Saturday, June 01, 2013

Keeping Your Church Growing: Some Thoughts on the Prayer Meeting

First, there are many good resources on the church prayer meeting. The following three are good for starting: 1)

The church that does not pray as a community is as surely dying as is the church that is not inviting and welcoming. The power of the church comes through its use of the means of grace: preaching, administering the sacraments, and prayer. Yet many churches seem to think that only the first two are necessary.

There are, no doubt, many reasons for the decline in the church prayer meeting, some of which are dealt with in the first link I listed. Part of the difficulty may relate to the size of the church. For large churches (just as a suggestion, any church larger than 250 members) the chief problem is making it possible for the entire congregation to pray together. That is probably impossible. So for larger churches, I would suggest dividing the church into smaller groups for prayer. To some extent this may be accomplished by the “community groups” that many larger churches have. For smaller churches, gathering the church for prayer should not be a problem.

The problem is twofold. It is first in convincing the congregation that congregational prayer is essential for healthy church life. This must be addressed from the pulpit and by the leadership in the church. Where church leaders do not attend the prayer meetings, the congregation at large will consider that the prayer meeting is not necessary.

The second problem is in the way the prayer meeting is run. Too often, the prayer meeting is hijacked by Bible study and too much time sharing prayer requests. The primary purpose for the prayer meeting should be prayer, and nothing else should get in the way. A brief (5 minutes maximum) devotional on some aspect of prayer may be used to open the prayer meeting, but the remainder of the time should be devoted to prayer. A prayer list may be distributed at the beginning of the meeting. The people should be urged to make their requests known ahead of time so that they may be included on the list, avoiding using prayer time for sharing time.

Further, prayers should be short (see the first link above). It is very difficult for people to join in prayer if the prayers are long and (as is too often the case) incoherent. Also, though some prayer time should certainly be devoted to various health concerns among the members, this should not be the bulk of the prayers.

The prayers of the church should be for the work of the church. That is, part of the prayer time should be for the preaching, teaching, and outreach of the local church. Part of the prayer time should be for the preaching, teaching, and outreach of the wider church—for example, the work of missionaries supported by the church.
One place at which many churches fall down on the job is praying for other like-minded churches in the same area. For denominational churches, the prayer meeting should regularly include prayer for other churches of the same denomination that are in the same area. How often are denominational churches ignorant of the work and needs of other churches if the same denomination in the same town? It ought not to be so. Even non-denominational churches usually have like-minded churches in the same town that they can pray for. The pastors of churches should be regularly informing their congregations of the needs of related churches, so that members of the larger body might be praying for one another. Unfortunately, too many churches, in their prayer meetings, act as if they are the only church in the world. Do not your sister churches have financial needs, struggles of various kinds, difficulties among the members? You should be praying for them as well as for yourselves.

But in any case, the church should gather as it is able for prayer. Prayer is the lifeblood of the individual Christian, and it is the lifeblood of the church.

Come, my soul, thy suit prepare;
Jesus loves to answer prayer;
He himself has bid thee pray,
Therefore will not say thee nay.

Thou art coming to a king,
Large petition with thee bring;
For his grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much.

(John Newton, 1779)

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