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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.


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25 thoughts on “How to Have a Church Prayer Meeting”

  1. Kate says:

    Might I add one more point: Encourage (often) everyone to pray loudly enough to be heard or arrange for people to pray in smaller groups. My older parents and middle-aged husband usually can’t hear about 3/4’s of the people who are praying when we have congregational prayer time. This means that they rarely pray aloud themselves for fear that they will only repeat what has just been prayed but was inaudible. It also means that the congregational prayer time is not something they can participate as fully in.

  2. Kenny Taylor says:

    Thanks Kevin – good stuff.

  3. LaughingLady says:

    I love that you specifically encourage people to bring their children. I think that’s beautiful. (and it removes what seems to be an oft-used reason/excuse for not participating in these kinds of things! Of which I am guilty of doing…) But you’re so right that it’s important for children not only to see that it’s important to us, but to be encouraged to attend and even participate as well.

  4. Larry Wilson says:

    I’ve pastored a number of much smaller churches than yours, and I still agree with your points. Perhaps this is less the case in your larger group, but I’d suggest one other consideration — often the seasoned pray-ers can unwittingly intimidate the newbies (including the children) into silence. They think they’re doing a good thing, but in a sense they’re killing the participation of others. I’ve found that it helps to encourage them to say many brief prayers rather than one long one; have them focus on one point in each prayer, and let them pray many times if desired, but ask them to pause to give others the opportunity to pray aloud. Some of the newbies may be able work up the courage to pray a sentence prayer aloud, but their opportunities to do that need to be facilitated.

  5. Thanks Kevin. Very helpful. I love leading prayer meetings at our church. We have a regular weekly meeting every Wednesday night, and then one Sunday night a quarter is devoted to prayer. I have used many of the practices you shared but you helped me with more ideas. I believe the Word and prayer must go together so we are led into prayer by reading and meditating on Scripture.

  6. I wish we had this at my church. I will suggest they read this.

  7. Brian Fulton says:

    KEvin,

    Thanks for this, especially #6. God saved me in a prayer circle at church. The pastor asked each family to pray together in a circle at this prayer/revival night. My dad is not a believer and was not then so it was my mother and two brothers present. I had heard the gospel several times as a 10 year old, but this night, I remember my mother praying and broken with tears over my dad’s lostness. It was as if the Spirit was saying to me, “Brian, the same way your mother is broken over your dad’s lostness, I am broken over your lostness. You don’t know me.”

  8. Barry says:

    I was speaking with a friend recently about our prayer meetings. How even though we often feel uncomfortable, we appreciate them all the more. God has been challenging me in this area. I find myself going because I’m weak if that makes sense.

    Thanks for holding these Kevin, it’s certainly appreciated.

  9. David Axberg says:

    I love it especially #5 & #6. Thanks Kevin

  10. Ann Metcalf says:

    Oh thank you Kevin for sharing. My church has been doing an all church prayer meeting once a month. The turnout is so small and I think there is laziness and fear among church members. Its sad.

  11. Paul says:

    Kevin,

    Great post and great that you took the risk to try to make this work. #5 is key and isn’t I think true at my church which saddens me.

    BTW, whatever you think of them, one thing Holy Trinity Brompton (home of alpha) does really well is prayer meetings. When I’ve been there, they have maybe 40 people show for their 7.30 am weekday prayer meeting and maybe 120 people go to their weekend prayer retreat. I’ve never been in another church that could do that. They do follow most of your points though. As a visitor, the variety #4 was impressive to me.

  12. Kevin…I want to add my thanks for this article. This is something I’ve been trying to establish as a regular part of our church’s life as well.
    Could you provide a list of resources (books, articles, etc.) that you’ve found helpful in planning for the meetings?

    thanks,
    pete

  13. Kevin DeYoung says:

    Pete,

    We were helped by having Ben Patterson come and do a conference on prayer at our church two years ago. He modeled good leadership in prayer, inspired us to pray, and gave solid direction in developing prayer meetings like this. I would check out his books on prayer. I’d also look at Hughes Oliphant Old’s big book on prayer. We use prayers from the Valley of Vision too.

  14. Thanks, Kevin.

    I also want to express my thanks for the service you’ve provided to us, particularly in the books you’ve published. Like you, I minister in a college town and Just Do Something has been one of the most popular book studies I’ve done. I also appreciate the work you and Greg did on The Mission of the Church. Keep thinking, preaching and writing, Kevin…regardless of what others say, I for one have been fed and inspired by your work. May God give you grace to continue!

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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