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  • Writer's pictureDarrell Stetler II

How Pastors Can Give An Effective Invitation to Discipleship At the End of a Sermon

Updated: Mar 8

Some pastors and churches give invitations to follow Jesus through "altar calls" at the end of a sermon. Some view this as inappropriate or manipulative. As long as it's handled ethically, I disagree.

Overview: What We'll Cover

In this post, I'll share:

  • Common pitfalls for pastors who give an invitation

  • why I occasionally (even after over 20 years of pastoral ministry) still do invitations at the end of my sermon.

  • creative ways to offer the invitation to discipleship without it being a come-forward invitation.

  • 12 scripts to do an invitation to discipleship at the end of a sermon.

Through history, there's been quite a span of creative ways to invite people to join Jesus in his call to discipleship.

But one thread ties them all together: The invitation must be given!

how to give an invitation to discipleship

The challenge with invitations to Christian discipleship

There are several issues that many pastors have with giving an effective invitation to discipleship at the end of a sermon.

Things have changed in the American church. These days:

Sometimes, people don’t know they are sinners yet.

Our society hasn't really done much to support the idea of our moral responsibility to God and his Law. Your sermon needs to do the heavy lifting on this, because the culture won't help you.

Sometimes, the needs are emotional, not related to sin and repentance.

Sometimes, people are there to pray for a family member, or are struggling with stress and need to unload it. Sure, they may still have a problem with sin, but they are not yet aware of it.

Pastors may not be as bold in their offer of the Gospel. 

A lack of courage/faith will certainly cut the effectiveness of any invitation to discipleship that you give, not just altar calls.

Pastors may not be clear in exactly what they are offering.  

It can be clear to you, without being clear to the person in the pew. It is worth it to spend time making sure you’re crystal clear on what the Gospel offers, and how to communicate it perfectly clearly to the person in the pew. 

Seekers may have questions that need answers before they can respond to a discipleship invitation.

Years ago, I had a couple start coming to my church. I offered multiple come-forward invitations over the course of months, and this couple never came. But one day, he texted and said he had some questions. I went to his house. We sat and he talked. He asked about millions of years, dinosaurs, and the problem of evil, in simple terms. Then he said, “Well, I’m ready.” We prayed and he responded to Christ's offer of salvation!

Sometimes people are not ready to respond to the invitation of Jesus because they’re not sure about some aspect of the faith. This is actually a good thing. The last thing we want is them committing to a faith that isn’t an accurate picture of the real thing!

This is part of the “count the cost” that Jesus describes when he gives his invitation to discipleship! Sometimes, this counting the cost is better done outside moments of evangelistic decision!

So how can pastors prep for giving an invitation?

So how can we prepare as pastors to give an effective invitation?

#1: Give people an expectation that truth requires response.

If you’re not answering the “now what” question, you’re doing everyone in your church a disservice!

#2: Don’t be afraid to preach the Law. 

If the Gospel is a cure, you better be able to articulate the disease clearly enough that people can see the symptoms in their life if they are lost. Spurgeon said that the "needle of the Law pulls the thread of the Gospel." He's right!

#3: Have your invitation thought through in advance.

Know which kind of invitation you are planning to do. Gather your materials, make sure your links work, have the copies made. I've messed this up way too many times. Don't try to gather up the fruit of the Holy Spirit's work with a basket that has a hole in the bottom.

#4: On the other hand, don’t be afraid to follow the Holy Spirit. 

If you weren’t planning on one, but feel prompted to, go for it, and trust the Spirit. God is sovereign, and he can use the "wrong time" to do mighty things. I believe in preparation, but I don't believe that the Holy Spirit is limited to your plans.

#5: Have what you need ready before you give the invitation. 

  • Create a prayer / altar workers team.

  • Create a place for response in the foyer. 

  • Create materials for response. 

  • Create a service time slot for response.

  • Create a time slot in your own schedule for people to respond.

#6: Don't expect a particular kind of emotion to be the norm.

I've observed, over 20 years of pastoral ministry, that an invitation to discipleship is sometimes emotional, but not always. I've seen some folks be emotional, and their decision to follow Christ lasted. I've seen others that were emotional, but their decision was flimsy, and didn't last. And, vice versa, of course.

Here's what we don’t want: We don't just want catharsis that makes someone feel better without ongoing action and commitment.

#7: Make the invitation to discipleship an invitation to commitment.

At times, I would argue you should make the ongoing action commitment the invitation itself!  In other words, don’t make the invitation just about a prayer and feeling better, make the invitation about prayer and signing up for something that will involve actual ongoing action.

This could be a class, a group meeting, reading a book, a discipleship process, a mentoring relationship, etc.

#8: Think about how to build accountability and community into the discipleship invitation.  

This quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together, might be one of the most profound things I've ever read:

In confession a man breaks through to certainty.  Why is it that it is often easier for us to confess our sins to God than to a brother? God is holy and sinless, He is a just judge of evil and the enemy of all disobedience.  But a brother is sinful as we are.  He knows from his own experience the dark night of secret sin.  Why should we not find it easier to go to a brother than to the holy God?  …We must ask ourselves whether we have not often been deceiving ourselves with our confession to God, whether we have not rather been confessing our sins to ourselves and also granting ourselves absolution.

Who can give us the certainty that, in the confession and forgiveness of our sins, we are not dealing with ourselves, but with the living God?  God gives us this certainty through our brother.  Our brother breaks the circle of self-deception.  A man who confesses his sin in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person.

Oh my. Yes! How can confession and accountability be built into the invitation to discipleship?

12 Invitation Scripts to conclude sermons on discipleship

Below are 12 short script for various types of invitation. These could be used to a conclude a sermon on discipleship.

#1: Come forward invitation.  

Have altar workers or counselors ready. Clearly explain yourself, and what coming forward means.

Invitation to Discipleship Script #1:

Today, here's how you can respond. I think I'm talking to someone today like this: you recognize that you have sinned, and don't deserve God's mercy... but you believe that Jesus has died and risen again for you, to take away your sins and transfer you into his family. If that's you, why don't you come today and ask his forgiveness, and make your commitment to follow and obey King Jesus? You can step out right now. When you do that, you're saying "I'm ready to make the change and follow Jesus Christ as my Forgiver and Leader." We have caring volunteers here who will pray with you, and help connect you to resources that will get you started right on your walk with God. You can walk out of here today no longer a sinner, but a Christian! If that sounds good to you, then why don't you respond to the voice of the Holy Spirit in your heart, and step out right now?

#2: Go to the back invitation. 

This was often done by evangelists in the 1800s, most notably by D.L. Moody. They would frequently use "inquiry rooms." Today's "inquiry rooms" might be a resource table, or could be an actual room (Next Steps Room?) where seekers could connect with a pastor or person who could serve as a guide.

Invitation to Discipleship Script #2:

Maybe you're ready to take some action on today's message. If the Holy Spirit is speaking, and you realize it's time to step out in faith to follow Christ, here's how you can respond today... Step back into our Next Step room / to our resource table and pick up a copy of the NewStart Discipleship Journal. If you're ready to move past being a Christian just in name, and you're ready to move into believing in Jesus enough to imitate him and walk with him daily... we have a discipleship pathway that is built with you in mind. We'll have someone to connect with you, so you won't walk alone. Don't walk out today and not obey the Holy Spirit's call. It's time to really learn to walk with Jesus!

#3: Grade yourself and turn it in.

Sometimes, people need to acknowledge to someone in leadership that they have a problem. They need a clear way to unobtrusively raise their hand and ask for help. I got this idea from Rick Warren.

Invitation to Discipleship Script #3:

Give yourself a green, yellow, red light. If the Holy Spirit is saying to you, "You're good to go here," Give yourself a green light. If you know there's a caution light from the Holy Spirit, and he's saying, "You need to work on this. You're too close to drifting away from this truth," then give yourself a yellow light. If you know that the Holy Spirit is speaking to you through the message today and saying, "This one was for you. You're definitely wrong here, and you need to take immediate action to take care of this," then give yourself a red light. Write that and your name and phone number on the bottom of your handout and turn that in, and we’ll know how to pray. Someone will be in touch with you to help you figure out next steps."

#4: Sign up for next steps. 

If you can get them to share information, you can start a conversation about discipleship:

  • Sign up sheet for a program.

  • Appointment with pastor

  • Volunteer to receive info in the mail/email etc. 

  • Texting list (like the prayer and fasting I've done several times at my church)

Invitation to Discipleship Script #4:

If you're here, and you are clearly hearing the voice of God saying, 'It's time for you to obey,' Then I want to give you a very clear way you can do that. When we make space for God's work in our lives, it usually takes the form of time in our schedule. We're blocking out time, saying, 'This is when I'm going to respond to God's voice.' Today, if you want to respond, text ----- to the number on the screen, or sign up on the sheet in the foyer. When you do that, you're saying, 'I'm not going to walk away and forget what God said. I'm going to make an appointment with him instead.'"

#5: Show up for an event, class, or appointment.  

I once heard pastor James Meeks say, “One of the things that damages churches is ‘failure to preach the announcements.’" Providing a clear way to respond to a sermon is vital. Sometimes that means instead of making an announcement about a program, the sermon itself should lead into a response.

Invitation to Discipleship Script #5:

"Maybe you've felt the need to get closer to God many times, but really haven't taken action. Honestly, we all know that feeling moved on Sunday doesn't always translate into action on Monday. But here's a way you can respond right now, which will help you take practical action on what God is talking to you about. Here's the commitment I'd like to you make: Why don't you come to our ____? Committing that time to take action, that's how you'll know you're for real. We've got a sign-up sheet in the back."

#6: Ask me to follow up on you. 

Getting permission to open a conversation during an invitation can be really valuable, particularly for those who feel very sensitive or anxious about coming forward. Text is particularly valuable among some age groups, so know your audience on this one.

Invitation to Discipleship Script #6:

"Here's how you can respond today. Maybe you say that this message today is exactly what you need. The Holy Spirit has spoken to you, and you know you need to take action, but you know it's a long road, and you want someone to walk with you. Write your phone number on the bottom of your handout. Tear it off, and if you were touched by today's message and say, "Yes... that's what I need," then hand it to me on the way out, so I can get in touch this week."

#7: Tell someone what you're going to do about the message today. 

Getting people to voice their commitment to someone else makes it real. As Dawson Trotman, founder of the discipleship organization The Navigators said, "Thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass through the lips and the fingertips."

Invitation Script #7:

Why don't you take a moment right now as some music plays, and turn around and tell someone around you what you plan to do about today's message. What difference is it going to make in your life? What actions are you going to take, and when? Then ask that person to pray with you for strength to take action. Maybe, even exchange cell phone numbers and make a plan to follow up and pray together later this week. The Bible says "a triple-braided cord is not easily broken." That's good news! You can make it, if you're willing to do it together! So turn around, catch someone's eye, and take a few moments to make your commitment to God and each other!

#9: Minister to someone. 

People are far too private with their spiritual life. In the American culture, we no longer talk over the back fence -- we build privacy fences. This has invaded our spiritual lives more than we'd like to admit. We frequently view discipleship as "getting people into a spacesuit" (i.e. a self-contained environment that protects from a hostile world). But the Scripture presents discipleship as "a baby born into a family." This type of invitation leans strongly into that concept of discipleship.

Invitation Script #9:

You know we're all extremely human. I think someone around you right now is probably carrying a heavy load of doubt or guilt. They really want to follow Jesus, but they're not sure how they can do it. And, if we're being honest, that person might be you! I want you to look around and find someone you could minister to, and offer your support, encouragement, and prayer to help them have the courage to face the pathway of discipleship. Here's the question you might ask: "What's your biggest obstacle right now that keeps you from whole-heartedly following Jesus Christ?" Then ask, "How can I help you overcome it?" Let's do it right now for about 5 minutes while the music plays.

#10: Communion invitation. 

Taking Communion together is a powerful way to respond to the Word of God and Jesus' invitation to discipleship.

Invitation Script #10:

We're going to take communion together now. As we move into our time of receiving the grace provided by Jesus' body and blood to believers, let me encourage you to make it an act of obedience to today's message. I believe Jesus has talked to some of you today about specific ways you can obey his Word. If you're making your commitment today to leave behind sin and brokenness, and move into a whole-hearted following of Christ, then come with confidence and hunger to be fed by Jesus himself. His body and blood are the spiritual nutrition you need for the journey of being like Him. If you're not sure, then it might be best if you didn't come yet. Maybe take a few moments and sit there... ask yourself, "Am I willing to leave behind nibbling at the table of the world, and ready to be truly fed by Jesus? Am I ready to quench the hungers and thirsts of my heart with him instead of sin?" If you are, then come and be satisfied!

#11: Family prayer

If your church has a lot of young families, an invitation can support that kind of family structure, and provide chances for dads and moms to lead their children into a decision to be a disciple of Jesus. This one is primarily for family-integrated worship, of course. But with careful planning, your kids ministry could dismiss in time to share a time of communion and family-friendly invitation.

Invitation Script #11:

I'd like us to do something a little different today. The Bible says that the promises of salvation don't just apply to individuals, but also to our descendants -- to our families. The Bible says, "The promise is for you, and for your children..." So dads and moms, and grandparents, you want your kids and grandkids to follow Jesus. I'm going to give you a chance to lead your family that direction. This is a chance to pray together, asking Jesus to give your whole family an opportunity to follow him TOGETHER. One of you parents, step up and take leadership of the moment, and pray with your kids or grandkids right now.

#12: Silent prayer

Sometimes a time of silent prayer, committing oneself to Christ, is a meaningful way to conclude a service. While prayer in community is important, providing a timeslot to quietly do business with God is great. I would recommend that you move from this into an encouragement to take action on what you promised the Lord. This could be done by sharing it with another believer/pastor, or by asking for follow up, or signing up for some action step.

If you're looking for more resources to help your church pray about discipleship, you need this list of discipleship prayers from Scripture.

Invitation Script #12:

The Bible says that many people look into God's Word like a mirror, and then walk away and forget what they looked like. Not us, not today. We're going to take a few moments today, as we close, to pray silently, and ask God how we can respond and fix what we've seen today -- how we can grow in Christlikeness! The Scripture says, "God is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him." This is a good moment to step back from the noise and distraction of your life, and let the Holy Spirit inspire your thoughts as you reach out to him. Some Scripture from the message today is going to flash onto the screen... You're going to have 30 seconds to pray over each verse that pops up. While you do that, do business with God. Make your commitment to him how you're going to respond to His voice in the message today.

What do you think? Which of these should you try at your church in the next few months?

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