by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

April 18, 2005

"They watch for your souls, as they that must give account" (Hebrews 13:17).

Many pastors are seeking a more effective way of doing evangelism today. I think they are right. There is no question that the "old" way is largely ineffective. Few people are added to our churches by the "old" way. Most "church growth" comes from "transfers" - people who are church members somewhere else, or claimed to be saved somewhere else. Very few people are added to our churches as a result of evangelizing those with no evangelical background.

Yet by far the largest number of people in our society are not evangelicals. Catholics, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, cult members, agnostics, humanists, and atheists are not evangelicals. Members of the "mainline" Protestant denominations are usually not evangelicals. So, by far the largest number of people in our society are not evangelical. Even many of the evangelicals themselves are not saved. So, by far the overwhelmingly vast number of people in our society cannot be "transferred in" to a local church without disastrous results.

Many pastors today are seeking more effective ways to reach these people. One of the "new" methods that has become quite popular is the "seeker friendly" movement, sometimes called the "purpose driven" movement. The methods used by this movement do not seem any more effective to me than the "old" methods.

This is what I see happening - the pastor takes off his tie, brings in snare drums, and puts up an overhead projector where he shows choruses, which the people sing for a half hour or more. The sermon is shortened to a brief meditation. The King James Bible is replaced with so many current translations that no Bible memorization or exegesis is possible.

All of this is quite standardized, and is supposed to reach the "new" generation. I question that. And I question it for this reason - does it really help to get non-evangelicals saved and into our churches? I don't see that happening in most churches that adopt this method. What I see is a few "super churches" attracting those who were already evangelical to attend their services - while the "little preachers" (the vast majority) are not helped at all by these techniques. More often than not, the "purpose driven" techniques simply drive away the traditional people, while bringing in few if any from the vast numbers of non-evangelicals around us.

Others, from a more Reformed perspective, have noticed all this, and rightly so. But many of them think the situation can be reversed by giving up the invitation, or "altar call."

They are right to point out that the "old fashioned" altar call was unheard of until the second quarter of the nineteenth century. They are correct when they say that Charles G. Finney invented the altar call. Word of Life Baptist Church said,

The practice was designed to force decisions, to get resultsthe new method spread with increasing popularity through Finney and, later, Dwight L. Moody, and finally into virtually all nineteenth and twentieth century evangelism.
(, 1998, click here to read the article).

This article points out that the altar call which Finney invented was not only used by D. L. Moody, but was fully developed by R. A. Torrey, Billy Sunday, Mordecai Ham, and Billy Graham. "The invitation system had come to stay" (ibid.).

This very interesting article points out that the public invitation which Finney invented has no Biblical basis, is only traced to the nineteenth century, and is quite ineffective in bringing about real conversions. I agree with all of this.

But I question whether giving up the "invitation" is the answer to ineffectual evangelism. My own personal experience reveals that Reformed churches with no altar calls are as full of lost "decisionists" as those where invitations are given. There are just as many lost decisionists in Reformed churches as there are in other evangelical congregations. The form of Decisionism in Reformed churches tends to be "doctrinal belief" and "Lordship salvation." I know that from my personal experience of interviewing people in Reformed churches. Most Reformed people are as ensnared in Decisionism as those who attend churches where the "altar call" or "invitation" is given.

My conclusion is this: you cannot get rid of Decisionism by simply dropping the invitation. It isn't quite that simplistic. In fact, I have found that you can actually keep the invitation and, at the same time, get rid of Decisionism - while, on the contrary, you can stop having invitations and yet, at the same time, have a church full of lost decisionists.

Here is what I think makes the difference - pastoral counselling of the lost. Where pastors counsel the lost, they will see real conversions, whether or not an "altar call" is given. If an invitation is given, the pastor should make it clear that they are not coming to Christ, but are rather coming to be counselled by him concerning salvation. This counselling must be done in a quiet room after an evangelistic sermon, and the pastor must be willing to take as long as necessary, with several counselling sessions in most cases, to make certain that the lost person he is dealing with is converted. This delicate work cannot be delegated. It must be done by the pastor himself.

"They watch for your souls, as they that must give account" (Hebrews 13:17).

If you are interested in reading more that we have written on this subject, you should purchase three books we have written. They are Preaching to a Dying Nation, Today's Apostasy, and A Puritan Speaks to Our Dying Nation. It is really quite necessary to read all three of these books to fully understand what we are talking about. The afterword of A Puritan Speaks is titled, "Three Reprinted Books That Will Help Pastors Restore Our Churches." The titles of these reprints and their contents are given, as well as the addresses where they can be purchased. Please phone me to order Today's Apostasy, A Puritan Speaks to Our Dying Nation, and Preaching to a Dying Nation. A person interested in the subject of real conversion and effective evangelism should have all three books. Phone me at (818)352-0452 to order them.

These books are sold at cost.  This ministry makes no money from book sales.  We try to break even.  Our purpose is simply to recover the old evangelism of our forefathers.  We believe that far more people will be added to our churches by going back to the pre-Finney methods of evangelism.

For an in-depth historical study of the invitation system and "decisionism," see Iain H. Murray's books, Revival and Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism (Banner of Truth Trust, 1994), and The Old Evangelicalism: Old Truths for a New Awakening (Banner of Truth Trust, 2005). Both books can be purchased from

You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."