I emceed a sports-outreach event a few years back in which Christian student athletes were encouraged to invite their unsaved friends to attend. A former professional football player was the keynote speaker and would be sharing the Gospel, giving their friends an opportunity to believe in Jesus for the first time.
He impressed me with how clearly and passionately he explained the Gospel to the students. After outlining the Gospel in its entirety, he concluded his message by saying something to the effect of: “God did all of that so you could be called a child of God.” He then handed me the mic as he walked off the stage.
Did you catch that?
Do you see what he left out?
He explained the Gospel but didn’t prompt the audience to respond. I remember describing what happened to a friend by saying: “He set the table beautifully but didn’t invite anyone to sit down and actually enjoy the banquet.”
Back to that evening’s event: After he handed me the mic, I affirmed for the audience what an amazing job our speaker had done in laying out God’s plan of salvation, which is available to anyone who believes in Jesus alone. I then prompted the students to respond. We saw two young men come forward to put their faith in Jesus Christ.
So, what’s the moral of the story? Yes, give the Gospel—all the time. Yes, literally every time you have youth group. But also be sure to invite people to respond.
How to Do It
After you give the Gospel, simply prompt students to respond by saying something along the lines of:
“If this message makes sense to you, and you’re ready to put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ for the first time, then believe in Jesus. Right now, in this moment, if you’ve believed in Jesus for the first time, then all your sins—past, present, and future—are forgiven, you’ve received God’s free gift of eternal life, and the very presence of God—His Holy Spirit—has come to dwell inside of you.”
There are a variety of ways you can prompt students to indicate they’re responding to the invitation to trust Jesus. No one way is the only or right way. In fact, it might be good to mix things up a little. Here are some ideas:
- Have students bow their heads, close their eyes, and raise their hands (or look up at you and make eye contact) to indicate they’ve decided to trust in Jesus.
- Invite new-believing students to come to the front or back of the room to talk with a leader and to be prayed over.
- Have students fill out a card.
- Lead students through a prayer as a way to respond to God.
The means by which they respond is less important than the fact that they’ve been invited to respond and to communicate to you the decision they’ve made. It’s also helpful to remind them that the response method isn’t what saves them—it’s their faith alone in Christ alone that does that.
The Power of the Call
In Luke 5:32, Jesus says, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” There are two key points Jesus makes in this verse, and I think we often miss the second.
- Jesus came for sinners, not for the righteous. He came to save those who need saving.
- Jesus came to call sinners to repentance. In other words, Jesus came to call (or prompt) sinners to repentance (to change their minds). It’s subtle, but it’s there.
Jesus came to preach the good news of the Kingdom of God and to call sinners to repentance. We should do as Jesus did.
We should preach the Gospel, regularly, weekly.
And, every time we give the Gospel, we should call students to change their minds and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. We should also coach our students to extend that same invitation every time they share the Gospel personally.
Commit to the Invitation
So, why should you (and your students) never skip the invitation? Because it might be the very moment God uses to call a sinner out of darkness and into His marvelous light. And because Jesus called people to that moment of decision as well.
Give it a try! Commit to both giving the Gospel and offering students an opportunity to respond. Remember, it’s hard to answer a call that never comes.
Bonus idea: Celebrate when students put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. We used to get white, helium-filled balloons and display them from stage the following week as a way of celebrating the decisions students made. We would then get blue balloons (plus cake and ice cream) to celebrate when a student got baptized. Without fail, students would come and ask for “their balloons” after youth group was over.