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Why I Lead a Sinner’s Prayer Every Sunday (Though I Haven’t Yet Seen Conversions)

Every Sunday, after I preach the gospel, I call people to put their faith in Christ for salvation. I publicly model the kind of prayer that flows from a heart God has touched and moved to turn from sin and trust in Jesus—a “sinner’s prayer.” I invite anyone who prayed along with me to find me in the foyer after the service so we can celebrate and discuss the next steps in his or her walk of faith.

Yet in five years of pastoring, I’ve yet to see any immediate fruit. I’ve yet to see any conversions.

At times, I grow frustrated. I wonder, Is my preaching off? Is my praying off? Is the ground here just hard? Should I seek a more fruitful ministry elsewhere?

Perhaps you wrestle with similar doubts. You’ve been faithful but haven’t seen fruit, so you ask, Should I continue calling people to repentance and faith if no one is responding? The answer is yes. There are at least four reasons why you should keep plowing and planting.

1. You never know who may be visiting.

Mark Dever tells the story of a friend who became convicted about her sin and then began visiting churches and asking, “What must I do to be saved?” (see Acts 16:30). He says,

She went to church after church and no one would tell her the gospel. They would assume the gospel, or they’d say false things . . . and she didn’t have any religious resources in her [upbringing] to figure it out. Brother preacher, . . . be the church where that kind of pain ends. Every Sunday, tell people the good news of Jesus Christ.”

I’d add, “. . . and call them to respond” (and I don’t think Dever would disagree).

Each week, my church is blessed with a dozen or so newcomers. For all I know, any of them could be Dever’s friend. If the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16), and folks can’t believe the gospel without hearing it, and can’t hear it without someone preaching (10:14), then nothing is more tragic than unbelievers sitting through a worship service where no one tells them how to be saved and calls them to respond in faith.

2. Lost souls may be regularly attending.

One reason I don’t often see conversions is that my church tends to attract and keep more mature believers. Still, there are certainly a few (perhaps more than I think) I’m preaching to every Sunday who don’t yet enjoy a saving relationship with the Lord: The child sitting listlessly beside a mother who faithfully prays for his salvation. The teen more interested in the boy beside her than in God’s Word open in her lap. The young parents who recently returned to church so they could “raise their children with religion.” The stereotypical “church lady” who misses not a Sunday nor an opportunity to critique the service. These are the real people in my pews and yours.

Nothing is more tragic than unbelievers sitting through a worship service where no one tells them how to be saved and calls them to respond in faith.

I attended (even led) church every Sunday for years before I finally realized my desperate need for Jesus. The friend who shared the gospel and personally led me in that sinner’s prayer could have thought, Will has already heard the gospel a thousand times. But praise God he shared it with me that 1,001st time. We never know when the next time we preach and pray will be the time for another lost soul.

3. Christians need reminders of the gospel’s glory and beauty.

The gospel isn’t just good news; it’s the best news there is. It’s the glorious and true announcement that the almighty, perfect God of the universe so loved broken, rebel sinners like us that he’d sacrifice his own Son to forgive, rescue, and adopt us as his children. That’s news worth sharing regardless of who’s listening.

Even when it may seem like no one is responding, the hearts of true believers cannot help but respond to the gospel’s beauty and power whenever we hear it. Just as married couples who attend weddings smile when reminded of their joyful nuptials, Christians ought to rejoice in hearing the weekly sinner’s prayer. Why? Because it reminds us once again of God’s love for us, of the “love [we] had at first” (Rev. 2:4), of the hour we first believed.

4. Disciples need reminders of the urgency of evangelism.

One of the most commonly cited reasons Christians give for not sharing their faith is the fear of not knowing what to say. By making the gospel and how to respond to it explicit every week, we equip our people with the language they need to share their faith; we catechize them for evangelism.

We never know when the next time we preach and pray will be the time for another lost soul.

Moreover, the tone with which I lead the sinner’s prayer each week—pleading with any unbelievers in attendance to repent and believe—stresses the matter’s urgency.

No unbeliever knows which opportunity will be his last to respond to the gospel, and no believer knows which opportunity will be her last to present it to a lost loved one and call him to respond. May we agree with the apostle Paul: “Necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16).

Each week I pray that this Sunday will be the first when a lost person in attendance responds to God’s gospel invitation to repent, believe, and be saved. But until they do, I trust God is using those sinner’s prayers to sow gospel seeds, till the soil of people’s hearts, and encourage and disciple his flock. I take comfort in God’s promise through Paul: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).

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