The altar showdown is a phenomena within Pentecostal churches mostly observed in one's formative teenage years. The altar showdown is simply this: A competition between two or more individuals at the altar to which the winner of the competition is he/she who prayed the longest and/or who prayed the hardest.
Thus the participants of this altar showdown are judged by two different categories: Length and Effort.
And this altar showdown dominates the reason teenagers are seen praying at the altar for a time period longer than ten minutes.
The goal of this competition is simple: Garner enough attention from the church superiors in your persistence to pray with exuberance and length to try to assert yourself as a candidate to be a future youth pastor/minister's wife.
It is not that God is not being felt. Because He is. And it is not the case that every time a teenager prays long that it is for the purpose of the Showdown, but the fact is it is not that the forces of the altar showdown are non-existent.
SO if you are an altar showdown contestant, how does one evaluate who is winning/losing the competition?
First, the most useful tool is the squinting eye. The squinting eye sees all. And it sees its competition square in the face. Lord help he who possesses the squinting eye that sees it's competition sobbing a tsunami. The fact that one's eye is checking on it's competition while the competition is so focused on prayer that a flood is being produced via tear ducts almost cements the victory to the crier.
No doubt he who cries is signaling to the superiors how much effort and concentration they are putting into the prayer. In evolutionary psychology, a crying baby is the epitome of signaling much cost/effort in producing tears and screams in the baby and thus forces the baby's caretakers to direct their attention to the baby and try to relieve the baby's outburst through relief of whatever it needs (e.g. food, diaper change, attention).
I hypothesize that he/she who cries at the altar is in some forms doing much the same. When he/she is seen crying, and all the effort it takes to produce such a sight (including possible ridicule after service from peers regarding the emotions displayed), the superiors are forced to take note that this person is dead serious about God, and they want to preach some day or marry a dude who is going to preach some day. Of course I am oversimplifying the issue, but I can assure you that such dynamics regarding emotions displayed at the altar do take place amongst the youth.
Most youths want to get prayed for. Most youths think they are going through a lot. Most youths think their life is hard and their parents just don't understand them. It is the altar that youths seek to gather the attention that they think they deserve and when attention is given to them, it also means less attention is given to the competitor in the altar showdown. I can remember I had one friend in the youth group who was just the most frustrating altar showdown competitor ever. He was practically undefeated in altar showdowns. He cried like none other and could dance at first note of a song that will have a cool drum beat. And of course he got the most attention at the altar from elders and other adults. Most superiors don't like taking the effort and time to pray a youth to breakthrough in prayer. Rather it is much easier to pray for the person who is already in the midst of a breakthrough. Less effort, but it also shows that you care about the youth of our day. Anyways this friend was always winning the altar showdowns by showing the most response in his prayers emotionally. SO Adults would flock around him while I was left squinting my eyes praying quietly to myself with half hearted prayers wishing the prophet/pastor would prophesy for me to be a minister in the future (whereas this prophesy was constantly said over my friend).
But it was also this same friend who had no ethic whatsoever. He was the first one of my small group friends to make out with a girl, smoke pot, buy music CD's with parental advisory warnings on them (Metallica, Limp Bizkit, Korn), steal video games (from me!), wear baggy jeans, and also have chains hanging out of his pants. He was really really cool. So in short, the emotionalism that saw him win countless altar showdowns also saw him having no gravity towards an ethic of any kind.
The altar showdowns are most vicious at church camps/conventions. There, the adult superior onlookers are usually more powerful per capita than at the home church, and thus bonus points if one garners the attention of a big time speaker to pray for them. There is also the dynamic at camp/convention wherein God himself is considered a superior who is waiting to see who will pray to Him longest/hardest and thus to such a victor God offers a Word of prophesy to him/her about some glorified future in "The Ministry."
I haven't taken place in an altar showdown in years because of all the yuckiness that I finally realized was going on in my own heart (I was praying to be seen by men, not by God when I was at the altar). But I will say, the counter-action at the altar to producing a competitive altar showdown amongst friends is the hug prayer amongst friends. It's when a group of guys or girls go up to the altar and silently agree to not enter into an altar showdown with each other and thus all have their arms wrapped around each other in a semi-circle. The group cohesion assures that there won't be a defector to try to gather their own independent attention from adults. It also is like saying "let's take this week off" since the prayers more often than not are not effort based.
Lastly, I must make the comparison between the group prayer to that of the Cold War rivalry between USSR and the USA. Both sides knew that if one attacked the other, both would end up in a war with millions of deaths. Thusly, one of the reasons the Cold War never developed into a real war was because of something Called Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). Thusly, youths at times enter into a kind of group prayer with a Mutually Assured Destruction in mind should an altar showdown occur because those involved since each have the persistence to stay at that altar for a long period and each can squirt some tears in the process.....
Once again, realize this post is sociological in it's analysis and in no way discrediting the God-man relationship during these showdowns.