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17 August 2006

"...You don’t have to come forward to be saved..."

I love the Mercy Seat. For those who don't know, its a place set aside for personal prayer within The Salvation Army. Many services culminate with an "altar call" where the invitation is given for people to come forward and pray. Its not the only place we pray and certainly isn't a place with any special religious significance but simply a place set aside to publicly meet with God. A place where you can come forward, stand sit or kneel before God, tell him your needs, and in accordance with His plan He'll meet those needs. Its often used as a place of "decision" - the time where you say "Yes" to Jesus. But its also a place that sadly has picked up a problem - there are many within our ranks who will look at the person walking to the front and will hold the thoughts "what have they done wrong then." That is never the point of it. Yes you can go there and confess sins but its not the sole point of the place - the bottom line is its just a prayer bench. Infact, it doesn't even have to be a bench. In the early Salvation Army days, a "Mercy Seat" would be created on the streets with a pile of drums! So why am I going on about this today then? Well, as I do every Thursday, I receive a Ministry Toolbox email from Rick Warren courtesy of Pastors.com. In this weeks issue, Rick explains why there is no altar call in his church. Its a fascinating read as he is in no way putting such a call down, but simply highlighting the practical difficulties that many churches face in terms of layout amongst other things. They have instigated a card system which every member of the church is invited to fill out. It seems they have had amazing, seemingly faster, results than many churches:

We found that 80 percent of the people who made a decision were making them during their first visit to our church. And that was a shocker, considering it takes most people in a traditional church about six months to work up their courage to come forward down the aisle.

I'm glad he is not knocking a special place of prayer as I am a lover (if thats the right word) of the Mercy Seat whilst also acknowledging the "mercy seat" within our hearts. But I am also aware that it can be an obstacle to many people in making that first special decision to let Jesus into their lives. So, any other methods that aid people in making that step are gratefully received and acknowledged - especially if they are tried and tested. Have a read of the article here and let me know what you think.

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