A little over a year ago our church began devoting one Sunday evening service a month exclusively to prayer. Honestly, I wasn’t sure it would take. But a year into the switch I think our people are growing to appreciate the prayer service more and more. We don’t get everyone to come back for prayer, but it’s roughly the same size we get for our regular Sunday evening service (around 125 people, or about 1/4 the size of Sunday morning).
Here are seven things we’ve learned about having a church prayer meeting.
1. Pray. Don’t make your “prayer meeting” a time for 5 hymns, a short message, sharing requests, and 10 minutes for prayer. Get down to business and pray.
2. Start on time and end on time. This may not be true for every culture, but in America punctuality helps. People know what to expect. We will pray together for one hour.
3. Plan. If you are praying with a few mature, seasoned prayer-ers, you may be able to get by with little preparation. But leading a churchwide prayer meeting takes, well, leadership. You have to think through what you are going to do. Recently I planned the prayer service around the fruit of the spirit. At other times we’ve prayed for different ministries in the church. We’ve used prayerbooks and lots of Scripture. We’ve borrowed from ancient patterns of prayer. We’ve even walked through the building to pray. The point is you can’t wing it with 100 people. You have to prepare.
And once in the meeting, you have to lead there too. Direct people. Get the group back on track. Show your people that this is an important event that has warranted your attention, your passion, and your preparation. If you switch to a prayer meeting because the pastor is tired of preaching every Sunday evening, your people will be able to tell. Make the prayer meeting a priority and plan accordingly.
4. Use variety and break the evening up into smaller chunks. Our prayer services go by quickly because we do several things throughout the evening. We may sing a song (just one or two) as a prayer. We may use a form prayer. We may read a prayer responsively. We may have a time of silence. We may have someone lead in prayer from the front. We may break into small groups for prayer. We do a number of different things over the course of 60 minutes. Usually each piece lasts for 5-10 minutes.
5. Make sure your leaders are there. The prayer meeting won’t fly if the pastor is not behind it. This doesn’t mean the pastor has to be at every gathering for prayer. But if you want to start, prolong, or revive an official prayer meeting people need to see it matters to the pastors and elders. I usually lead our prayer meetings.
6. Keep the kids. I know that keeping kids in the church service, let alone a prayer service, can be challenging. We do have a nursery for infants and toddlers on Sunday night. But one of the best things about our prayer service is that many children are present. They sit in the small group circles (when we break up into groups) and often contribute with the adults. I can’t tell you how pleased I am when one of my kids prays in our circle. I’m just as pleased that they are seeing prayer modeled by believers from outside their family and from every age group. They get to hear confessions, praises, and supplications just like everyone else. We are teaching our children to pray by having a prayer service. We are also demonstrating that prayer really matters.
7. Keep at it. Prayer is hard work. It is a gift, but also a skill to learn and grow in. Don’t give up if it feels awkward at first or if people don’t show. Be faithful and pray continually.