After seeing the importance of prayer meetings and figuring out how to introduce prayer meetings at the local church where you are a member, you are ready to have your first prayer meeting. But what should you do? What should the prayer meeting look like? How should it be organized? Who should pray? And about what concerns should people pray? How long should it last? When you begin to think about the logistics of conducting a prayer meeting, these and other questions need to be answered. Like I said in my last article, it is vital that you come to the prayer meeting with a plan for what will happen, at least in general terms, during the prayer time. People who attend the prayer meeting will expect some leadership and direction on how to pray, especially if they are not used to praying for an extended period of time, such as 30 minutes or more. In this concluding article, I want to give some ideas for how to run a useful prayer meeting.
First, decide on a time frame and announce to people how long the prayer meeting will last. People usually understand a worship service will last between 60-90 minutes, depending on the church and liturgy, but if they have not been to prayer meetings, they may not have an expectation, which can be a barrier to their attendance. So let everyone know you will have a prayer meeting from 6-7pm, for example. Be flexible with the time, because sometimes concerns arise for prayer that may take longer than the scheduled time. That being said, try to stay relatively close to your planned time as much as possible. If you find you regularly exceed the 60 minutes allotted and people are still engaged, then lengthen the prayer meeting and let everyone know about the change. Setting expectations is helpful for you and for everyone in attendance.
Second, decide the topic of the prayer meeting. What requests will you devote yourself and the church to mentioning in prayer? Is there a particular theme you want to emphasize at the prayer meeting? For example, if the prayer meeting is right before a major election, you might emphasize praying for the government, drawing various prayer requests out of the biblical passages that teach Christians how to relate to and pray for their civic leaders. Or perhaps the church is going to be selecting new leadership – a new pastor, new elders, new deacons, etc. – in the near future, so you might dedicate the prayer meeting to praying for church leadership and unity. If people in the church are struggling financially, medically, emotionally, or spiritually, you might let people’s requests and burdens have the focus for the evening. Anything that is in accordance with the Scriptures works, and I have found that a more focused prayer meeting is usually a more productive and useful prayer meeting for those in attendance.
Third, you need to pick a format. Over the years, we have tried different formats, some better than others. What all the formats have in common are a short devotional (10-15 minutes) and prayers set to music (that is, singing hymns and songs of worship and praise). The devotional helps fix our minds on whatever topic we are covering, and it places a biblical perspective on it. Singing helps in a number of ways, including allowing for transitions between prayer topics in certain formats and stirring up our hearts with affection for Christ, which is absolutely critical to Spirit-filled prayer. Besides these two fixed liturgical components, here are some ideas for how to organize the rest of the prayer time.
Have a single leader organize requests and pray as a large group, assigned prayer requests to each person. In this format, one person will run the prayer meeting, typically listing a number of things that need prayer and assigning praying for these topics to various people present. Then, the leader will allow an open forum for prayer requests, assigning each request to someone present for prayer. Once all the requests have come in, or the time allotted for requests expires, the congregation goes to prayer, with each person assigned to pray standing and praying. This format is helpful in how tightly organized it is, but it is difficult when people are present who do not like to pray aloud or in front of large groups. It can lead to some awkward moments, especially if the leader is unsure about who would like to pray and who would not. It also limits the audible prayers to those who like to pray in front of groups, and it can leave others feeling left out or insignificant at the prayer meeting. That’s one reason why I think this format works best in a smaller group setting. Once a prayer meeting begins to exceed 25 or 30 in attendance, this can become less effective.
A second option is to have various leaders give general guidelines for prayer times, pray with the large group, and then break into smaller groups for a set amount of time to pray in accordance with the guidelines. In this case, the leader might get up and encourage people to pray for a specific topic or through a specific passage of Scripture. Let’s say he encourages people to pray that the families in the church would reflect God’s design for the family in Ephesians 5-6. Then the leader would offer a prayer, and everyone present would silently pray along with him. After he prays, people would get in groups of 5-10 and pray along the same lines, perhaps praying for specific families in the church, for their own families, or for specific requests someone in that smaller group might have that fits the topic. Usually, spending about 10 minutes per topic is the minimum required for everyone who wants to pray to have a chance to pray. In an hour prayer meeting with a short devotional and a few hymns, you usually can cover three topics, maybe four. Sometimes it works well to have an “open topic” where people in their smaller groups can pray for whatever is on their hearts. Many people come burdened to prayer meetings, and a time to lift those burdens to the Lord is immensely helpful.
A variation on the second format would be to eliminate topics altogether and simply pray through passages of Scripture, perhaps a Psalm or a section of a Pauline epistle. You could lead the church through the various prayers of Paul in Scripture for the churches. The advantage of this format is that it teaches people to pray the Word of God back to God, and it shows them how relevant and significant the Scripture is in their daily lives and for dealing with their problems, struggles, hurts, trials, and temptations. One disadvantage is that it can feel too stilted or repetitive, especially if people are not used to praying through the Bible.
In both of these topical/small-group prayer formats, transitioning from one topic or passage to the next can be nicely accomplished with musical interludes between them. It brings each prayer segment to a reverent end without too much interruption for those who are still praying. These two formats also work well for people who are nervous or uncomfortable praying aloud in front of others because it shrinks the size of their group to four to nine other people, usually people they are generally comfortable with. Thus, it teaches people to pray in front of others who otherwise might never learn to do so.
Whatever format you choose, the critical component is actually praying. If you have a prayer meeting, ensure that the majority of the time in the meeting is spent in prayer. I have been to far too many prayer meetings where more time was spent talking to the people at the prayer meeting, sharing requests and praises, than actually praying for the needs of the people and through the Scriptures. Sharing some requests and praises can be useful, but if it dominates the prayer meeting, the point of the prayer meeting is being missed. An effective leader will get the majority of the requests and praises organized before the meeting starts to maximize the time spent in prayer.
What formats have you used or seen in prayer meetings, and how effective were they? We’d love to hear your feedback in the comments.