesus said to them, "Come with me, and I will teach you to catch men." At once they left their nets and went with him. Mark 1:14-18
Jesus went further down the road and saw James and John. As soon as Jesus saw them, he called them; they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and went with Jesus. Mark 1:20
We read that on another occasion, Jesus went back again to the shore of Lake Galilee. A crowd came to him, and he started teaching them. As he walked along, he saw a tax collector, Levi son of Alphaeus, sitting in his office. Jesus said to him, "Follow me." Levi got up and followed him. Mark 2:13-14
You will note that Jesus preached the good news of the Kingdom of God, then He invited men to make a decision to follow Him. Also you will note that there was a crowd, yet Jesus was not ashamed to call these men from the crowd. He did not apologize. His call was straightforward; it was clear; it was made publicly. The decisions were made publicly. The crowd, the friends, and family members heard the message also. Concerning a public decision, Jesus said, "If anyone declares publicly that he belongs to me, I will do the same for him before my Father in heaven. But if anyone rejects me publicly, I will reject him before my Father in heaven." Matthew 10:32-33
As you study the Gospels, you will find that Jesus preached messages directly to the hearts of people, then He called for them to make a decision. He gave an invitation for people to respond.
How is the preacher to give an invitation?
1. First, he must decide to give a clear and meaningful invitation after each message he preaches.
2. He must know that the invitation is part of the sermon.
He should not finish the sermon and add on the invitation. The invitation is the closing part of the sermon. This means that the topic of the sermon will determine what kind of invitation is to be given. If he preaches on tithing, the invitation will be for people to decide to tithe. If he preaches on prayer, the invitation may be for Christians to give more time to prayer. If he preaches to a group of very faithful church members, the invitation may be for greater commitment to Christ.
3. Because the invitation is a part of the sermon, when he prepares it, he will also prepare the last part of the sermon—the invitation.
4. It is usually appropriate to have singing as part of the invitation time.
The invitation song is a part of the sermon. The preacher or music leader should prayerfully choose which song will be used. The choice of the song should normally be done in consultation with the one in charge of music. This decision often is made before the worship service begins. The song should be well known by those who are to sing. The entire congregation will often sing the invitation song. Sometimes only a choir or the music leader will sing.
5. The preacher must make a detailed explanation of what he wants the people to do. The invitation must be clear.
It is not enough for him to say, "Come to the front if you want to follow Jesus." He needs to explain why they should come to the front. He should tell them what they are going to do when they get there. Unsaved people are fearful and apprehensive. They may think they will be baptized on that day if they come seeking Christ.
6. The preacher should not trick people into making decisions.
If the preacher asks people to raise their hands to indicate that they need to be saved, he should not then ask everyone who raised their hands to come to the front. This is putting people in a very uneasy situation, as if they are trapped.
7. The invitation should be personal.
The preacher should not look out the window while giving an invitation. He should not gaze at the notes on the pulpit or at the hymn book. He should look deep into the hearts of the people as he sees their faces, their eyes, their expressions. (This is not to suggest staring into the eyes of one person for a long time.) In making the invitation personal, the preacher should use personal pronouns such as you, your family, your life, our, we, I, etc.
8. The preacher should have continuity between his closing words of the message and the singing of the invitation song.
The preacher moves smoothly and quickly into the introduction of the song and the singing. The song leader should be alert and ready to begin the singing. The pastor should step to the area where he expects people to come when they make their decision. He should not be sidetracked by leading the singing or playing a piano or guitar. When people come forward making their decisions, they need a warm hand shake of welcome and encouragement. A preacher holding a guitar or song book cannot easily do this. He gives an impression of not being available to those who come forward. This may discourage those who want to come but are fearful. The preacher should stand, prayerfully waiting, with only a Bible in his hand.
9. The preacher greets those who come forward and asks them individually what their decisions are. He then may ask them to be seated nearby as others come.
When it is clear that no others will respond to the invitation, the preacher will introduce those making decisions and tell why each one has come forward. He then states that he will talk with them personally following the closing prayer. He thanks the congregation for coming and makes closing remarks. The worship service is closed with prayer.
10. Only qualified people should counsel those making decisions.
This should be someone who can very clearly explain the way of salvation. It should be someone spiritually mature and full of Bible knowledge. Often the preacher will be the one to do the counseling, but this is not always necessary. There should be members trained to do this.
11. If possible, those coming forward should be taken to a private room for counseling. Each one should have personal counseling.
The time of counseling is extremely important. The fact that people come to the front seeking salvation does not mean that they have found salvation. Seeking and finding are different. To raise a hand indicating that they are not saved but are interested is not the same as being saved. Time must be given to those making decisions to be sure they understand what salvation is and how they are to be saved. It is not enough to fill out a card stating name and decision. Each one must have some understanding of the Lordship of Christ in his life. There must be an understanding of what sin is. There must be genuine repentance. Yes, there must be faith, but to "believe" without sorrowful repentance never leads to new life. After a clear understanding of how to be saved, each one seeking salvation should pray a simple prayer from his heart, asking Christ to forgive him and become his Savior and Lord. Anyone who is serious will be able to pray out loud. After each has prayed a sinner's prayer asking for salvation, he should be led to pray his first prayer as a new Christian—a prayer of thanksgiving.
Those who come for other reasons must be dealt with individually. It is wise to have men and women trained and able to counsel. To pair men with men and women with women is wise when possible.
No time in the life of the church is more important than the time of invitation. It should be prayerfully planned and carried out, expecting decisions.