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 the shape of leadership

Kid-Friendly Altar Calls

The do’s and don’ts of leading response times for children

Dick Gruber on November 17, 2022

A little boy named Jamie Doyle responded to an altar call in St. Cloud, Minnesota. He accepted Christ and soon sensed a call to ministry. Doyle is now the NextGen pastor at River City Church (Assemblies of God) in Lafayette, Indiana.

As a young girl, Sandy Askew prayed repeatedly at an altar in Mexico, Missouri, offering to serve God in missions. Askew grew up to become a national leader with Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge, a position she held for more than 20 years.

Tyler White first encountered God at an altar during a Vacation Bible School he attended in Hazelton, Pennsylvania. Today, White serves as children’s pastor of Family Life Church (AG) in Hermitage, Pennsylvania.

The altar has been a crucial stop on the spiritual journeys of many children. There, kids have received salvation, healing, and the baptism in the Holy Spirit. They have heard from God and received the call to ministry.

We need to provide opportunities for kids to respond to Jesus. Scripture records Jesus taking time to welcome children, validate them in their faith, and bless them:

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them (Mark 10:13–16).

The most important role of every children’s ministry leader is helping kids come to Jesus. One way we can accomplish this is through altar calls. The few steps it takes for a child to walk to the altar often translates into a lifetime of walking with the Savior.

Pointing to Christ should be the primary goal of each class, club and service within your children’s ministry. Kids are eager recipients of the good news. They are free from many of the doubts and hang-ups that can hold back adults. When they understand Jesus loves them and desires to be part of their lives, children want to express their devotion in return.

However, we must be careful not to take advantage of a child’s trust or enthusiasm. Kids deserve ministry that is authentic — not emotionally, socially or spiritually manipulative.

With that in view, below are some do’s and don’ts of leading kid-friendly altar calls:

 

Do’s

Do project authority. God has called you to represent Him to the children in your care. An authoritative voice need not be loud or demanding, however. Speak with calm assurance that God is in control of the moment.

Do address children tenderly. This is a gentle invitation for kids to spend time with a Savior who cares for them. Your tone of voice should communicate love and respect for every child.

The few steps it takes for a child to walk to the altar often translates into a lifetime of walking with the Savior.

Do use kid-friendly language and concepts. Good missionaries do all they can to understand the culture and speak the language of those they are trying to reach. Children’s leaders should do the same. Keep the message simple, accessible and interesting enough to capture the attention of even your youngest listeners.

Do encourage every child to spend some time with Jesus. Some may come to the front in response to an altar call. Others may choose to stay in their seats. That’s OK.

There is no reason to assume a child is having an inferior experience because he or she is not down front. The Holy Spirit can move in every corner of your meeting space. Encourage children to talk to God wherever they are.

Do allow time in your schedule for the altar call and prayer. Kids might surprise you by lingering at the altar longer than you expected. Provide ample opportunity for them to meet with God, but also have extra lesson material ready in case they do not fill the time.

Do invite God to have His way. You cannot make a child come to Jesus by social or emotional pressure. Step back and allow the Holy Spirit to work in children’s hearts — in His time, and according to His plan.

 

Don’ts

Don’t confuse children by presenting multiple messages. Each song, story and game should direct kids to one theme of the day and a desired response to that theme. Having a single theme helps kids know how to pray during the altar time.

Don’t assume a child is praying about your message, though. Remain open to other prayer requests. Ask each child what he or she wants God to do. Pray about that felt need. Then close by praying about your theme.

Don’t use figurative language. Children tend to think concretely and interpret language literally. When hearing an invitation to “ask Jesus into your heart,” a child might wonder, How could Jesus fit inside my heart?

When developing an invitation, be as precise as possible. For example, you might say, “Ask Jesus to forgive you for the wrong things you’ve done and be the leader of your life.”

Don’t tell frightening stories. Decades ago, it was common for leaders to share scary stories about young people dying and going to hell in an attempt to persuade kids to come to Jesus. This might bring children to tears, but it rarely results in genuine transformation.

Don’t lead with wrong motives. Children’s ministry leaders want to see kids come to Christ, step into a deeper walk with Him, and grow in their faith. All other motivations should pale by comparison, including a personal desire for ministry success. When kids don’t respond as you imagined, allow God to redirect your prayer time.

Don’t force the issue. None of us is capable of saving, healing or baptizing a child in the Holy Spirit. Our job is to provide opportunities for children to encounter God and trust the Holy Spirit to work in their lives in ways that may not always be immediately apparent. Applying pressure and making impatient demands is neither appropriate nor effective.

God is the one who brings about transformation in the lives of children. A pastor friend once told me, “Jesus is the Lord of the harvest, and He cares more about kids than you or I ever could.”

We must do our part by providing space and time for children to meet with God. As we invite children to come to the altars, we can expect God to produce lasting results.

Leading altar times that do not play on a child’s emotions but allow the Holy Spirit to move as He will is a good starting place.

Let the little children come to Jesus, and do not hinder them. He is waiting to meet with them — and bless them.

 

This article appears in the Fall 2022 issue of Influence magazine.

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