Should congregations continue the custom of having an “invitation song” after the sermon? In some cases, groups that have done that in the past are discontinuing it. It is a fact that public responses to the invitation are becoming quite infrequent — since the practice is a matter of expediency, might it not be time to leave it off?
I’m not sure I know the answer. As with all questions of judgment, each congregation will have to add up the pros and the cons of their particular case and make the best decision they can (understanding that not all congregations face exactly the same set of circumstances). But if our decision is to continue singing a song at the end of each sermon, I would like to offer some thoughts on improving the practice.
Generally speaking, I believe the invitation song is a good idea, and here is why: I believe that preaching ought to call for a response. I agree with Dee Bowman who says that preaching is not preaching if it does not “storm the will.” Preaching worthy of the name calls for people to take specific steps. Granted, the response that is appropriate at the end of any lesson will not be the same for each person in the audience. But if the sermon does not call for any kind of response from anybody, it would be well to ponder why it was preached in the first place.
Now, a song at the conclusion of a sermon is a good way to make each of us think about what our personal response is going to be. As the sermon ends we may be thinking whether we “enjoyed” it or not, but the more important question is always: What am I going to do about this truth? This is the question every person should be asking, no matter what kind of relationship he or she has with the Lord. And a well-selected song following the lesson can help us focus on this question.
Viewed in this way, there are many more songs that are appropriate for the invitation than the few we normally sing. Especially if the songleader knows what goal the preacher has in mind for his lesson, he can select a concluding song that calls for that very response.
So preachers, we need to “storm the will.” If our preaching targets only the intellect and the emotions but not the will, then we’ve got a problem that goes a good bit beyond the mere question of the invitation song. So as you prepare for next Sunday, ask yourself why you’re preaching that lesson and what response you’re looking for — and don’t assume your hearers know what you’re hoping they will do. Tell them.
And song leaders, lead us in songs that urge us to think what steps we’re going to take, based on what we’ve just heard. Even if no non-Christian wants to be baptized and no “prodigal son” comes back home, your invitation song can help the rest of us decide what we’re going to do.
If all else fails, we could at least sing “Soldiers of Christ, Arise.” That would be a fitting response to many a good sermon, wouldn’t it?