Recently, I shared the pattern of East African Revival testimonies. I hope some of you will have testimonies like that shared in your congregations. There is another important aspect of evangelism that goes with the testimonies. The opportunity for people to respond to what they hear.
We need to transform parts of the culture of our churches (and our common life) to pursue mission and do evangelism that actually helps people come into the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. There are so many wonderful truths in the Kingdom of God, it is not hard to find things to preach on. It is much more challenging, however, to preach in such a way that people are actually specifically invited to take a first or new step in their spiritual life. The step they need to take may be in the precise area of the sermon, but it could also be in some other area. In Western Episcopal (and Anglican!) Churches, there have not been many concrete ways offered for people to respond. Many churches have a response card in the pew, but is hardly adequate. In many parishes, people are expected to take an additional step of contacting the clergy for issues in their lives. There needs to be a whole spectrum of opportunities for people to receive care, counsel, or spiritual direction. Many needs can be addressed in small groups or with healing, teaching, or discipleship teams. Those should be established with good solid training, encouragement, and oversight. Services should not be ignored as a place where people can make commitments and take new steps in their life.
In Kenya, Uganda, and Nigeria, I have lost count how many times the preacher or celebrant has simply said, "If you need to respond to the Lord, come now." People come to the altar rail and trained teams pray with them. You may well be surprised at how positively people respond to that invitation, but if you are looking for an even more gentle way to invite their response during a service, let me share a few. Obviously these would not be done at the same service, or even every service necessarily. These are some examples of ways that invitations can be offered. I can tell you that I have used these (and many others) over the years. They have all been received very well by the people.
AT THE OFFERING
In stead of (or in addition to) the usual offertory sentence, the celebrant can say, "As we present the bread and wine for the Eucharist and our financial gifts to God, it may be that you are aware that you need to give yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ for the first time or in a new way. If that is the case, feel free to come up when the elements and offerings are presented and stand here at the altar. I'll be glad to come and have a short and quiet prayer with you."
AT THE CREED
"Usually, it is our custom to stand for the Creed as we proclaim our common faith. Today, however, I'd like to invite everyone to stay seated unless you are aware that you need to give yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ for the first time or in a new way. If that is the case, I invite you to stand as we all proclaim the Creed together. Your pubic witness of standing is a testimony to your decision. We will not ask you to say publicly why you have stood or what specific commitment you choose to make but I'll be glad to pray with you privately after the service."
WHEN PEOPLE ARE INVITED FOR THE ADMINISTRATION OF COMMUNION
"It may be that you are aware that you need to give yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ for the first time or in a new way. If that is the case, bring your service bulletin with you when you come up to receive Communion or a prayer of blessing and I'll know to come and have a short and quiet prayer with you."
There are a thousand other ways that invitations can be given. They do not have to be emotional or manipulative. Because there have been inappropriate invitations at other times and in other places is no excuse for squelching gracious opportunities now. The failure to allow people the chance to mark points of decision in their live sets the stage for changes that the may start to make to wither before they can bear fruit. Then when people experience transformation from Jesus Christ, it is important to invite them to share about it. As the practice is beginning, you will want to speak privately with them and help them prepare what to say. As the practice of testimonies becomes more familiar in your parish, it may be possible to have some spontaneous ones. That is a little more unpredictable, but steering through surprises is why God gives leaders to the Church!