I grew up in a small Pentecostal church in Northern Vermont. It was the church where I discovered my passion for worship ministry. I love the vitality and energy of the charismatic tradition. When I was young, the charismatic church and its style of worship were all I knew. I did not know that not all churches value extended worship sets, raising hands, clapping, and altar calls. Elevation Church is one of a handful of charismatic mega-churches that has been producing solid worship songs for any church to use on Sunday. In early 2016 they released the album, Here as in Heaven. One of the most popular songs on that album is O Come to the Altar written by Chris Brown, Mack Brock, Steven Furtick, and Wade Joye. Since the album’s release, O Come to the Altar has made it to the top 10 most popular songs on CCLI Song Select. Many churches across the globe are singing it right now. This song is both singable and powerful for any congregation.
The following is a review of the song from both a musical and theological standpoint. You’ll learn some practical tips for arranging the song for congregational singing and understanding the song meaning.
O Come to the Altar is a ballad in 6/8. I don’t know what it is about 6/8 ballads. For some reason, they have a high emotional impact. Another popular but older song that is a 6/8 ballad is How He Loves by John Mark MacMillan or Come as You Are by David Crowder. The range of the melody is small and stays under an octave. That makes it singable for just about anyone. The motifs in the song are also memorable and repetitive. There is nothing particularly challenging about the instrumentation in this song. It sounds great played acoustically or with a full band. If you’re new to leading worship, I would recommend having this song in your library. One of my favorite things about this song is the chord progression in the chorus. I love how it moves from the one chord to the two chord, then to the six chord. The two chord feels a bit surprising but it fits well and gives the song a distinct sound.
As I mentioned above, I grew up in a charismatic church where altar calls were the norm. Personally, I can connect with the idea of coming forward to the altar as a sign of surrender and worship. In the Old Testament, the altar was the place where God’s people made sacrifices for their sin. It was a unique place where God interacted with humans. It’s where people would go to consecrate themselves to God. In other words, it’s where people would go to find forgiveness for their sin and devote their life to God. In the New Testament, Christ’s death on the cross was the ultimate sacrifice on the ultimate altar. As Christians, we do not need to make animal sacrifices anymore. Instead, we are to offer our lives as “living sacrifices” to God, as Paul says in Romans 12. We are “living” sacrifices because Christ has brought us from spiritual death to life. We are in right relationship with God. We are consecrated. We are set apart for his purpose. The animal sacrifices in the Old Testament were a prediction of what was to come in complete fulfillment in Christ.
So when you sing the lyrics of this song, know that the imagery of the “altar” has a lot of Biblical meaning behind it. The chorus is simple but packed with truth. When we sing, “O Come to the Altar,” we are not asking people to find a lamb to kill at the front of the church. It’s referring to the type of sacrifice Paul mentions in Romans 12:1. We want to make it a habit of laying down the ways of our old self at the altar so that we can embrace a new life in Christ.
Worship Leading Tips
I would recommend leading this song in the key of F or G if you are a male vocalist and D or E if you are a female vocalist. On the album, they play it in B. In my opinion, it is an awkward key for your average small to mid-sized congregation. If I were leading, I would play it in the key of F and capo the 5th fret and play in the key of C.
This song works great as an invitation for response to a sermon or call to salvation. Depending on your church’s style and traditions, you could even invite people to come to the front of the stage as a tangible expression of coming to the altar. You could have church leaders available to pray over them. Using the brief theological explanation above saying something like, “In the bible, the altar was a place where people came before God and sought to be made holy for His purposes. Back then they sacrificed animals to experience communion with God. Since Jesus’ death was the ultimate sacrifice on the altar of the cross, we can come before God without needing to make animal sacrifices. Instead, we surrender our own lives to God so that we can be living sacrifices. That’s what this song is about. I want to invite you to embrace God’s transformative love for you through Christ. You are made holy and accepted by God because of Jesus' blood.”
If you found this review and these tips helpful hit that like button and share it with your worship leading friends! I’d love to hear your feedback on this song. Are you singing it in your church? How has your congregation received it? What do you like or do not like about the song?