I write this post in response to a friend who asked about any trends we’re seeing in “response times” offered during worship services. The list below does not necessarily reflect trends, but it does show some of the different options I and our Lawless Group teams have seen:
- “Come forward” invitation. This option is the one that most marked the church in which I grew up. The pastor proclaims the Word, and he then “invites” those who want to respond to come to speak to one of the waiting pastors. Decision counseling sometimes takes place on the spot, while in other cases the decision counselor spends the necessary time with the respondent in another room. I still strongly believe this option is valid when properly led, but I am seeing fewer churches move in this direction.
- Prayer response time. Following the proclamation of the Word, hearers are led to spend time in prayer responding to the Word. The leader often directs the hearers in applying the text prayerfully (e.g., praising God for His goodness, confessing sins, etc.). Anyone who chooses to follow Christ in repentance and faith is encouraged to speak with a pastor or leader.
- Follow up response room. This option is in some ways a hybrid of #1 and #2 above. No public “come forward” invitation is extended, but hearers are invited to prayerfully evaluate their lives – and then meet with a church leader in a counseling area after the service. The public nature of the invitation is lessened, but the option for a personal response remains.
- Small group prayer time. We’ve seen this approach as an occasional response more than a regular option, but some churches that are strongly built around fellowship move in this direction. The leader gives direction to the prayer time based on the Word proclaimed, and individuals join with others to pray for one another. Frankly, this option can be awkward for guests.
- Response card. People who want to respond in some way to the gospel are invited to indicate their response on a card available in the worship guide, then give that card to a designated usher or staff member as they leave the worship center. One difficulty with this option is the delay between the person’s indicating an interest and the church’s following up.
- Immediate introspection response time. The preacher proclaims the Word and then simply closes with a reminder for hearers to apply the Word to their lives. Little direction on how to do so is provided, under the assumption that the Holy Spirit will lead in that task.
- Lord’s Supper invitation. Some churches conclude their service with an invitation for believers to observe the Lord’s Supper together. In many of these cases, however, non-believers and guests are left wondering what their options are.
- Combination approach. More commonly I’m seeing a blending of these approaches listed above. Some churches still extend a “come forward” invitation, but without the heavy-handed approach sometimes seen in the past. At the same time, they also offer opportunities to respond by completing a card or meeting with a staff member in a counseling room. Their goal is to offer several options while already having in place an intentional follow up plan with each respondent.
- “Who knows?” approach. Too often, we’ve seen churches offer something at the end of a service, but with far too little direction for potential respondents to know what to do. Worship leaders assume far too much, and then no one responds.
What other approaches have you seen?