Building a consistent foundation of church-wide prayer into a congregation is one of the great challenges of leading a church.
In the vein of sharing strategies currently working for a particular church, I’d like to share with you a little about my congregation’s imperfect, multifaceted, church-wide prayer effort.
There are three intentional components to the church-wide prayer life of our congregation: the main prayer time in our Sunday morning services, the main prayer time in our secondary weekly worship service, which takes place Wednesday nights, and our Sunday evening weekly prayer meetings.
The main prayer time in our Sunday morning services lasts five to seven minutes and is led by one of our pastors. We often encourage people to kneel at their seats or come to the altar area. The prayer time usually takes place right before the sermon to ensure as many people are in the room as possible. We generally use Acts 1:8 to structure the prayer time, praying for our city, our nation, the world, and then back to our local church. This paradigm both helps the pastor leading in prayer with his preparation and helps the congregation follow along as they listen to the prayer. We pray for the spread of the gospel in each category as well as addressing specific issues raised by each category. For example, under the “city” section, the pastor is forced to consider whether there are major issues in our city that are either on our congregation’s mind or that should be. The “nation” category is where we pray for any major current events related to social justice issues, natural disasters and elections. The “global” segment ensures we raise the issue of international missions and UPGs in our members’ minds every single Sunday. Finally, we use the section on our local church to pray for a specific ministry or segment of our congregation, such as single parents or college students.
In our secondary weekly worship service, which takes place Wednesday nights, we pray in small groups for five to ten minutes. The pastor leading the service will present three or four major prayer items to the entire congregation, then ask for members willing to lead a small group in prayer to stand up. We then circle around those members standing in groups of five to fifteen people. The members who volunteered to lead will pray first to break the ice, lifting up one or two of the issues the pastor presented, and then open it up for others in the group to pray. When it’s time to close down the prayer segment of the service, the pastor leading the service will start praying over the microphone to the entire room.
Our weekly prayer meeting takes place on Sundays from 5-6 p.m. in our worship center. Depending on the Sunday, 4-7 percent of our Sunday morning attendance comes to prayer meeting. We do not offer childcare, singing or a Bible study. We simply pray for an hour. A few members come almost every week, but most attendees come periodically. I’d estimate 10-12 percent of our congregation comes to prayer meeting more than one time over the course of a year. Our adult small group Bible studies “sponsor” prayer meetings on a rotating basis. For example, if we had 10 small groups, each small group would have an internal push to attend every tenth prayer meeting together. Here is the prayer meeting format we generally follow:
5:00-5:05 p.m. The prayer meeting leader (usually me) welcomes attendees, reads a passage of Scripture, and then provides either a few big prayer requests or tips for praying well in small groups. We provide a prayer guide. but do not take prayer requests from attendees.
5:05-5:55 p.m. Attendees break into groups of five or six around the worship center to pray.
5:55-6:00 p.m. The prayer meeting leader prays aloud over the entire worship center to indicate each group should wrap up their praying. Then everyone meets at the altar area at the front of the worship center where we stand in a circle, hold hands, and sing one of the songs our church family knows well. Then we are dismissed.
I measure the value of prayer meeting in terms of man-hours of prayer.
Pastor, if 12 people in your church gather to pray for one hour, that’s twelve man-hours of prayer for the ministries of your congregation. If 24 people pray together for an hour, that’s a full 24-hour cycle of prayer coverage. Have you ever tried to fill up a 24-hour cycle with volunteers committing to pray for a half hour each? It’s incredibly difficult. But if just 24 people show up for one hour, it’s a full 24 man-hours of prayer undergirding your church for the week! What if 48 people show up, or even 72?
Building a consistent foundation of church-wide prayer into a congregation is one of the great challenges of leading a church. The aforementioned three components working together over time have laid a foundation of prayer in our church. It has not been easy. It requires constant work and the strategy has never worked perfectly, but our congregation is consistently praying together in a meaningful way. I’d love to hear what is working in your church in terms of a congregation-wide prayer life. May the Holy Spirit grant us wisdom as we seek to build a strong, church-wide prayer into our various congregations.